Rufus Wainwright, an American – Canadian singer, songwriter and composer chats with Kevin Cooper about his Judy Garland project, working with Mark Ronson, his album Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets, and his forthcoming All Those Poses Anniversary Tour.

Rufus Wainwright is an American – Canadian singer, songwriter, and composer. He has recorded seven albums of original music and numerous tracks on compilations and film soundtracks. He has also written a classical opera and set Shakespeare’s sonnets to music for a theatre piece by Robert Wilson.

Wainwright is the son of musicians Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle, and is the older brother of singer Martha Wainwright. He married Jörn Weisbrodt in 2012. Their daughter was conceived by Wainwright and Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard Cohen, in 2011.

Wainwright’s self-titled debut album was released through DreamWorks Records in May 1998. His second album, Poses, was released in June 2001. Wainwright’s third and fourth studio albums, Want One (2003) and Want Two (2004), were repackaged as the double album Want in 2005. In 2007, Wainwright released his fifth studio album Release The Stars and his first live album Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall. His second live album Milwaukee At Last!!! was released in 2009, followed by the studio albums All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu (2010) and Out Of The Game (2012). The double album Prima Donna (2015) was a recording of his opera of the same name. His ninth studio album Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets (2016), featured nine adaptions of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

In addition to his tenor singing voice, he plays piano and guitar, often switching between the two instruments when performing live. He often performs with his sister, Martha Wainwright, on backup vocals.

Taking a break from playing his Northern Stars shows in New York, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Rufus how are you today?

I’m good thanks Kevin how are you?

I’m very well thank you, and let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Things at the moment are very good if I am honest with you. I am in New York at the moment; I am usually in Los Angeles because my husband and I are centred there mainly so that we can be near our daughter. But I am in New York at the moment because I am currently playing some shows called Northern Stars which is me singing a bunch of Canadian songs. This will be the last time that I do this because it isn’t something that I want to do a ton of times. However, there will be an album release pretty soon of these live concerts which will be available at some point. So I am getting ready for that, and after that I will be working on my new pop record which will hopefully be released before the end of the year. I have finished my opera about Hadrian, which is going to premiere at the Canadian Opera Company on October 13th and I am so looking forward to coming back to England to do some shows in order to pay the bills (laughter). Rather than me keep on doing these desperate projects (laughter).

You mention coming back to the UK, and you will be touring here in June. Are you looking forward to that?

Yes I am. It has been a while since I really dug into the outer arteries of the UK so I am excited to reinvigorate my very loyal fan base in all the different areas of their wonderful land. It is very important that I come back and all of this is really, in a way, a primer for the next couple of projects which are coming down the pipe, one being my new album eventually, but before then it is my forthcoming 25th anniversary tour of my first two albums. So you could say that we are starting up the engines again.

Do you enjoy the time that you get to spend here in the UK?

Oh very much so especially in June, it’s fantastic (laughter). I always seem to enjoy it. What always strikes me, and I think that it pretty much strikes everyone, is just how different every city, every little hamlet and every valley is from the next. So whenever you do an English tour, it’s kind of like you are touring a separate continent in a weird way (laughter). It is so very different from the United States where it takes you quite a while to shift gears. It is always fascinating.

You have briefly mentioned your All These Poses Anniversary Tour, and you will be playing the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on Saturday 23rd June. What can we expect from the show?

You know what, I am out this time around on this first round of shows as the troubadour which is a position that is highly prized within our family; pretty much everyone does it (laughter). So it is me going out there making a living. I will be visiting your towns singing various songs from various periods of my career. It is me simply being a working musician. Just call me the town crier (laughter).

You have now been in the business for thirty years, have you enjoyed the ride?

Well you know it’s interesting because I am right at the point now where in order for me to make this new pop record, and for me to continue on this latter part of my career in the mainstream, I have to once again, enter the fray of the pop world. What can I say, it certainly isn’t as facile as it was when I was twenty (laughter). But that being said, in terms of doing music tours and for me to have audiences coming to see me all over the world wherever I go, I have been pretty impressed with just how well I have done (laughter). Certainly nowadays record companies aren’t as easy to seduce as they were. That is certainly not my fault but so many things have changed and some have arguably dissolved. Having said that, the fact that I still have this public support whenever I do live shows is a great triumph for me and is something for which I am extremely appreciative.

You are about to celebrate thirty years in the music business, so I have to ask, would you do it all over again in the same way?

Most certainly I would (laughter). There are so many facets to my career that are really unbelievable, whether it is the fact that I love the opera that has come to fruition, I love working with my family and I love my journey through the American Songbook with the Judy (Garland) albums. So I really do not have anything to complain about. And I will also say that if I had been wildly financially successful, and had become a household name, I honestly do think that I would have been really unhappy and miserable. I really do think that I dodged the bullet in that respect.

You mention the Judy albums. Was that something that you felt you had to do?

I think that what I have always been best at in a strange way is being in touch with my instincts, and I think that even when I sing that is what people gravitate to. It is the mouth as they most definitely see me go into this other place where I am in touch with another world. That was really what happened with the Judy project. It was just something that I knew fundamentally that I had to do whether it was right or wrong or good or bad I couldn’t really say but it was a necessity. In my opinion that is something that you have to go with in general as an artist. It either has to happen or something else does and you simply go out and do it (laughter). It really is that simple.

