It might be cooling down in Brisbane, but on the other side of the world Martha Wainwright is enjoying a little piece of New York spring.
“We’re having a beautiful spring and I have a garden, so I’ve been trying to put stuff in just in time to leave,” Wainwright says down the phone line from her Brooklyn home. “I always think of myself as a spring person, because I was born in May. And I like to see things not too hot or too cold, so I’m always happy in spring.”
It’s nice to find Wainwright in good spirits. 2012 saw the release of ‘Come Home To Mama’, her third studio LP and one that told of abject pain and reckoning. Through song, Wainwright covered the troubled, premature birth of her son, Arcangelo, and the 2010 death of her mother, iconic Canadian folk singer-songwriter, Kate McGarrigle.
The album wasn’t a hit, but found plenty of traction with critics and fans who fell for Wainwright’s gentle and often gently humorous take on her struggles. Now, she’s preparing to take the record on the road, flying to Australia at the end of the month for a series of shows around the country.
“We’ve had a month off and I love being home, but I do crave a hotel room,” Wainwright says, laughing at herself. “And room service and knowing exactly where I have to be at what time and what is expected of me, and putting my all into the performance and meeting the audience and signing autographs. I like that.”
With ‘Come Home To Mama’ being such a personal record, you might think it makes it difficult to take these songs on the road. But Wainwright explains that each cut has to a certain extent outgrown the album and take on a life of its own.
“They’re different to when you first write them,” she says. “That said, when I write them I try to create a song that stands alone as a work of art and a powerful piece of music. When you play music live with musicians or solo, it’s like a physical job. You can get into it. You do the best that you can with your instrument and it requires a lot of brain function. And that’s really what you’re riding on – you’re riding on the music, closing your eyes and doing a good version of it.
“People have sung the same songs over and over again millions of times. That doesn’t detract from their power, hopefully, and I think that’s an indication of whether the song is well crafted. Some songs I’ve been doing for a long time now and some songs I still do, and that’s probably a testament to the song.”
For the shows, Wainwright will be playing with her husband Brad Albetta on bass, as well as a drummer and keyboardist. The intention is to flesh out ‘Come Home To Mama’ in the live setting but also dip into some standards and her popular Edith Piaf covers. But as much as she loves it, touring isn’t going to be as easy as it used to be for Wainwright, now that she has a son to consider.
“It’s going to be the real challenge for me in the future – being able to ‘have it all’ where women are not allowed to have a career and a family. I’m sure I won’t be able to play as much as I would have, and I’ll miss days of Arc’s school. But I have to be able to do both, there’s no question. And I have to be able to dedicate myself to both, and I know there’s a way.”
After Australia it’s more touring as Wainwright tackles the northern festival season. But even that comes with its challenges these days. Playing live is where musicians make their money in 2013 – as opposed to album sales – but Wainwright says she’s beginning to see signs of cracks in the new model.
“A lot of people are on the road. There’s a glut – that’s what I’ve heard. In fact, I would say people’s guarantees are down and attendances are low in a lot of places in Europe. Also, there are so many shows.
“It’s actually created an interesting situation, but I don’t have any other skill sets,” she laughs. “I sort of have to go out there and hope for the best and grab the guitar and fight for dinner money.”
And has she started writing again just yet?
“It’s harder now,” Wainwright says. “Because any time of mine that is free I obviously like to spend with my child or with home stuff: gardening, painting, cleaning, all that kind of stuff … But I think the songs, as they always have, will reflect that change.”
Martha Wainwright kicks off her Australian Tour at The Tivoli on May 31.
- Written by Matt Shea