Wainwright says mother speaks through him on new album
Rufus Wainwright poses for a photo in a Toronto hotel room during a promotional tour on Wednesday, March 3, 2010. (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, March 22, 2010 2:46PM EDT
TORONTO - Barely a month after the funeral of his folk-musician mother, Kate McGarrigle, troubadour Rufus Wainwright was due to make the media rounds for his new album, "All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu," out Tuesday.
While exhausted from everything going on in his life (he's also busy preparing his new opera, "Prima Donna," for its North American debut in June), Wainwright said he was relieved to be out and about, expressing his feelings.
"It's actually easier for me to do press than to sit around and think about what's happened," the Montreal-raised musician -- hailed by Elton John as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation -- said during a stop in the city earlier this month.
"I feel tremendously honoured and thankful that I'm able to talk about her so much and really process a lot of the feelings I've had. I need to talk about what happened -- that's sort of my nature to begin with -- so to have that outlet is great."
His mother would also be proud to see him continue with his work, added the two-time Juno Award winner.
"She was a very public person and, especially in this country, was revered and is now missed and I feel a certain duty to go out and solidify her legacy.
"So it's a duty and also, she would've liked it better that way. She was really into my career, my sister's career, her own career. She loved the stage and she loved show business and she was into interviews.
"So I feel like she's speaking through me in a lot of ways."
McGarrigle is also present in the lyrics of his new album, a stirring and stripped-down collection of pop/classical/cabaret-style tunes featuring just Wainwright's mellow vocals and his piano playing.
On track "Zebulon," Wainwright softly sings, "My mother's in the hospital," a reference to her long battle with cancer, which took her life in January.
And "Martha," named for his musician sister, opens with the lyrics, "Martha, it's your brother calling, time to go up north and see mother, things are harder for her now."
"There's nothing where I directly tackle her illness or kind of confess my true feelings of what happened in a very private world, but that being said, I think you can definitely sense and also understand a lot of the things that happened to me in this work," said the 36-year-old, who lives in New York.
Wainwright's esteemed family has a long history of expressing their feelings about each other in song.
His father, Grammy-winning folk musician Loudon Wainwright, has written about his children in several tracks -- including "A Father and a Son" and "Pretty Little Martha" -- and they've referenced him in their tunes.
"It's a method of communication which my family has been blessed/cursed with," said Wainwright. "It's something we all do and that miraculously we can pull off on kind of an equal level.
"It in itself has become a sort of creature that we have to take out for a walk and then put back in the cage every once in a while."
"All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu" is Wainwright's sixth studio album after 2008's "Release the Stars."
The first half of the title refers to Shakespeare's Sonnet 43, one of 24 sonnets to which Wainwright composed music for a Robert Wilson theatrical production.
"For me it very much represents the kind of duality that we all inhabit where sometimes day seems like night and sometimes night seems like day, and just the confusing nature of emotional turmoil which I've certainly been through mainly with my mother's death," said Wainwright.
The second half of the album title, "Songs for Lulu," is a reference to the title character in the 1929 Pabst movie "Pandora's Box."
Lulu, said Wainwright, is a dark, brooding female figure that he identifies with because of his past battles with drugs.
"Anyone who comes into contact with her is obliterated and she sort of has become, in my imagination, this symbol of kind of my past life and of where I probably shouldn't go," said Wainwright.
"But (she's) still a place that still exists and that I still kind of love in a way and that I still worship in a sense and that I have to, you know, every once in a while make a sacrifice to -- not myself but sort of an artistic offering."
Wainwright will kick off his North American tour for the new album on June 15 at the Luminato arts festival in Toronto.
The night before, he'll debut his "Prima Donna" opera at the festival, where it will run for four nights.
Written entirely in French by Wainwright, who also composed the opera's score, the story is set in Paris and follows a washed-up opera singer as she takes a second stab at fame.
The opera premiered at the Manchester International Festival last year and has changed "quite a lot" since then, said Wainwright, noting the production is tighter now.
Wainwright also feels like he has more control this time around, with a new conductor and artistic director.
"I think when I first started this process, a lot of people didn't think I could pull it off, just me alone," he said. "I think they thought at a certain point that they would come in and bring in an orchestrator and kind of take my baby and bring it up themselves because they know what to do.
"But as it turns out I kind of came in with everything fully formed and ready to go and they were a little shocked and the conductor I had in the past was very academic and very from a certain French school -- and we're not talking romantic French, we're talking very modern, and so we didn't really click musically."
Challenges aside, Wainwright is interested in doing another opera but wants to focus on his pop-music career first.
"I'd like to take one more crack at the pop dragon and see what that entails, but we'll see. I still have a little more work to do on the radio, in the radio world."
He'd also like a chart-topping hit, a goal that's reserved for his next album, he said.
"The next album is sort of for me my last-ditch attempt at being a superstar," he said with a laugh.
"It's more for fun. If it doesn't happen, it's fine. I have no worry about it. But you know, I love Elton John, but he has a bigger house than me, so..."