Your dad is Loudon Wainwright III an American songwriter, folk singer, humorist, and actor whilst your late mom was Kate McGarrigle, a Canadian folk music singer songwriter. With those kind of genes, was it always going to be a career in music?

(Laughter) well let me put it this way; I never had to make the difficult choice between music and embroidery (laughter). My parent’s train of thought was always ‘either they will go out into the world and sing or they will stay at home and be afraid’ (laughter). From my own personal point of view, I feel that I chose the right track (laughter).

I have to say that I have been playing your 2016 album Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets and I absolutely love it.

Oh thank you, thank you so much.

Were you happy with the fans reaction to the album?

What can I say; it is an album that I am very proud of mainly because it made itself in a lot of ways. That was a gathering of material from many, many different projects over the years whether it was working with Robert Wilson and the Berlin Ensemble in Germany on the Sonnets or the classical arrangements that I did for the San Francisco Symphony or my own interpretations alone at the piano. So it was just that the timing was right; it was the celebration of the death of Shakespeare, and then everything was able to be recorded properly, so it was a bit of a miracle album. I can’t say that I am thrilled with how it was received in the mainstream and all that but I do feel that it is yet another slow burn album (laughter) which at some time down the line will bear some interesting fruit.

Looking at the list of contributing artists on the album, Helena Bonham Carter, William Shatner and the late Carrie Fisher to name but a few. Did you have to twist anyone’s arm in order to get them to contribute to the album?

(Laughter) well you know what is interesting, their arms I didn’t have to twist, and they were all really very gracious and willing to do it. I was surprised at just how many other actors didn’t step up to the plate in order to read a Shakespeare Sonnet. I just took it as a given that Leonardo DiCaprio and Jake Gyllenhaal would just do it because they are great works of art. It became evident pretty quickly that a lot of actors are still afraid of The Baird and specifically the Sonnets in a strange way because they are neither theatre nor poetry in a sense when you are reading them. I mean there is no need to do a performance, it’s not like you are a character or anything. So I think the ones that did step up and do it were all very confident in their own ability whereas the others were maybe a little more scared actually.

I actually love When In Disgrace with Fortune And Men’s Eyes (Sonnet 29).

Oh thank you. There are actually two versions of that; one is where I am singing it from years ago and then of course Florence (Leontine Mary Welch) was so pleased to help out with the recording. You will most probably know Florence better as the vocalist and songwriter of the indie rock band Florence and the Machine. That particular Sonnet was the first that I set to music, so it began the whole journey.

Are The Sonnets something that you will revisit at a later date?

Oh yes, most definitely. I still perform them, and I will most probably do a few of them when I am over there in England. Now, for me to be going out and touring my first two albums, with that prospect immediately becoming successful, and ticket sales being very healthy, there is a desire for nostalgia I guess (laughter). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Shakespeare album would once again generate a healthy amount of interest should I wish to perform it again sometime in the future. It seems like a lot of records now are judged by how long they survive as opposed to how well they do initially, which is right up my alley (laughter).

Do you have any views on the general consensus that Spotify and streaming are slowly but surely destroying the music industry?

To be honest with you, I gave up a long time ago. I knew instinctively at the outset of my career really that when all of the cards fall it will really be left up to touring and the live shows that I do. That is something that I spent doing whilst I was growing up because my father especially was really high-up in the industry and then Disco came along and kind of wiped him out. At that point he had to go back to the drawing board and make it into a night job I guess (laughter). So I saw that and that was very helpful to me. I was never really seduced into thinking that the business was any more than the show that you were doing that night. So I really don’t put too much faith in it. That being said though, I do feel that for young people it would be nice for there to be other options open to them that are less rammed down their throats and that are a little more edifying shall we say (laughter). I’m still fighting the good fight.

You have written specifically for the movies. Is that something that you enjoy doing?

That is a side of my career that happened by chance. A lot of movies have used my version of songs and I have been asked occasionally, with a certain degree of success, to contribute. But it is not something that I have heavily made an effort to nail down; in fact I would even go as far as to say that if you really inspect my movie work, it’s a little spotty (laughter). I haven’t been nominated for an Oscar or anything and I haven’t written for any movie musicals as yet (laughter). But hey, I’m living in Hollywood now with my husband and our daughter and whenever you put yourself out there then inevitably you will get sucked into some silly project (laughter).

I have to ask you what was it like working with Mark Ronson on your Out Of The Game album?

That for me was a total dream. Mark came into my life at the perfect moment. I had been in heavy duty mourning over the death of my mother, I had done a very dark tour Songs For Lulu and I really was at the bottom of the barrel in terms of my emotional state. At that point Mark walked into my life and it was an utter delight; he was always so much fun. I totally fell in love with him of course, as he did with me of course; we would just stare at each other a lot and make music (laughter). I have to say that I really do adore Mark.

On that note Rufus let me once again that you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been a delight.

Thanks Kevin that was great and I really do hope to see you in Nottingham. Bye for now.