Rufus aims to stay individual

EMMA LEE Rufus Wainwright has been hailed as the most extraordinary songwriter of his generation with fans that include Elton John and Sting. Ahead of his UEA gig, he tells Emma Lee about his battle to retain his individuality.


“It's funny, when I started my career I was very much under the impression that the point was to be individual and to express your own personal view of things and not be like everyone else,” says singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright.

“I quickly discovered that in the music business, that's avant garde thinking so it's quite a battle.

“I do not really pull any punches in terms of trying to be current or trying to be 'down with the peeps' as they say. I think that in a strange way so much is so contrived and targeted towards a certain audience it's refreshing to have someone who's just being themselves,” he says.

Born in the US and raised in Canada, Rufus is the son of singer-songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle.

He followed them into the family business at a young age - he started to learn piano at the age of six and began touring with the McGarrigle Sisters and Family band - made up of his mother, aunt, and sister Martha, when he was 13.

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As a teenager he wrote several songs for Canadian film soundtracks and was nominated for the Best Song award at the Genie awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars, when he was just 14.

His love of opera has shaped his work and Edith Piaf, Al Jolson and Judy Garland have also been cited as influences.

Rufus was signed to the Dreamworks record label in 1996, and he released his self-titled debut album, in 1998, when the renowned music magazine Rolling Stone named him as its new artist of the year.

Elton John, Morrissey and Sting are fans of his work, and newer bands such as Keane and the Scissor Sisters say he's been an influence.

On record he is not afraid to let rip and lay his emotions bare - indeed you suspect that he sees it as a form of therapy. It's certainly what sets him apart from your average singer-songwriter.

In interviews, he's also open about his personal life - he came out as gay when he was a teenager, and has talked frankly about his personal demons - including an addiction to the drug crystal meth, which left him temporarily blind.

In person he is equally open - friendly with a dry sense of humour.

I could have easily chatted to him for much longer than the 10 minutes allowed by his gruelling schedule.

“The tour's going great - there's a lot of excitement,” he says.

Is it Rufusmania? Are you being welcomed to town by flag-waving crowds of fans?

“Well, we have a bus so I guess if they did that we would run them over on the motorway, but there is a lot of excitement,” he deadpans.

His two latest albums, Want One, released in 2003 and this year's Want Two, have just been re-released as a double album.

“This tour is the end of the cycle,” he explains. “After this I am going to take a break and start my next album and when I go back into the studio I'm just going to see where it takes me.”

There could, however, be a slight stylistic change of direction.

“I want to tone down my style production. I always write very lush songs. I would like to make it more about the meat of the matter,” he says.

“I do have more of an agenda. I'm writing songs about friends of mine, about human relationships, not love relationships.”

Rufus's parents divorced when he was young and he was brought up by his mother in Canada.

As well as his sexuality, his relationship with his famous family is a recurring theme in his work - the lyrics about his father are particularly cutting and confrontational at times.

Does he worry about how they will react?

“Well, I think as my dad wrote a song about me breast feeding in the 70s called Rufus Is A Tit Man, I could have done a whole lot worse!” he laughs.

He has collaborated with his family throughout his career, including a foray into films.

His sister Martha, who is an acclaimed singer-songwriter in her own right, often performs with him on backing vocals.

And Rufus, Martha and their father all appeared in Martin Scorsese's epic The Aviator.

Rufus played a nightclub singer.

“That came about because it turns out they were filming in Canada and because of the regulations they needed to have Canadian content - performers - in the film,” he explains.

“They called me up and they needed two other vocalists and I said what about my sister and my dad.

“I filmed my part on my 30th birthday, so at least I didn't have to think about how I was going to spend it,” he says before being whisked away for more interviews.

“I'm looking forward to coming to England,” he says. “I'm in Germany at the moment and I'm heading east to England. No I'm not. I'm heading west,” he corrects himself with a laugh.

Hope he finds his way to Norwich all right.

t Rufus Wainwright plays the UEA, Norwich, on Monday, December 12 (rescheduled from December 8). For information contact 01603 508050 or visit The album, Want, is out now.

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