"I'm the Activia of songwriting!"
The musician Rufus Wainwright has conquered indie record stores, film and TV soundtracks, and the main stage at Carnegie Hall, where his legendary serenade of Judy Garland’s famous hits inspired designs from both Viktor & Rolf and Marc Jacobs. He was even a radio voice on Frasier (jealous). So when the New York native announced his latest album – All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu – we pounced on the chance to speak with him.
So who’s Lulu?
From the album? Well, our Lulu is… I mean, I have personified her with this actress Louise Brooks from the ‘20s, who was in Pandora’s Box, where she played Lulu. But it really could be for anyone, she’s a dark, brooding, destructive, gorgeous force that kind of haunts your sweet little life, and on the one hand you adore her, but at the other hand, you fear her at the same time. It’s a dangerous woman!
Is Lulu like your music?
No, but it’s definitely an aspect that I try to encourage in my music; I think all art should be a little dangerous.
Do you feel danger when you begin writing a new song?
Unfortunately, in a kind of boring way, I’ve turned songwriting into kind of a bodily function, you know, there’s shitting, eating, writing songs – it’s kind of a regular function. So albums come regularly, like planting bulbs in the fall and waiting for them to bloom in the spring. It keeps me regular. Wait, what’s that Jamie Lee Curtis Yogurt?
I’m the Activia of songwriting! Okay, but, this is important, I try to practice at least 2 hours a day; I try and hone my ability to take a craft that needs to be maintained and improved constantly, and there’s no room for comfort, so I’m always trying to throw wrenches my way to keep it interesting. But you do have to keep it regular. The more you do it, the better you get.
Where do you write?
Well, I have a wonderful new relationship with Steinway – I’m sleeping with Steinway as well as my boyfriend! They send me these incredible pianos, so I get up every morning, have a cup of coffee, put on my frilly bathrobe, and serenade the neighbors.
Usually, but right now I’m in Montauk.
How do you know a song is ready to get recorded?
Probably when I can’t perform it live! Especially with this album, I mean, I really wanted to highlight my pianistic intentions, meaning that on one hand, it’s really simple arrangements, but also very complicated ones, so I’ve tried to create a full spectrum for the instrument. I tried to offset those with real bombastic numbers, so I can’t make it too easy on myself. But this album is really about highlighting the piano.
So Amy Winehouse is launching a clothing line…
She is? Clothes? Wait, shouldn’t it be underwear? I mean isn’t it her specialty? Should she call it “Wine Stains!”
Would you ever do a clothing line?
I’m a double-edged sword with clothes, I’ve looked pretty and great, but also ridiculous. I think I should stick to music.
What about a Broadway musical?
Yes! I have to write a musical at some point, it would be pretty stupid not to, considering the narrative possibilities of my music. I haven’t started anything yet, but Ethel Merman is calling from the grave. I must appease the Merman within a song. I’m gonna do it.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?
Probably to sing that song Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. Great song, but I’m so sick of performing it.
Name five things you’re obsessed with. Don’t think, just go.
Well one of them is this amazing singer Lhasa De La Sela. She died on the 1st of January, she was my age, late 30s, but I’ve been able to deal a lot with my mother’s passing through her music. And I’m obsessed with 50 Cent; I want to have a tour affair with 50 Cent and my boyfriend says it’s okay! So 50, if you’re out there, you can get two gays for the price of one. Okay, what else… I love fried artichokes, and I’m going on this strict diet where I can’t eat anything, really, so I’m really obsessed with them right now. And then I’m also obsessed with my stomach. I’ve hit the 36-year-old border where I’ve gotta get obsessed with my stomach; it’s over. Really boring but it’s true.