Toronto
5 min

Hot property

The Rufus on fire

MOANIN' LIKE ZEPPELIN. Rufus Wainwright charts new musical directions in his second album, Poses. Credit: Xtra files

Fans won’t be disappointed. Poses, the new CD by brilliant singer and songwriter Rufus Wainwright, meets and then exceeds expectations.



Though more dark, Poses displays all the warmth and wit, as well as the great melodies, found on the first album.



For this much anticipated second album, Wainwright worked mostly with Sarah McLachlan’s producer Pierre Marchand. Poses features a wider array of sounds and arrangements than the straightforward piano and string orchestrations from his lauded self-titled debut disc from 1998.



Other collaborators this time out include singer (and sister) Martha Wainwright, producer Alex Gifford and composer Damian le Gassick.



Dreamworks releases Poses on Tue, Jun 5; Torontonians get a sneak preview with a concert at the Guvernment (132 Queens Quay E) on Wed, May 16. This is a not-to-be-missed event.

The young Montreal native recently discussed everything from living in LA and the origins of his new, more electronic sound, to his show-biz family needing music to communicate to each other.



XTRA: A couple of years ago, at a Barenaked Ladies concert, you had the opening slot and Ed Robertson and Stephen Paige of Barenaked Ladies actually came out on stage and introduced you, themselves. Have you ever had that experience before?



RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: They’re just really lovely guys, and they were big fans of mine and they just wanted people to know about me. Sean Lennon came out (to introduce me) once or twice, while we were touring.



It’s actually happened to me a few times – I think, mostly due to the fact that the type of music that I do, and my whole thing is a little left of centre – where people just didn’t get it right away and just glazed over me because it’s not your usual cup of tea.



XTRA: You were featured in a Gap commercial a couple of years ago. Was that a good experience in regards to exposure?



WAINWRIGHT: It was fabulous [laughs]. I mean a commercial is a commercial. I was selling 600 records a week and then I did the Gap commercial and I was selling 4,000 a week. I’m not going to knock it.



XTRA: In the interim between the first record and the new one, you did a cover of a song called “Instant Pleasure” on the Big Daddy soundtrack. Is there any reason that it wasn’t included on the new album?



WAINWRIGHT: I like the song. It’s fun. I’m happy with the results and I think it was good, but it was politically strange. I didn’t write the words. I didn’t feel all that connected to that song, honestly.



XTRA: Was performing at the Equality Rocks concert [put on by the US-based gay lobby group Human Rights Campaign Foundation] in Washington, DC in April of 2000 a good experience?



WAINWRIGHT: It was pretty amazing playing in front of 50,000 people, alone. It was a great experience. It was a little bit corporate gay. But they’re doing a lot of good work.



XTRA: You also did a couple of songs on the McGarrigle Hour album by your mother and your aunt, Kate and Anna McGarrigle.



WAINWRIGHT: That was wonderful. I’m sure that they’ll reel me in for the next one, the second hour.



XTRA: On the new album, there are enough piano and vocal songs (such as “In A Graveyard,” “The Tower Of Learning”) to satisfy fans of your first album, but you definitely expanded the sound on Poses.



WAINWRIGHT: A lot of it is due to Pierre. He really was merciless, in terms of my songwriting and my ideas. If he didn’t like something at all, he just didn’t do it. But, if he really liked something, he worked with it.



I’m not saying he was right on everything or that it’s necessarily the way I want to do it all the time. But everything that was put out was 100 percent enjoyed by both of us. We both really fought for what songs we wanted. It was a rigorous, good thing for the music to go through.



XTRA: One of the examples of the expansion of the sound is “Greek Song,” which has an Asian instrumentation. Who’s playing that?



WAINWRIGHT: This Indian girl in Montreal, who Pierre and I heard on a record by this guy named Rama Sutra. There was this dance Indian music that was happening. We heard this woman on the song and we immediately hired her.



XTRA: “Shadows” sounds as if you are making use of some of the available technology (like drum loops); your previous disc was more classically orchestrated.



WAINWRIGHT: I think it was necessary to investigate what’s happening. I would like to do it again. I enjoyed the last experience of the more traditional string sessions. I enjoyed that a lot, but I feel like I want to expand into different directions.



XTRA: “California” has some wonderful pop culture references that add a humorous layer to the song, but it sounds as if underneath, there is a love/hate relationship going on with the state of California. Is that true?



WAINWRIGHT: Yes. I think everybody does. I think it’s a common thread. It’s funny, because there have been a lot of songs about California: “Californication” and “Hotel California.” This is my version.



I have a severe love/hate thing. I don’t live there right now, but when I first moved there, I was like, “Where has this been all my life? What is this?” It’s so gorgeous and there’s so much happening. And though there is a lot happening and I met a lot of fabulous people, there are massive fronts in California and very little backs [laughs]. At times, it is like a movie set.



XTRA: Is the spoken snippet at beginning of “Grey Gardens” from the movie?



WAINWRIGHT: Yes, it is.



XTRA: Can you please say something about your relationship to the movie and the song?



WAINWRIGHT: It’s funny that you should mention that. I’m actually meeting one of the filmmakers, one of the Maysles. They’re re-releasing it, I think, on DVD. They’re going to film me, and some other people, talking about it a little bit. That’ll be exciting. Needless to say, I’ve seen it over 10 times. It really changed my life when I saw that movie. Have you seen it?



XTRA: I’ve never seen it. I know that it’s about Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’s family.



WAINWRIGHT: It’s about her crazy aunt and cousin. Basically, it’s the kind of movie that some people watch, and they’re like, “I can’t watch this, it’s too disturbing.” Other people watch it, and they’re like, “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s kind of like [Italian director Pier Pasolini’s] Salo or something. It’s real.



XTRA: You do a cover of “One Man Guy,” which was written by your father, Loudon Wainwright III. Please tell me something about your decision to cover one of your father’s songs.



WAINWRIGHT: First of all, in my opinion, it’s one of the greatest songs ever written, just as a song. Secondly, in a lot of ways, my family has always dealt with each other in songs. In many ways we’ve been closer on stage or closer in the studio singing about each other than we have been in real life [laughs]. It’s just following within that tradition of tipping your hat to what’s gone before.



XTRA: “Evil Angel” is something of a surprise [with Montrealer Melissa auf Der Maur, formerly of Hole, playing bass]. At one point, you almost sound like Thom Yorke of Radiohead. What can you tell me about the musical arrangement on that song?



WAINWRIGHT: All I can say is that I’ve got to perform it a lot [laughs], because in order to hit a lot of those notes and get into that Led Zepplin-y kind of moan, it’s going to take a lot of practice. I got it on the recording. But the problem that I’m encountering with it live is that so far it can either be totally amazing or kind of ridiculous.



XTRA: Do you have a favorite song on the album?



WAINWRIGHT: I don’t have one favourite. For a long time, the one that I’ve been enjoying for some weird reason is “The Consort.”



RUFUS WAINWRIGHT.

$22.50. 8pm doors; 9pm start.

Wed, May 16.

Guvernment.

132 Queens Quay E.

(416) 870-8000.