The eldest of six siblings, she was born in the age when mankind took its first steps on the moon, learning early on that the possibilities within her own life would only be limited if she allowed them to be. She explains: "I was a child growing up through the '60s and saw the first man land on the moon on my black and white TV screen, and was amazed even at that young age. I kind of understood that humans could think out of the box and come at life from a different perspective and think outwards, and we could actually do, as human beings, extraordinary things. Time has told that. We do do extraordinary things."
Brightman's love for all things extraordinary is vividly present in her 2013 album, Dreamchaser, where she delves into her own relationship with the universe and thoughts of space travel in a very cinematic way through a few wistful originals and dreamy yet playful covers by Sigur Rós, Wings, Elbow, and the Cocteau Twins. If you're wondering what unites the work of such diverse artists on one album, Brightman expressed to Pat Cerasaro, "It was really about picking pieces that I thought were expansive in their feel, like the universe, but, at the same time, also had a message and looked at life and the universe from a different perspective."
What is possibly the most appealing thing about Brightman's approach to her music is the fact that she doesn't try to be something she's not. She explained in her interview with Cerasaro, "I am an interpreter of music rather than a composer of it. So, the big challenge was finding the right sound to mix everything together and working with the producer, Mike Hedges, on finding that."
It's almost ironic that Brightman undertook the role as Christine Daaé in Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, as she seems to intuitively embrace the art of keeping stories and ideas alive by revering the relationship between that of the creator and the translator. This sentiment rings particularly true throughout the following interview as we discover the muses of one who is, herself, a magnanimous muse.
Sarah Brightman: It really started in the '60s when I was growing up. I'm showing my age now, but when I grew up through the '60s as a child, space and science and all the things that were happening, space exploration, were very forefront. There were dramas made about it on TV, it was all about that. And having watched the first man walk on the moon from the black and white TV screen that we had then, it changed my perspective. It actually gave me the energy to focus in on things that maybe I could do, things that were out of the box. I started to really focus in on my work and what I could do in life. It helped me at that time. It was a very confident time.
And then, of course, it went very, very quiet for many, many years, and everyone who thought that they may at some point in their life be an astronaut or work within the space area, that sort of disappeared for many years. Then quite a few years back I met someone who's a rocket engineer in the aerospace business. I was talking about my interest in space and how I'd even created an album called La Luna quite a few years back. Which is, of course, about the moon.
And he said, "You know, you can actually take pianos into space. I started to think about Virgin Galactic journeys and I bought a ticket – I was one of the early ticket buyers. And then I was offered the opportunity to go up in the Soyez rocket in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station. And although my first thought was, "I don't think I can take this on," two years later I said, "I can actually take this on," and started going through medicals and all the training. I got through it with - excuse the tongue - flying colors.
And I'm only telling you all of this because throughout my journey of all of this I got very inspired artistically to create an album that brought in all the emotions that people get from looking at the planets and the stars and the idea of space exploration. I started to put songs together that I had known and loved and thought that they would fit in this concept, and also create the sound with the producer Mike Hedges. All of these pieces could be threaded together.
And that was really how it all got inspired. And I've always felt this with my albums. They've always been inspired by the journey I'm taking through my life at that particular time. So an audience will get the feeling that there's something very real, it's something that's very organic.
Songfacts: Let's talk a little bit more about Mike. He's had a very storied career. Maybe more known in the rock world with his work with U2 and Manic Street Preachers. How did you meet him and what made you want to work with him for this album?
I just felt that he would be able to take this on, so we started writing together. The first song we started working on was "Angel," the first song on the album. And he had presented to me the Hildegard of Bingen piece ["Ave Maria"], which is very spiritual, but yet was very futuristical at the same time, although she was a medieval writer, composer. It just gelled. You have to work with instincts when it comes to choosing producers, and the mix has to be right. And we get on very well together. He likes voices.
Songfacts: Let's talk about a few specific songs. There's one song called "One Day Like This," which is a cover of Elbow. People may or may not know that band. What drew you to want to sing that song?
It's a very optimistic piece. It fits very well with the theme of this album: looking at things from a different perspective.
Songfacts: I see. So another song that might be a little more well known is "Venus and Mars," which is, of course, a Wings song, written by Paul and Linda McCartney. Were you a Beatles fan growing up?
Brightman: I was. I mean, you're either a Beatles fan or a Stones fan, and I was definitely a Beatles fan. When you think about the space area, there is a very playful romantic area within it, when we think about it. I wanted a piece that took up this area, and I thought that "Venus and Mars" very much did. There's something fun about it, something a bit tongue-in-cheek about it, and it just felt right.
Songfacts: Which songs on the album do you think challenged you the most and made you do things with your voice that you haven't done before?
Brightman: "Eperdu" was a challenge. I've always been a bit of a fan of the Cocteau Twins. Elizabeth Fraser, I love her voice, what she does. But, of course, throughout the Cocteau Twins' career they seem to have developed their own language, so it was a challenge to actually emulate it and also bring something new to it vocally.
"Glósóli" was an interesting piece to do. I asked about commissioning the original Sigur Rós song, and I didn't want to do it in Icelandic - it's not my mother language. And they said, "Well, why do you want to do this song? We don't want this song orientated." And I said, "No, that's not the point. The reason I want to do this piece is because you really can feel the land that you've created, being Iceland." And when I think of the countries of the world, one that's very connected to space is Iceland. The way that it looks and feels. It feels like space because the skies are clearer. I wanted to just really vocally give the feeling that something striking is out there.
Songfacts: So just staying with the landscape theme for a second, what other places on earth have you found to be the most beautiful and inspiring?
Brightman: Hawaii is a very interesting place. There are parts in Russia, parts in China. Islands off the coast of Africa.
Songfacts: One last question for you, Sarah. You're obviously gearing up for a massive world tour for this album and it's probably going to be incredibly hectic if not already. Give us an idea of what a day on tour is like for Sarah Brightman.
Brightman: It's very rigid. It has to be for me to survive it. When I travel, I like to travel on the touring bus. So I'll sleep on the bus and we'll drive straight to the next venue. I start by exercising. I work on my voice with my coach for a couple of hours, warming up, doing exercises. I try and eat the right things and drink lots of water. I go around talking to everybody that works for me - the stage crew, the sound people, the lighting people - so that I can connect to everybody again.
Then I do my performance. My days are like that. They're very focused and very energized.
June 18, 2013. Get more at sarahbrightman.com.
More Songwriter Interviews