CANADIAN chanteuse Martha Wainwright was pretty chuffed when a magazine described her as “part Patti Smith, part Leonard Cohen”, given that they are two of her musical idols.
“But the quote also uses the word `glowering’, which I had to look up,” Wainwright admitted with a laugh.
“At first I thought it said `glowing’, but of course it means snarling. And I think that was partially right.
“I was very influenced by Patti Smith, which was probably a rebellion against my mother and my aunt [folk duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle], who had beautiful singing voices. Their music is the gold standard for me, but as a young woman I started to go away from that and listen to women like Patti Smith or Marianne Faithfull — people with a little more edge.
“And Leonard is obviously a living god. My biggest dream in life was to be his backing singer. So of course he asked me about three or four years ago and I said no, because I couldn’t go out on tour for three years and be someone’s backing singer. But my dream came true, which is pretty great.”
Wainwright, 37, has always seemed destined to live out her musical dreams — she is the daughter of US folk singer Loudon Wainwright III and the late Canadian Music Hall of Famer Kate McGarrigle; niece of Anna McGarrigle; and younger sister of cabaret-pop star Rufus Wainwright. But having a famous family has sometimes been more of a hinderance than a help.
“Everything I have I owe to my family, both good and bad,” Wainwright said.
“Especially at the beginning of my career, it was difficult to get attention while being surrounded by such talented people.
“You get so tired of every interview being about your family. But then you get used to it, and then it becomes the norm, and then I realised that it is my story. It’s easier sometimes to completely embrace it and use it, rather than push it away.
“That was also the lesson that I learned when I lost my mother. I spent a lot of time pushing her away as a teenager and as a young adult, thinking that we would have so much time together. And then you regret not keeping them closer to you.”
Kate McGarrigle’s death from cancer in early 2010 had a huge impact on Wainwright’s latest album, Come Home To Mama. McGarrigle passed away just three months after Wainwright gave birth to her first child, son Arcangelo, leaving Wainwright lurching between emotional extremes.
“I think the main focus of the album is the loss of my mother — the desperation and anger about that, and a general malaise,” she said.
“It’s also [about] the difficulty of marriage too, which I think a lot of people can identify with. Relationships aren’t easy.
“I didn’t use new motherhood as a major theme, it was more of an angry album. But that being said, I wanted to at least pay some tribute to the joy that has come out of all this sadness.
“There’s one song in particular that is about motherhood. It’s called Everything Wrong, and it’s me apologising in advance for how much I’m going to screw up.”
On her upcoming Australian tour Wainwright will perform all 10 tracks from Come Home To Mama — includingProserpina, the last song her mother wrote — plus material from her previous albums I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too and Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, a Paris, her acclaimed tribute to Edith Piaf.
The Australian shows are being billed as “an evening of strength and vulnerability”, which Wainwright feels is a fitting description.
“I’ve probably become less vulnerable on stage as time has gone by,” she said.
“But I certainly think that it’s very important to draw the audience in rather than trying to go grab them, and one way of doing that is to be vulnerable.
“That’s something my mother used to talk about actually, and that’s something to cherish.”
Martha Wainwright performs at Hobart’s Theatre Royal from 8pm on June 13, as part of Dark Mofo. Tickets have sold out.