SARAH HARMER DID HER PHONE interview with POLLSTAR while lying in bed. It was the morning after a little farewell bash with fellow Canucks the Barenaked Ladies, for whom she was opening in North America, and she was more tired than hung over.

“I was drinking juice and water so I’m feeling fine,” she said.

The singer/ songwriter, whose album You Were Here was called “the year’s best debut” by Time magazine in 2000, has been on the road for the last year and a half. She has several more months to go, including a two-and-a-half-week stint in Europe, and more dates in Canada and America.

“I’m totally dying to go home for a few days,” confessed Harmer, who lives in a farmhouse in Kingston, Ont. “The tour I’ve been doing has pretty much been all summer, but it’s been great. I’ve been reading and writing and listening to music and hanging out and eating good food. It’s been a little bit of depravation in terms of not being in one place very long.”

It’s just supply and demand. Harmer’s album received rave reviews from critics and landed on a heap of year-end critics’ lists in 2000. But for Harmer, the buzz, the hype, the excitement happened around her as she just went about her own thing.

“I’ve worked with Sarah for a decade, through Saddletramps and then Weeping Tile,” recalled her North American booking agent, Jack Ross of The Agency Group. “I always knew that Sarah was special. Her voice, even when she was a backup singer in the Saddletramps, was so beautiful and clear and natural. I’ve seen Sarah do, let’s say, 500 shows and I’ve never heard her sing a bad note.”

Harmer, who grew up in Burlington, Ont., joined the Saddletramps in the late ’80s, singing backup and even lead on a handful of songs. She celebrated her 18th birthday performing at the Rivoli in Toronto. Over her three and a half years in the band, she commuted from Queen’s University in Kingston to play weekend dates in Ontario and Quebec.

In 1991, Harmer left the band to concentrate on school, taking women’s studies and working on a minor in music. But she started writing songs on guitar when she received a call from artist manager Patrick Sambrook, who needed an opener for his new act, Thomas Trio & The Red Albino.

Sarah Harmer

“‘Oh, man, I don’t have a show,'” she told him. “He said, ‘OK, you have four days.’ So I showed my friend (the late) Joe Chithalen about five songs and he wrote them on stand-up bass and we went up to play Ottawa’s Zaphod’s. That was the official start [of her new band, Weeping Tile].”

In the fall of 1993, Harmer recorded some of those songs and released Eeepee on cassette in early 1994, revamping the band lineup and playing Ontario dates. In the fall, Weeping Tile toured the East Coast with rock band The Watchmen, selling 43 cassettes at $5 a pop at one show in Moncton, N.B., she remembered.

Sambrook continued to line up shows for Weeping Tile through Ralph James and Jack Ross from the old Agency and eventually became her manager. In the spring, Weeping Tile recorded Cold Snap, which it licensed to Warner Music Canada in 1995 and to Tag in the U.S. through Harmer’s own label, Cold Snap Music. The band then toured the U.S. with roots rockers Blue Rodeo, as well as doing sporadic solo dates.

When Tag went under, Harmer’s next album, 1997’s Valentino, was released only in Canada and Brazil.

“I put it out in August, toured all fall and spring, and then it was, ‘OK, the record’s over,'” she recounted. And so was her deal with Warner.

Harmer welcomed the “blank slate” and recorded a collection of old favorites in 1999 entitled Songs For Clem as a gift for her father. She released it on Cold Snap and set up a Web site to handle mail orders. She played some summertime shows with friends and in January 2000, hit the road for some solo acoustic shows with independents Sarah Slean and Oh Susanna.

She made You Were Here on her own time with her own resources and put it out on Cold Snap. With the South By Southwest music festival coming up in March 2000, she recruited drummer Gavin Brown and bassist Kevin Fox and played two warmups at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern before heading to Austin, Texas, for four shows.

Sambrook and Harmer’s attorney, Chris Taylor, “slowly seeped” the album to industry folks, the performer said. While she contemplated her business options, she hit the road for a month in the States, opening for Canadian Celtic-pop band Great Big Sea. She hasn’t stopped since except to sign licensing deals with Rounder/Zoe in America and Universal Music Canada.

Opportunities continue to arise. She has toured all over North America on her own, as well as with Cowboy Junkies and Barenaked Ladies at amphitheatres this past summer. Because of the bigger venues, she now performs as part of a four-piece with drummer John Obercian, bassist Tom Artiss (recently replacing Fox) and her old soundman Marty Kinack on Wurlitzer and guitar. They will be on the road until December.

“She’s fulfilling the promise that has always been there and her voice is totally natural and her songwriting has progressed,” The Agency Group’s Ross reflected. “I think now she’s certainly respected by people for her voice or almost revered for her voice, but in the end, she could be better known as a songwriter, which is exciting.”