Wednesday 24 January 2018

Rufus Wainwright: When I was younger, I used to play the piano naked. Now I have a bathrobe on and catch glimpses occasionally

Rufus Wainwright (42) is an American-Canadian singer-songwriter and the son of folk musicians Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III. He lives mostly in New York with his husband, Jorn, while his five-year-old daughter, Viva, is in Los Angeles

Rufus Wainwright performs at the National Concert Hall on July 20.
Rufus Wainwright performs at the National Concert Hall on July 20.

Ciara Dwyer

I spend most of my time in New York City, though my husband, Jorn, runs a festival in Toronto, Canada, so I'm up there quite a bit. But also, I've a five year-old daughter, Viva, who lives in Los Angeles, so I try to go there when I can. I like to see her regularly. But I would say that I mostly wake up in Montauk, New York, where we have a house right near the ocean. A lot of Irish people come here to work for the summer.

Ideally, my husband is up a little bit before me, and he makes the coffee, and then I have a cup of coffee in bed. That's what I most love to do. Also, that stems from when I was much younger, and I would be staying with my mom, and she would always bring me coffee in bed. That's the greatest joy on Earth. My mother was Kate McGarrigle, a sadly departed songwriter and singer. She died in 2010. She was my everything and still is, in a lot of ways.

For me, married life is a whole other universe, an exploration; whether it's getting coffee in the morning, or taking walks on the beach in the afternoon, or having a nice meal in your favourite restaurant at night. They become the most glorious, exciting, crazy experiences that you have. It's nice to know that, as opposed to waking up in the gutter. I've been married for almost four years. It's not that it changes you, but you evolve into a more complex existence, and so it just makes you deeper, if anything. This is for the better and for the worse. It's about living all of life's experiences to the fullest.

Then I go to the piano. I always try to go to the piano first thing in the morning. When I was younger, I used to go naked, but now I have a bathrobe on and I catch glimpses of myself occasionally. So I've graduated to the bathrobe existence. I play the piano for at least an hour. I enjoy writing songs all the time, especially when I walk. I like writing songs, but I only seem to enjoy playing the piano continually in the morning. It gets my day off correctly. It's either that or very late at night, when I've been struck by some genius concept and can't go to bed, but that's rare. Every morning, I love playing. Also, it reminds me of my mother, because she used to play in the morning as well.

So, it keeps that going, but also, as a pianist, you have to play every day.

I write my own songs, and, in the last while, I've been doing arrangements of my mother's songs. I've just finished a piano arrangement of Arthur McBride, the traditional Irish song made famous by Paul Brady. I'll probably play it when I'm performing on July 20, in Dublin, in the National Concert Hall. It's a resistance song against the English. I'm actually going back into Irish folk music, which is interesting. These days, I'm also busy re-doing my Judy Garland show, and touring with my new album, Take all My Loves, which is based on nine Shakespeare sonnets.

It all happened serendipitously. I'd been working for years with the sonnets, and I had released a version of myself singing When, in Disgrace with Fortune and Men's Eyes [Sonnet 29]before the Florence Welch track on the new album. Then, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra commissioned me to orchestrate five of the sonnets for a classical singer. It just kept going on and on, and then, lo and behold, it was the 400th anniversary of his death this year. All the stars aligned. It just seemed like the right thing to do. There was nothing trendy and commercial about doing it. Those things are kind of at the back of the room for me.

I tend to do things completely instinctually, and I'm pretty much interested in music and culture. Like everybody else, I get wrapped up in political issues, and the environment matters deeply to me. But on an artistic level, I pretty much focus on music and art and where that takes me. It brought me to Shakespeare this time round.

I have a bagel and continue with my day, which involves meetings, seeing friends and walking around the streets of New York. Or then, if I'm on tour, my day is about getting ready for the tour and so forth. I love performing. I need to perform. I would go crazy if I didn't perform. One thing I will say, and I only bring this up because of the political aspect, is that I'm a bit of a news junkie.

There is a channel in America called MSNBC, which is full of these vaguely left-wing people, though they are still mainstream, so some would argue that they are part of the monster. But I kind of get wrapped up in watching their shows about this whole Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton thing. All of a sudden, American politics becomes like my TV series. I don't follow Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, and I like Downton Abbey slightly, but to fill that void of the television tornado, it's the American political system - right now, it's putting on the most insane show that the world has ever known.

My first crib was a guitar case. My mother had me and brought me home after the hospital, and then she had to visit my dad in the studio. There was no crib there, so they put me in a guitar case and that sort of explains everything. There has been music all of the time. My dad, [Loudon Wainwright III] is certainly an influence biologically, but in terms of musical evaluation, it's been more from afar that I watched him.

He wasn't there every day, lording over me to make me practise the piano, but I've always watched him on stage, and he's one of the great performers and one of the great wits of our age. Also, his voice hasn't ended, and I hope that mine will last as long as his.

At night, I watch the news, and then I'm kind of comatose from the American political system. Then I have dreams of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton having an affair.

Rufus Wainwright performs at the National Concert Hall, D2, on July 20 at 8pm. Tickets are priced €45, €50 and €55. Tel: (01) 417-0000, or see

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