With his previous four CDs, from the 1998 eponymous debut through 2004’s Want Two, Rufus Wainwright created a musical legacy that has yet to be duplicated or surpassed. Release The Stars (on Geffen), Wainwright’s latest and perhaps greatest, is no exception. As his first self-produced effort, Release The Stars is an accomplished and assured endeavour.
Never one to sidestep controversy, Wainwright rarely minces words, choosing instead to set them to meaningful and stirring music. Whether he’s addressing the current political climate (“Going To A Town” and the title track) or the politics of love (“Leaving For Paris,” “Slideshow”), he never fails to make his point and leave listeners with a tune they can’t stop humming.
XTRA: In your role as producer, are there things you were unable to do on previous albums you were able to do this time on Release The Stars?
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: Oh, many things. Working with Marius [DeVries] during Want One and Want Two, I was very free to express myself in whatever way I felt. But, oddly enough, I think when you’re the sole one in charge, there are no kind of mutual masturbatory-like voyages — where you’re just writing for the other person. There’s you and the music, and you end up having to be really, really critical of yourself, because there is nobody else that is going to do that.
XTRA: Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys received an executive producer credit. How would you describe his role in the process?
WAINWRIGHT: He came into the studio a couple of times and he was also there for mixing. He was basically my advisor. If what I am doing is actually communicating anything out to the audience, he has a really incredible take on what popular music means in today’s world. He has equal respect for it as he has for high culture. He was a good sort of filter for me to bounce things off and see what went through the hole. [Laughs.]
XTRA: Release The Stars feels like your most political album, beginning with “Do I Disappoint You” in which it sounds like you are lashing out at both corporate fat cats and the religious right.
WAINWRIGHT: The thing that’s interesting about “Going To A Town,” which is the second song [with a repeated line, “I’m so tired of America”], is that I actually never intended to write it. I was preparing to go out for dinner, and I had about 10 minutes to spare, and I sat down, and the next thing you know it was finished. I just kind of went with it. The immediate tracking of that song is the one that’s on the album. It only took one take to do it, the vocal. Whenever anybody hears it, they are sucked in right away, and that’s, in my opinion, the definition of a single — that people can understand instantly. That’s why I chose it for the single, it’s not even for political reasons, but it is, nonetheless, political, of course, due to the subject matter.
XTRA: I think it fits. But the thing about “Going To A Town” is that it’s the kind of song to get you on Bill O’Reilly’s shit list, if you’re not already there.
WAINWRIGHT: I’m sure I am. I’ve been on The Drudge Report and on The Concerned Mothers Of America several times.
XTRA: Are you prepared for that?
WAINWRIGHT: Oh, yes, of course I am. If there’s any time to strike, it’s now. I mean, the rightwing is so ridiculous at this point and inept and the pendulum is swinging. I tend to be pretty realistic in these matters, in terms of, yes, I don’t want to turn into a warmonger myself and annihilate the other side. But if we don’t do that to them, they are definitely going to do it to us. [Laughs.] It’s a tough one; you’ve got to be tough.
XTRA: “Between My Legs” is multilayered number that starts out as what I would describe as Rufus-style pop tune, and then, in keeping with your style, becomes this incredibly operatic number complete with a “Phantom Of The Opera” organ section and a spoken part by actress Sian Phillips.
WAINWRIGHT: That song I wrote about a boy I was infatuated with named Tommy Hotpants, who still cavorts about Manhattan as if he owns the place, which every young person should do. It’s like a fantasy about being able save your object of desire when the apocalypse comes, and bring him to some sort of hidden paradise. It’s all very imaginary.
XTRA: I’m glad that you mentioned crushes and such, because it wouldn’t be a Rufus Wainwright CD without love and its complications, as on “Slideshow,” “I’m Not Ready For Love,” and “Tiergarten.” Are you in love?
WAINWRIGHT: Yes, I have an amazing boyfriend right now. He’s from Germany. He was one of the main reasons I went to Berlin to make the album because I wanted to spend some time with him. He’s now living in New York with me. It’s really wonderful. I’ve never ever been in a long term relationship, so this is all very new to me at the moment. We’ve been together for about two years; that is definitely long term in my book [laughs] for gay life. We’re just plugging along. It’s going to be hard, with touring and everything. A day at a time, as they say.