How a chance encounter on the GO train shaped Pickering, Ont., singer Sarah Slean's new song

There is a "great story" behind the second single on Sarah Slean's newest work Metaphysics, the singer says.

Every Rhythm is the Beat is on the singer's first album in six years, which was released last week.

And the Pickering, Ont., native told Fresh Air host Nana aba Duncan about the chance encounter that inspired the track.

Slean recalled a late night GO train ride, which she took advantage of as an opportunity to meditate — a practice she was trying to consistently do.

"Someone got on. I felt a very menacing presence next to me," she said. "So I fluttered my eyelids open and there was this terrifying looking man who was staring down at me with a scowl on his face."

Rather than move away, she said, "Hi." At first, the man was confused by her greeting, she said, but it initiated "maybe the most moving conversation I've had with a human being in my life."

Slean said she noticed the man was carrying a gun during their conversation. Still, she continued to chat.

"He proceeded to tell me his life story; how he was trapped in a cycle of selling drugs to survive; his family were nowhere to be found," Slean said. "He started to cry in front of me — this man was 31 years old and he was crying in front of a perfect stranger."

At the end of their conversation, they hugged and exchanged numbers.

'A profound connection'

They corresponded for two years after that encounter. And reconnected at a particularly trying time in Slean's own life, she said.

"I was in a bad way, in my condo, sitting there going: 'My life is stuck. I'm not moving forward. What do I do?'"

Then she received a phone call from him and learned he had half of his voice box removed due to a cancerous tumour.

"He could barely speak to me but he wanted to call me to tell me that while he was in the hospital the nurses were bringing him books from the library, and that he had found poetry. Poetry and music were now the meaning of his life."

"It was like the universe picking me up by the collar and slapping me in the face and saying, 'Hey, words and music —  these things that you're being so cavalier with right now —  they have taken this man who didn't want to live anymore and turned his whole world around.'"

"It made me stop feeling stuck and start feeling a sense of duty and gratitude to the gifts that I've been given and to get on with it," Slean said.

"We have these profound connections with people for a reason."

Slean will perform at the CBC Music Festival on May 27 at Echo Beach.