Rufus Wainwright talks music and family
We recently interviewed singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright for a weekly publication. Because of space limitations, we couldn’t print the whole interview there so here it is. The flamboyant Wainwright is currently touring in support of his new album, Out of the Game, on which he writes about the tragic death of his mother, singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle.
Your last album was a stripped down affair. What was it like returning to your roots and making something so ornate?
Well, it was very bittersweet, as every experience is for me now, having lost my mother two years. Right after Kate [McGarrigle] died, I released my solo piano album and toured the world and wept on every major stage available. This one is more of a celebration and acceptance of reality. It’s about the idea that we’re here for a brief time and we might as well enjoy it.
Producer Mark Ronson is good match. What brought you two together?
I heard of him for many, many years and we have many friends in common. We did some gigs together. Because he is a DJ, he was usually on at like 3 in the morning. The minute we met, we got along famously. He’s such a brilliant and also very handsome character, one can’t help being seduced by him, be it man, woman, or child. We had a brief time to make the album and not a lot of money so like all fun, exciting things, it was over in a second.
Explain the title track. Do you feel “out of the game”?
Part of me feels like I’m out of the game. It’s not really a game for me anymore, be it that I want to get to that next level artistically or that I want to financially be secure or look good or whatever. Once death has touched your life, the worlds is not quite as the playful as it once was. It doesn’t mean that it’s worse or bad or a darker thing. It’s just that everything has that much more meaning.
I love the video for the song. Talk about idea to have Helena Bonham Carter lip-sync the song.
She’s a dear friend of mine. She was such a trooper to work on the video with me. We didn’t have a lot of time or a lot of money. For instance, she was going to play one of the characters and I was going to be the librarian but we couldn’t afford any other actors. So I had to play the parts. It’s the way things are made. Believe it or not, she’s a much sexier librarian than I am.
Some of the tracks on the new album, like “Bitter Tears,” for example, have been in the vaults for a while.
Mark discovered that. I gave him a lot of older songs, and he gravitated toward it and dusted it off and put his mark on it. It’s what we have today.
“Perfect Man” was written for the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant. Why exactly did he pass on it?
I don’t think he passed on it necessarily. It just never came to fruition. The Pet Shop Boys are a fantastic band though “Perfect Man” has the most number of chords of any song ever written, arguably. That’s not totally their style. I enjoy that song a lot and am performing it on stage. It’s a real show piece, which I wouldn’t have expected.
A song like “Candles,” which is about the passing of your mother, is so personal. How difficult was it to compose?
That was the hardest song to get my head around. In fact, I really only recorded it once and it was early on in the process. The first time I sang it, it was hard for me to get through it and so forth. WE tried a couple of other versions down the line and it was obvious that it wasn’t a song I was going to be beat to the ground. We used it. So I open the show with that song. The bedrock of this album is loss and sadness but it’s about transcending that and transforming it into some sort of happy butterfly. It’s still coming from a place of darkness. It’s such an emotionally gripping piece and I do believe that for anyone who has lost a mother, that to have it in the middle of the set was too much of a downer.
I once interviewed your father who said that your homosexuality was the least of the problems he had with you when you were growing up. Were you a troublemaker?
No, no. My dad was just somewhat set in his ways. We are doing well now. It definitely required effort and a conscientious attitude, but we are doing great. My dad is really the quintessential American man. He was born in the ’40s and grew up in the ’60s when this country was an empire. There’s a lot of baggage in general from having been at the top of the world. I grew up in a much less illustrious period. AIDS was really our thing. We’re both from very different planets, I think. But we do get along.
I remember seeing you play at Oberlin’s Finney Chapel several years ago. What do you recall from that performance?
I know my sister went to Oberlin, so it’s been a part of my life. She loved it there so much, absolutely. I remember it being quite an oasis. It was quite an oasis!