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7:00am Saturday 28th April 2012 in NewsXtra
Rufus Wainwright returns with a new album, Out Of The Game, released on Monday, April 23. He's also playing live shows throughout the month. The singer-songwriter tells Andy Welch about the album and how it was influenced by both the death of his mother, folk artist Kate McGarrigle, and the birth of his daughter.
By Andy Welch.
"I'm singing for the Queen on Monday," says Rufus Wainwright, by way of an introduction.
Coming from anyone else, it might seem an odd way to begin a conversation. But given his family pedigree, circle of A-list friends and - let's not beat around the bush - supernatural talent, for Wainwright it seems perfectly normal.
He cracks a few jokes about how it's no big deal and that our head of state is a huge fan of his work. It's all said with a tongue planted firmly in the cheek, as is most of what follows.
An outrageous flirt, the flamboyant Canadian-American artist is warm from the off, and willing to talk about anything.
His forthcoming album Out Of The Game is, of course, at the top of the list, but that's not before he's announced how smitten he is with the album's producer - his friend Mark Ronson.
"We liked looking at each other when making this album," he says with a twinkle. "Most of what I did was mainly to make those big doe eyes of his happy."
In fairness, Wainwright and Ronson seem an unlikely pairing, although the result is probably the former's finest album since Poses, his second, released in 2001.
While virtually everything Wainwright's done since has featured moments of greatness (particularly 2003's Want One), Out Of The Game is his most focused work and, by his standards at least, is lean - free of his most eccentric flourishes.
"I think you could put this record on at a party and no one would leave the room," he says. "It's lighter, upbeat and less ponderous, but by the same token a lot of those intense, dark parts of my personality are still in there.
"I especially love Montauk, which is an idyllic ballad about fatherhood. Above all, this album is about fun."
There's a distinct early Seventies feel to the album; nods to the sun-kissed songwriting on Carole King's Tapestry, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John (now a friend of Wainwright's), Hunky Dory-era David Bowie and the less bombastic end of Queen's catalogue.
According to the 38-year-old, much of that comes from Ronson's "fanaticism" for those albums. Even the bagpipes employed on the final track, Candles, aren't OTT.
"I normally hate the bagpipes," says Wainwright. "But Sting had a 60th birthday party where I played with Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder, and the army regiment The Black Watch came out - you know, the pipers? I fell in love with the sound. It's amazing what they can do, and I decided I wanted them on my album.
"When looking for a producer to work with, I was looking for someone to bring creative continuity," he says, moving on without drawing breath. "We really accomplished that, more on this album than any other I think.
"It was something of a departure for Mark, too. There's no trumpet, which he's known for. That was his decision. I was there to write, sing and have ideas, but I really wanted to let him do what he wanted."
Though Wainwright's early albums also featured producers at the helm, he took charge on Release The Stars (2007) and All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu (2010), so handing over the reins to Ronson took some getting used to.
"You could say it took a bit of time, yes," he says, playing down the adjustment. "This was not an overnight process, for sure, but I'm OK now.
"People might say they didn't imagine us working together, but Mark and I have a lot in common. We're from the same pot of New York misfits, with Sean Lennon and so on. Second generation showbiz folk, basically," he says, referencing Ronson's band manager father and stepdad Mick Jones of Foreigner. It probably goes without saying who Sean Lennon's dad was.
"And we're both entering the final stages of being young men in New York - Mark's just married and I'm now engaged," he adds, talking of partner Jorn Weisbrodt.
Much has been written about the Wainwright musical dynasty - his singer-songwriter father Loudon Wainwright III, mother-and-aunt folk duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle, younger sister critical darling Martha and half-sister Lucy Wainwright Roche, who released her debut album Lucy in 2010.
"I have another younger half-sister, too, called Lexie. Who knows what she'll do. She's still in college, but we'll see," he says.
Wainwright's also added to the "family chess game", as he calls it, with a daughter of his own - Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen - who's just turned one. Her mother is Lorna Cohen, daughter of the legendary Leonard.
"I've written three songs about her already, although there's only one on the album. I don't want to be overbearing. I love being a dad. I see so much of her, but I'm really looking forward to when her own personality starts coming through."
As well as a new arrival to the flock, there was also a departure - Wainwright's mum Kate passed away in 2010 after a battle with a rare form of cancer.
As an influential artist in her own right, tributes flooded in when the news hit, which provided great comfort for her son.
"I read all the tributes and emails that came in, especially from you guys here in the UK where she got an astounding send-off. I was definitely bolstered by them.
"They virtually commanded me to continue her legacy, and there is a lot of that in this album.
"It's been a great, creative time, and a happy one with Viva here now, but there were counter-experiences that were ready to come out, and I needed to reflect on a sad couple of years.
"That emotion perforates the sunlight, but mainly it's about focusing on enjoying yourself, and looking for the positives."
Extra time - Rufus Wainwright :: Rufus McGarrigle Wainwright was born in Rhinebeck, New York, on July 22, 1973.
:: His parents divorced when he was three, and afterwards he lived with his mother in Montreal, Canada.
:: He began playing the piano when he was six, and toured as part of his mother and aunt's band from the age of 13.
:: As well as his seven studio albums, he has also released two live albums, one of which was a recreation of Judy Garland's concert at Carnegie Hall, and an opera - Prima Donna.
:: He's appeared in a number of films including The Aviator and Heights.