Motherhood and a new outlook underscore the latest album by Martha Wainwright. Ahead of her Sydney concert, she speaks with Stephen A Russell.
Just over two years ago, Martha Wainwright invoked the spirit of French chanteuse Edith Piaf at the Melbourne Recital Centre, drawing from her live tribute album Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, a’ Paris: Math Wainwright’s Piaf Record.
At the time it was just one year on from the death of her mother, folk singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle, energising Wainwright’s delivery of Piaf’s already charged music.
Two years later,Wainwright returns to the Recital Centre, this time leading the charge with material from her first album of original material in four years, Come Home to Mama.
As we speak, her son Arcangelo, now three-and-a-half, giggles happily in the background. Motherhood underlinesCome Home to Mama, produced by electronic musician Yuka Honda and recorded at Sean Lennon’s home studio in New York City. There’s plenty of Wainwright’s trademark honesty, a blend of the heartfelt confessional and a clarion call to arms. The mama in question is every bit Martha as it is Kate.
At the album’s heart, the tumultuous ‘Proserpina’ was actually the last song written by McGarrigle.“My management said I shouldn’t draw so much attention to that song because I hadn’t made a record in quite a long time, but I kept on coming back to it,” she says. “Three years after her death, I feel that she’s still supporting me.”
The album soars as high as it delves deep, and there’s a feisty energy thatcrackles with the anger so perfectly captured by her infamous ode to her absentee folk-singer father Loudon Wainwright III, ‘Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole’.
Wainwright says her occasionally acerbic tongue is held firmly in cheek with Come Home To Mama’s occasional pot shots at her mostly-good humoured husband andbassist, Brad Albetta. On ‘All Your Clothes,’ she sings “the baby’s doing fine, my marriage is failing, but I keep trying all the time.” On ‘Can You Believe It’ she sings, “I really like the make up sex, it’s the only kind I ever get.”
Trouble in Paradise?
“Luckily he doesn’t always listen to everything I say,” she laughs.“I take liberties when I’m writing. I like to be subversive and go for what pricks up the ears. Relationships are complicated, and I think people can identify with that.”
Albetta and Arcangelo join Wainwright on what is a tortuous touring schedule, taking in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. I get the impression that, though she admits juggling family life can be a strain, she would miss the road.
“I have this ridiculous concept that every record I make, it’s going to be the one, and I will go into another realm of success and fame,” she says.“That can be dangerous because you can become disappointed. But there are a lot of highlights, like playing the Opera House, travelling with my family while we’re young and playing music has the potential to be complete magic.”
Listening to the stripped back guitar and guttural lyrics of the demo of ‘I Wanna Make An Arrest’ provides a fascinating insight into the contribution of Honda, who adds a funky, electro influence without losing sight of the song’s heart.
“On record you can give the song a chance to be something beyond being a vehicle for the guitar,” Wainwright says.“I knew Yuka would create a very different soundscape. It has all these groovy sounds she’s known for, but I don’t feel lost in there.”
Growing up with big brother and fellow singer-songwriter Rufus, Wainwright loved listening to Cyndi Lauper and Prince on the radio, so it was fun to funk up some of the songs on Come Home To Mama. She’s looking forward to stripping them back again, however, getting her swagger on on stage, and she’s also diving headfirst into writing new material after a year’s drought. Toying with the idea of an orchestral backdrop, she may step into character this time.
“I did get slapped on the wrists a little by my husband on this last one, so I’ve decided to experiment with writing non-personal songs from the point of view of other people,” she says. “My first song is written from the point of view of a crack prostitute.”
Never one to fit the mould, she shares her individualism with Rufus. She attended his marriage to long-term partner Jörn Weisbrodt last year, but says it’s no sign of him blending in.
“He was galloping along the fringes of society, but obviously he felt it was important to make a statement,” she says. “His interest in gay marriage didn’t lie so much in wanting to be like straight people, but mostly in what gay marriage is and can become. That’s a beautiful take on it. To have the right for it to be legal, but also to be different. People don’t have to fit into the cookie cutter.”
I doubt either of them ever will, and she agrees. “It would have to be an odd-shaped cookie cutter, and we’d definitely get you high.”
AUTHOR // Stephen Russell
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