Sarah McLachlan Talks 'Challenge' of Making New Holiday Album & Secrets of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Kharen Hill
Sarah McLachlan

Sarah McLachlan loves the holiday season. "I am a serious fan of Christmas," she says. "It's my favorite time of the year and I get into it big time. I have an insane amount of decorations, my kids get into it, we love singing carols, I have an open house every [Dec.] 24th and all the stragglers and friends and family come around."

With that established, it was only natural that the three-time Grammy Award winner and Billboard chart-topper would eventually release her second Christmas album: Wonderland. It arrived on Oct. 21, nearly 10 years after her first holiday offering, Wintersong, which reached No. 7 on the Billboard 200 in 2006 and has sold 1.1 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music.

McLachlan says both albums were challenging for her to create, because she was concerned about how she could bring a fresh spin to so many familiar songs.

"Even though I do love Christmas songs and I do sing Christmas music all the time," she says, “how I would lend my voice to it and create something new -- because these songs have been done so many ways by so many different artists -- that was a challenge."

"It was even harder this time [as compared to Wintersong] but I wanted to do obvious Christmas songs but choose some songs that weren't necessarily about Christmas, but more about the feeling of it or the spirituality of it, and I think [the album's] 'Go Tell it on the Mountain' … is in keeping the same kind of vibe but it also has its totally own thing. It was like ‘oh we can do gang vocals on this and have it almost like acapella' and that’ll be so much fun."

"At that point I think I forgot I was doing a Christmas record," she jokes. "I was like ‘Oh what's a great song to do? Wow I get to cover anything I want and this will be perfect.'"

Though McLachlan does cover "Go Tell It on the Mountain" on Wonderland, the bulk of the album is comprised of familiar classic holiday tunes like "Let It Snow," "White Christmas," "Siler Bells" and "O Holy Night."

On "Go Tell It on the Mountain," McLachlan is joined by Emmylou Harris and Martha Wainwright. How did she get them on the song? Was it simply a matter of her being friends with them already and just calling them up and asking if they wanted to do it?

"Pretty much!" McLachlan says. "Martha was easier because she was in Montreal at the time [when they recorded the song] and she's good friends with Pierre [Marchand], my producer, so when you're doing gang vocals and trying to get a bunch of different people to sing it's like ‘OK who's in town? Who can we call? Who’s going to say yes?!’ Martha was there and she was game [and] Emmy and I go way back, like 15-20 years, so that was just really lovely to hear her voice. We've had the opportunity to sing together on a bunch of occasions so it was really nice to do that."

McLachlan is in the midst of promoting Wonderland, and among her promotional efforts will be a performance on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (it will air on NBC at 9 a.m. in all time zones on Nov. 24). It will be her second visit to the parade, following a 2006 appearance after Wintersong’s release.

You’re right in assuming that it was easy decision for McLachlan to make to participate in the parade this year. "Are you kidding? Absolutely. We watch it every year, so it’s like 'I get to be in that?!'"

Does she get to pick which float she’ll be perched upon while singing? "You know what I didn't even think about that. I was just told I was going to be in it and that was enough for me! I'll just show up and be like ‘tell me where to stand and I'll stand there.’ That's a really interesting question. I probably should have figured that one out, but I know there's a children’s choir that's going to be on it with me which is going to be really fun."

And if you’ve wondered if the performers we see on TV are actually on the float for the duration of the parade -- think again. "No, I think what they do is you go to your corner, whatever street corner that you're going to be getting on your float because of course we move quite slowly. They put you on it and set you up and they say, 'You're going to be on in about three minutes so prepare yourself.' And then we go around the corner and [you see all] the TV cameras and the song starts and you start singing. And then five minutes later you're basically pulled off the thing [laughs] and put back into your car and off to the next thing."


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