Rufus Wainwright: It's hard with radio 'cause I can't sit and look pretty
Photo by Barry J. Holmes
Rufus Wainwright once wrote "Along the bending path away, I smiled in knowing I'd be back one day." Perhaps he was talking about his return to Minnesota. The singer will be back in the Twin Cities for two shows this weekend to share his talents and charm at the Fitzgerald Theater.
On the eve of his Australian tour, Rufus spoke to Gimme Noise via local musician Chris Koza -- who himself covered Wainwright's "In a Graveyard" a year ago at the Fitz -- from his home in California. Wainwright, who turns 40 this year, shared anecdotes and wisdom on his career.
Chris Koza: Have you been to the Fitzgerald Theater before?
Rufus Wainwright: Yeah, I have. I don't think I've played there, but I've been there. It's a gorgeous venue, and being such an F. Scott Fitzgerald fan myself, I'm doubly pleased. Isn't there a big bust of him in the lobby?
CK: Yeah. They definitely like to advertise F. Scott Fitzgerald over there.
RW: I relate a lot to him on many levels. Some of them great, some of them unfortunate. [laughs]
CK: He definitely has both of those parameters covered. One of those shows is a variety show, Wits. Do you know much about that?
RW: It's a public radio show. I hope I'm sharp that day.
CK: I don't think you're gonna have any problems.
RW: It's hard with radio 'cause I can't sit and look pretty. [laughs]
CK: That's a good skill. You're a theatrical person, both in songwriting and the way you command the stage as a showman. Growing up, were you ever into theater?
RW: Both my parents -- my mother was a performer and a singer-songwriter -- toured a lot, and my father still does. My mother passed away. So yeah, we were always in and around theaters and folk festivals and TV shows. I wouldn't say it was relentless or that we were the Partridge Family or anything. Nonetheless, showbiz is the family business and pretty much everyone has grabbed onto the rope. We either get out of the crevice or hang ourselves with it, however you want to do it.
CK: Were you in plays?
RW: I did a lot of theater in high school. I went to boarding school in Upstate New York, so I did a lot of theater, but that was mainly so I didn't have to do sports. [sarcastically] Which, now as a 40-year-old gay man, I regret. [laughs]
CK: I hear ya. You've done some acting in movies and television. Do you have any aspiration to do more of that?
RW: Nothing I would pursue with conviction. If things come along, I'm not opposed to it, but I definitely know my place. I'm a musician and a composer and a singer, so those are my specialities. Before singing though, I'd rather paint or draw or maybe something in the visual arts, especially since they're quiet.
CK: It's interesting that to you have to get to that quiet place to be able to make noise again.
RW: If they need me to star in a Hollywood blockbuster, I'll definitely think about it.
CK: Robert Downey, Jr. is probably gonna be done filming Iron Man after this next movie.
RW: Okay, I'll probably be buffing his suit.
CK: You've accomplished a lot of critical acclaim and have had so much output in your young career. Do you ever take a look back and are shocked at how much you've created?
RW: That's so sweet of you. I do occasionally, but thankfully, I'm also very aware, and suffer from, the condition of "You're only as good as your last show." It's really a physical reaction to anything where, to be a real artist, you need a sense of freshness and of danger. It's also of a non-established vibe that goes with new territory. I do have occasional moments of gratitude -- of how well it's gone and how lucky I've been.
CK: I like how you bring up the point of including danger in your work as a way of being inspired, or a way of challenging yourself. Is that a way you can break up the process of going into the studio and working on a song that may not feel interesting? You've written so much; how do you change it up?
RW: I think I have the capacity to zone out and follow the music and not make it too intellectual. It's solely based on emotion. Though I have a certain amount of sophistication due to both my education and my love of things like opera -- where it's gotta have a certain depth to it. It's kind of like surfing, which I don't often do, but it's the idea of being able to flow freely, but with a certain amount of strength as well.
CK: That's a good way to put it. There's an incredible amount of sophistication in your arrangements and harmonic intervals and your textures.
RW: I also think it's really important to try, you know. To be willing to explore and push yourself, because otherwise, it's not fun -- for anybody.
CK: Yeah, it's the same thing. A couple of my favorite songs of yours -- I was introduced to you on the 2001 album, Poses, which is an amazing album, and "In a Graveyard" is a song that has really captivated me. Every album is filled with great compositions.
I saw your show at the MN Zoo last summer, and I really liked the song "Respectable Dive." It has a really fun lilting chorus. I didn't even know what you were singing at first until I slowed it down. This is the phrase of the song; this is the chorus. You have such an operatic way making pop music that the words are clearly important to your composition, but just getting the melody across is important, too.
RW: Whether it's lyrics or singing or chords, I try to create some sort of synthesis, and um, yeah, theoretically it should work all of the time. The lyrics and chords should support each other. I hope that's the case.
CK: I don't want to burn you out on questions, 'cause they'll have a lot for you here in about a month. Any more funny "dive Rufus" things in the works?
RW: You know, nothing as yet, but I've been hanging out a lot in Hollywood, and the other night I had dinner with Kristen Wiig. There's a lot of comedy stuff going on here. I might just get tripped up.
Friday, April 12, 2013: Rufus Wainwright for Wits with Kristen Schaal [of Flight of the Conchords] at the Fitzgerald Theater. GA $32, Reserved seating $42, Happy hour 7 pm, Show 8 pm
This show is sold out.
Saturday, April 13, 2013: Rufus Wainwright: The Current Sessions at the Fitz
$36.50-$46.50, 8 pm
Purchase tickets here.
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