Rufus Wainwright



Rufus Wainwright, waking up to a London morning filled with interviews is a joy to speak to. A little shocked with the arrival of summertime he talks to me about Lady Gaga, plans for a pop record an of course his latest release All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu. An album that focuses one of the most unique, rich voices in indie music today combined with nothing more than a piano, blending Shakespeare’s sonnets, an aria taken from Rufus’ own opera Prima Donna and more personal songs. Only a few months ago his mother, folk singer Katie McGarrigle lost her battle to cancer. It has led to what might be some of his most intimate and immediate songwriting to date.

What did you have for breakfast?

Oatmeal, a soy latte and four interviews. I’m thirty six now and I have to start sculpting my body, my organs and my hair. It’s like a restoration process.

What led to the more stripped down sound of your latest album?

This record is like a refugee camp for songs. And it’s just me and the piano, because I needed to play the piano in order to survive. I was so torn apart, in both good ways and bad ways.

It was also an artistic reason. Plus, we live in a recession and I believe everything is being stripped down right now. Everything is being revalued, reassessed and broken down to its core value, so i’m just following the trend.

But in end, which is ironic, is that a piano and a voice is actually the biggest sound you can get. I find that it can even be bigger than a symphony.

Artistically speaking, is this a direction you’ll be following from now on?

No, it’s not. My next album will be a huge, disgusting pop album à la Lady Gaga. I’ve decided not to fight her anymore but to join her. One last pop album for the road. I really want to grab that monster by the tail, sort of one last try. By then I’ll probably be about forty and I think that’s a respectful age to retire and write operas. And I’ll get fat and grow a beard.

How would a pure pop album by Rufus Wainwright sound like?

I have some songs, but I don’t know what the sound will be like. It’s more of a dream at this point.

You have a great tradition of honoring other artist with your work. Which artists are still on your list?

There’s one artist who I’m very thankful to right now, her name is Lhasa de Sela. She was an amazing singer who had cancer. She was 36 when she died, I knew her. She died on the first of January and then my mother died two weeks later. I spent a lot of time listening to her songs after that. First of all, she’s incredible. I think she’s going to be an icon. Listening to her songs was the only was that could help me understand what my mother was going through. She was writing about her own sickness. So I owe a lot to her right now.

You are one of the most critically acclaimed artist of your generation. Why is commercial success still so important to you?

It’s like anything else. It’s like working at the bank and wanting to become the president of the bank, it's natural. And I come from a family of musicians so in a lot of ways it's like a family business. I'm like Sean Lennon (son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono), someone who I love and adore, his parents were always successful, my parents weren’t so I got a sense of what it's like to fall.

All Days Are Nights is probably the least commercial album I’ve ever made, but people are really feeling this album. I don’t think it will be a hit record but it could bring a whole new group of friends. There is a certain purity that people just can’t deny.

On your last album, Release The Stars, you clearly expressed your opinion on the Bush administration and the political situation in America. How has the present political time influenced All Days Are Nights?

I think Who Are You New York is sort of the answer to Going To A Town. A bit of a spring time for America-song. I’m very proud of Obama for passing that health bill even though it’s not what we wanted in the beginning. But someone explained something really great to me yesterday. Everybody is getting mad at Obama for not being tough and for not being brutal. But that’s not why we elected him. And to have the Republicans come up in this disgusting way and now say to Obama ‘Oh, you have to be disgusting too.’, is just sick. People shouldn’t want him to turn into that, cause he is not that person. He wants to be diplomatic.

So, I’m into Obama these days. And I think what he’s doing is very clever. It’s not these huge statements but it’s this subtle shift that he’s trying to do. I have faith in him.

How did it feel to become an an uncle? [Rufus’ sister, singer Martha Wainwright, gave birth to a baby boy Arcangelo]

Oh, it’s fantastic. I was a little scared at first. I’m definitely the type of person who is afraid they’re gonna kill the baby each time they hold it. I’m very nervous around little living things. But by the end of a week being with the baby I grabbed the baby and put him on my lap and over my shoulder. I was naturally drawn to him. It’s nice to know I don’t kill things all the time.

Originally published in Gay & Night

Interview by Maurits de Bruijn