From opera and Garland to fatherhood, family ties and a renewed pop sensibility
By Litsa Dremousis
Special to MSN Music
For Rufus Wainwright's seventh studio offering, "Out of the Game," early reactions signal the rest of the world might finally be catching up to the acclaimed, versatile and rococo singer- songwriter, whose nearly two-decade career includes forays into soaring pop, opera and covers of beloved pre-rock standards but whose chart prominence has, until now, never matched his renown.
"Out of the Game"' marks Wainwright's first collaboration with celebrated producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Adele, Christina Aguilera), and it's a testament to each man's clear vision that the album's gorgeous collection of mixed-tempo, often wry love songs was tracked in eight days, the time some artists require to tune their guitars. Wainwright sounds entirely self-assured throughout all 12 songs as he sings tales of his partner ("Welcome to the Ball"), daughter ("Montauk"), beloved late mother ("Candles"), friends ("Barbara") and where he finds himself in this swirling cosmos of love and familial ties.
Indeed, it's impossible to discuss Wainwright without also discussing his family of lauded musicians. Elizabeth Taylor once said she couldn't recall a time she wasn't famous, and Wainwright could almost make a similar claim. He began singing and touring with his mother, the gifted Canadian folk-singer Kate McGarrigle (whose 2010 death still affects him deeply), when he was a teen. His father, the Grammy Award-winning Loudon Wainwright III, has a recording career that spans four decades. Rufus frequently collaborates with his sister, Martha Wainwright, a noted artist in her own right. And now he and his partner, Jorn Weisbrodt, have a baby daughter whose mother is none other than Lorca Cohen, daughter to one of the most legendary songwriters of all time, Leonard Cohen. Clearly, Rufus Wainwright will always have plenty of material. But only an artist of Wainwright's caliber could distill it all into a record as consistently great as "Out of the Game."
While on his North American tour, Wainwright spoke with MSN Music via phone.
MSN Music: The word I keep returning to with "Out of the Game" is "whole."
Rufus Wainwright: [Laughs.]
"Whole" with a "w." Throughout the record, you shift genres and tone, and each song is a distinct piece but fits beautifully with those surrounding it. You've said you and Mark Ronson felt you were creating something special in the studio. Is it gratifying that fans and critics seem to agree?
Yes, definitely. I'm definitely gratified by all of it and by this union, working with Mark. Due to my desperate need to have a great time in my place of work [laughs], we did have an incredible time in the studio. With this record, all of it came together. The sadness and wonder of my life experience, the good and the bad of it and having a child, it all came together here. I made this one faster than any record in my career, though. So, like all good things, it was over far, far too quickly.
There's a gorgeous contrast between songs like "Montauk," which imagines your daughter as an adult, and "Candles," an elegy for your mom. But it never feels jarring.
For better or worse, I've always been curious musically. Whether it's opera or Judy Garland or pop, I've deliberately sought those things out. I've never wanted to do the same things over and over. Some think I've accomplished what I set out to do and others consider me a dilettante. This record is a return to pop music, of course, and through Mark's way, all the pieces really do come together here.
When you've discussed your baby daughter in interviews, you've referred to her as "my princess." Is it difficult to be on tour now and see her less?
I've seen her once in the past month, which is pretty good right now under the circumstances. So, I think I'm ahead of the clip. When I was growing up, I only saw my father during the summers. So, I'm going at a pretty good clip. My dad, who has an amazing record out now ["Older Than My Old Man Now"], is 64. And if you ask him, he'll say he feels like he's just getting the hang of fatherhood now. I'm relatively new to fatherhood and I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of parts of it, but also figuring it out as we go.
When you and your family recently gave a joint interview to The New York Times about your collective and individual work, your dad said your family, at its core, is like most families. You immediately responded that you're not and never have been. Which sort of proved his point.
[Reluctant laughter] Really?
In that if you put any family in room, after 10 minutes, there will be a disagreement. The lyrics to "Montauk" seem to anticipate that your daughter will one day have her own retorts to you and your partner, Jorn. Given that she's both a Wainwright and a Cohen, are you waiting for her response 25 years from now?
Oh, much faster than that. [Laughs.] Yeah, it'll arrive much sooner. You know, given the circumstances when we had her, with my mom's death, so much of this wasn't thought out in great detail and we are figuring it out as we go. With my mom's death at the same time, it's all been a bit of a blur. My daughter definitely has an interesting mix of genes and perspectives. And her smile is such a bright spot. Not only am I waiting for her response, I'm welcoming it.
You've been out your entire adult life. You've said you used to ascribe to an Oscar Wilde approach to being gay, i.e., why would you want to be like everyone else? Then you changed when you and Jorn fell in love. You're planning your wedding now. President Obama recently came out in favor of same-sex marriage. However one approaches being gay, are you both gratified and thinking, "What the hell is taking everyone so long?"
I like to try new things. My partner and I have been together seven years now and my philosophy is to always keep trying new things. And same-sex marriage seems to be the thing to do here in America now. [Laughs.] So, we're giving this a try, too. I've never been very good at repressing myself. Though sometimes I wish I could be, when I look at the bills for this wedding. [Laughs.]
Litsa Dremousis' work appears in The Believer, Esquire, McSweeney's, MSN Music, Nerve, The Onion's A.V. Club, Paste, the Seattle Weekly, on NPR and in sundry other venues. She is completing her first novel. On Twitter: @LitsaDremousis.