25 years of the Surfacing album: a beneficial break for Sarah McLachlan

25 years of the Surfacing album: a beneficial break for Sarah McLachlan


In the studio to begin the creative work of the opus Surfacing, Sarah McLachlan left for a vacation of six months. After two and a half years on the road touring the Fumbling album Toward Ecstasy , the songwriter and performer was mentally drained and exhausted. A break that proved beneficial with an album that would become his most popular with 16 million copies sold worldwide.

Launched on July 15, 1997, at the same time as its festivalLilith Fair, Surfacing, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, found itself at number one on the Canadian charts and number two on the Billboard 200. It also made its first appearance on charts outside of North America with top 50 appearances in Australia, the UK and the Netherlands.

Four of the ten tracks on this album became hits with Building a Mystery, Sweet Surrender, Adia and Angel. Four songs she performed during her memorable visit to the Plains of Abraham on July 13, 2012, during the Festival d'été de Québec.

In an interview with the daily Toronto Star, in 2017, the author, composer and performer from Halifax said that she no longer wanted to know anything about these songs when she left the Wild Sky studio in Morin-Heights in the Laurentians.

“These songs, we recorded them, mixed them, polished them and beat them to death. I didn't want to hear them again,” she revealed.


Fourth single from Surfacing, Angelwas one of the first songs to be written for this album. This song was inspired by a reading in Rolling Stone magazine about touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin of the Smashing Pumpkins, who died of a heroin overdose.

“I've dated those feelings where you're so confused and lost that you don't know who you are anymore. You feel miserable and there is this road that opens up in front of you. I never took heroin, but there were plenty of things that allowed me to escape,” she said in a text published in the CMJ New Music Monthly, when the album was released.

Angel was written in two days, in a small country house north of Montreal, where she was recuperating. A residence that belonged to Jane McGarrigle, older sister of Kate and Anna. 

On the Radio-Canada International website, Sarah McLachlan says that people came to see her during a stay in the Caribbean in 2017 to tell her that this song had helped them survive the hurricane season.


Surfacing's first single, Building a Mystery was co-written with director Pierre Marchand, who offered lyrics he had already written when he heard, while preparing coffee, the musician play a series of chords on the guitar.

“I started singing my lyrics to the chords she was playing. I asked him to improvise with a certain attitude. I wrote a bunch of lyrics and we went around it the next day, with changes she suggested,” said the director in a text published on the site Toronto.com

Four Junos

Surfacing were recorded with Jim Creeggan of the Barenaked Ladies on double bass, multi-instrumentalist Yves Desrosiers, bassist and guitarist Brina Minato, guitarist Michel Pépin and drummer-percussionist Ashwin Sood, who married Sarah McLachlan later in the year. 

In 1998, during the Juno ceremony, Sarah McLachlan took home four statuettes: Best Singer, Songwriter of the Year, Single of the Year with Building a Mystery and Best Album. She will get three nominations at the 40th Grammys. 

“These songs, I can still play them and feel an attachment to them. They continue to exist,” she told the Toronto Star. Which was not at all the case, however, when he left the studio in 1997.