Rufus Wainwright (48) is a singer-songwriter and composer renowned for his engaging performances. He is the son of musicians Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle. Born in New York, he was raised in Montreal and now lives in LA with his husband Jorn. His daughter Viva also lives in LA, with her biological mother Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard.
What were you like growing up?
I was incredibly precocious, but thankfully charming at the same time. I always sought a lot of attention but in return for that I put on a show, so it was transactional.
Any thoughts on that in hindsight?
I think it was annoying for my siblings and cousins who were not as outgoing as I was. Now that I’m a dad and I have a small child, it’s fun to see kids who want to make something happen in life. So I think it was the right road to take.
What’s this about playing Greek Gods...
I would wangle up my cousins and sister – I was the eldest – and force them to play Greek Gods. I was always Zeus. They scrambled around as I tried to orchestrate their lives. I usually ended up alone. The further I get away from my childhood, the more I realise how magnificent it was.
In what sense?
My mother, the late great Kate McGarrigle, and her sister Anna made a lot of music around the house and they very much incorporated the children. Their mother didn’t have the opportunity to perform, she had to work her whole life, so it was all about appeasing her dream in a way, her unfulfilled dream of the stage. So we sang and listened to music all the time. It was quite special.
Tell us about going to see the stage play Annie.
When I saw the musical Annie on Broadway in the 1980s, I was seven. I told my mother that I loved it and I’d love to be in a production of it, not knowing that it’s all girls, usually little girls. She told me there were productions that used young boys before they hit puberty and sometimes those productions went to Broadway – which was an utter lie. So I then learned all the songs from Annie and thus I could perform for the public. So she kind of tricked us a lot and I was easy to trick.
You kind of got to ‘be’ Annie in the end...
Annie has become part of my latest show, my latest offering, Unfollow the Rules. So after 45 years, the dream has finally come true.
Best advice you give?
What comes from the heart, goes to the heart.
Best advice given?
Sleep on it.
Three words that describe you?
Sincere, foolish and tough.
Who are your role models?
Giuseppe Verdi’s music got incrementally better as he got older. I admired his one-step-at-a-time climb to brilliance. I’ve always tried to map out my musical development in the same way. I also loved the fact that he retired from music for about 20 years and then he returned. He did it on his own terms.
Tell us about meeting Björk.
I went to Iceland recently and I got a chance to hang out with Björk. It was an incredible experience. I’ve admired her for a long time because as an artist she has really lived life on her own terms.
How has marriage changed you?
Profoundly. It’s about discovering different crevices of love and after many years, time does create its own cathedral. My husband and I have been together for about 17 years, so it has become this beautiful joy.
What surprises/pleases you most about fatherhood?
Having a child means I’m able to focus on something else other than myself. I can divert my hopes and fears and loves to another being. For an artist that’s a hard shift to make but once you make it, it’s such a relief to not be the centre of attention.
What drives you?
I marvel at the fact I have a job where I make people happy. I’m so grateful to have audiences to absorb my music and I’m so grateful to get out of the house and forget about the world for a second.
‘Rufus Wainwright, Solo’ performs at the National Concert Hall on Wednesday, July 6. nch.ie