Interview: Martha Wainwright

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Credit to Bruce via Flickr

Martha Wainwright is a feisty and heartfelt Canadian-American folk singer and musician. Daughter of Loudon III and Kate McCarrigle, and sister to the equally famous Rufus Wainwright, Martha has been treating us to her distinctive and deeply personal style since her debut album in 2005, which featured perhaps her most popular song to date, ‘Bloody Motherfucking Asshole’. Not your usual folk song. Fast-forward to our current year of 2017 and Martha has just released her 5th solo album ‘Goodnight City’, and is currently embarking on the U.K leg of her tour. I got the chance to catch up with the songstress herself:

 

One constant in your music seems to be your family, whether it’s about them or features them, how do you think your writing has changed or progressed considering this?

Interesting. Well I think its made me probably view myself next to them more and sort of try and draw parallels between our music and see why we’re similar. Maybe in a way because of fulfilling some sort of self-prophecy of living up a similar type of life. That being said, even though we sort of, my family, my parents, have different sounds; we are similar in the way we write about our personal experiences. We write about the people that matter to us but it’s still so specific to each one of us. We have similar life experience but we all have our specific roles in it. I think it probably reminds people of their own family and their own dynamic, how they feel that they’re the same but also different.

Do you agree with your Dad then when he says you’re “just like any other family”?

Well it’s interesting you know that I think there was something that my father said that we’re just like any other family but Rufus says, you know, we’re not like any other family. We’re very special and I think that kind of really speaks to both their perceptions of themselves and what they’re trying to do with their music. Rufus has built this kind of mythology around it whereas my Dad is much more grounded in the sense that we’re all the same and you know, life sucks for everybody. You know being a distant father is almost acceptable because it happens to everybody. I think that people do appreciate his stories and fell less alone when they hear them because they parallel a lot of peoples lives. But also people appreciate Rufus and this world that he creates which is perhaps more beautiful and more special than the real one. I think sometimes that I fall somewhere in-between those two and write from a very personal standpoint but I see a lot of light in the most difficult and devastating things.

You’ve mentioned that you particularly enjoyed recording this latest record ‘Goodnight City’, is there a certain way you like to approach the recording process now?

Well it’s really the product of who made the record with me you know, my husband and Thomas Barlett who I’ve been working with for years. They both are fabulous musicians and we recorded the album basically live, we had a great young drummer from Montreal too. It was kind of like jazz or something where you just do it all in one shot and take the best takes and hope for some magic. I think that approach really informed the sound of the record. It’s an approach that is a little more raw and less overdubbed. It has this very real feeling, that I think is fitting for the music and the songs.

Your songs are notoriously honest, to the point where you’ve said they have the potential to hurt the people they’re written about. Has there ever been any circumstance where you’ve felt like restraining yourself and your lyrics because of that?

Yeah I think more and more, especially with my own children now, I want to be careful to protect them. I think that it was very important for me to write songs like ‘Bloody Motherfucking Asshole’ you know. I know that when I sing that song, I don’t really think about my Dad when I’m singing it and I don’t think anybody really does. So I know that there can be a moment of pain when you can feel hurt but I don’t really feel that the subjects of the songs remain the subjects of the songs for very long. They take on a more universal feeling.

I think ‘Bloody Motherfucking Asshole’ would have been a great song to play at Trump’s inauguration.

I mean that’s it, that’s what’s so great about that song, it’s a really useful song. I think that’s why people appreciate it because they can relate it to whoever or whatever they need it to at that time. There are so many bloody motherfucking asshole’s in life. I’m just glad not to be in the states right now and focusing on my record rather than this buffoon.

If you could form a supergroup with any artist living or dead, who would you like to join the band?

Wow. Well I definitely don’t want to feel insecure around anybody that’s better than me [laughs]. I mean off the top of my head Edith Piaf playing the piano would be good because I love her feel. And John Lennon could join us and that would be really quite good songwriting help in our supergroup [laughs].

Ok and finally, if your music or career was a cocktail, what would it be?

Wow, my music or career as a cocktail [laughs]. Well, Gin and tonic. Old school you know? Truthful, good and not too many flourishes.

 

You can still catch Martha on her remaining U.K tour dates. Tickets are available here: https://www.marthawainwright.com/shows