Canadian-born Sarah McLachlan has been crooning for audiences since she was 17. At that time, she had a short-lived rock band called "The October Game," and her high school yearbook predicted that her future "destined to become a rock star."
Although she may have had a rocker's start, the songs for which McLachlan has become most famous feature a more intimate and emotional use of her voice.
McLachlan recently sat down with "Nightline" at New York City's Amalia to discuss the music that has influenced her, and her own.
"If I had to pick one song for me that sort of quintessentially summed me up, it would be 'Angel,'" she said, referring to the hit track featured in the "City of Angels" soundtrack that achieved multi-platinum sales. "Without fail, I absolutely love singing it," she said.
For McLachlan it's been the song that has drawn the most feedback, time and again. "For me, that's one of the best validations as an artist," she said. "To have a stranger come up to you and say that something you've created and put out there in the world has had some sort of impact on other people's lives."
This year brings new developments in McLachlan's career. On June 15, 2010, the Grammy Award–winning singer and songwriter released her latest album, "Laws of Illusion." It is the artist's first studio album of new material in seven years. Lilith Fair, a concert tour co-founded by McLachlan in 1997,the first tour to headline with all female artists. Lilith Fair also returns to concert stages this summer.
Here are some of the tunes that have helped to shape her own sound. Some of her answers may surprise you.
Kenny Rogers: "The Gambler"
"Ooh, Kenny Rogers, strangely enough!" she said. She recalls a time in seventh grade when she played "The Gambler" in a variety show. "I thought Kenny Rogers was the bomb back then!" she said laughing. "Embarrassing moment!"
Sarah McLachlan Loves Old Country Music
"I've been a fan of old country music, like Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline," she said."I think I'm drawn to it because of the sense of sadness and sort of loss that a lot of good old country music has."
At 11, her family was given a piano and the singer/songwriter said she always wanted to play it along with the piano at her school. "I ended up spending a lot more time with piano than guitar," she said. "And then when I was writing, it's a much easier tool to write with."
Peter Gabriel: "Mercy Street"
McLachlan said she was introduced to Peter Gabriel when she was 16, and is a big fan of his music. "If I had to choose one song, I think it would probably be 'Mercy Street,'" she said, citing the incredible sense of loss one feels listening to the song. "I think really, both lyrically and musically he really hits the nail on the head with that one."
She said in high school she would analyze Garbriel's work. "You know, why does this move me? Why does it make me feel something? And how can I emulate that without copying him? He has been a huge influence," she said. She added that Gabriel's "body of work is amazing and he's just incredibly, incredibly talented."
Jane Siberry: "The Valley"
"Jane Siberry is an artist who is incredibly emotionally intuitive. And she's written a lot of great songs – one in particular, 'The Valley' is actually about – I believe it's about a mental institution that she lived across the street from," she said. "Just the sense of deep sadness and loss and confusion about what's happening."
McLachlan said that she never imagined she would get to be a recording artist for a living. "My parents said, 'It's a lovely hobby, honey, but you're going to go to university and you're going to get a real job.'"
But McLachlan didn't want to go to college, she said. She knew she wanted to be creative. "That's what I know I'm good at," she said. "And I'm just really, really lucky that that somehow worked out for me."
McLachlan finished high school and, at her parents' suggestion, completed one year of studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design before signing to record company Nettwerk two years later. The company signed her before she had ever written a song.
McLachlan: Dark, Sad Songs Make Me Happy
Joni Mitchell: "The River"
McLachlan easily puts this Joni Mitchell track in her Top 5. "I keep going back to this sense of melancholy and loss but she – her lyrics are so beautiful and so sad, and there's so much loss and so much yearning in them," she said. "I'm certainly drawn to that."
"I've gotten the opportunity to watch so many other artists who get very successful quickly, and how difficult it is to know one's self in your early 20's and to know what it is that you want out of your life," she said.
McLachlan explained her attraction to 'sad' songs, saying, "Pain and beauty are so intrinsically connected on so many levels and I think that's one of the things that really draws me to people's music who do the same thing."
She added, "The darker and the sadder the song, the happier it makes me feel. It's just this, ah. I'm in the moment. I'm part of this beautiful world and it's fantastic and I don't really know how else to describe it."
Metallica : "Nothing Else Matters"
There's still a bit of rocker in McLachlan yet. "I like Metallica," she laughed. "'Nothing Else Matters' is a really, really great song."
She added that she's considered covering the track at some point, and "you never know, I still might," she said. Of Metallica, she said, "They're so aggressive and I have a little part of me that really likes that once in a while, just to go a little wild."
"Metallica is my go-to band for that," she said. McLachlan acknowledges her music tastes cover an interesting spectrum. "I just think I'm drawn to these songs because they make me feel, and I want to feel. I want to feel a lot," she said.
"When I look at a painting or read a book or listen to a song it's like, someone else out there gets it. They feel me," she said.
U2: "Beautiful Day"
McLachlan said she turns to U2 when she's in the mood to shake things up a bit. "'Beautiful Day' is such an incredible song. It's really, really up-tempo, really exciting and new," she said.
But of course, it draws her because of the emotions it evokes. "It's that feeling of – you can do anything. Anything can happen. The possibilities are endless. And that's a really nice feeling to plant yourself in."