Two decades ago Rufus Wainwright emerged onto the global stage with an ambitious debut album. As he embarks on a retrospective tour around Australia, Wainwright looks back on his early career.
“Right now I feel as though I’ve come full circle,” Wainwright explains in transit to Australia. “I’m living in LA again, where I recorded my debut album, and am even working with some of the same classic session players in some of the same famous studios.”
The storied circumstances of Rufus Wainwright’s production are not your typical debut album narrative. Emerging from the not-insignificant legacy of his musical parents, Wainwright worked on over 50 songs with a degree of perfectionism and ambition usually reserved for late career auteurs. Enlisting foils like eccentric American legend and onetime Brian Wilson collaborator Van Dyke Parks, the sessions pushed the production budget close to the million dollar mark.
“At the time I really had no idea what the hell was going on, I just wanted to create great tracks,” he recalls. “If I had been doing it in my basement I would have been in the same frame of mind, ravenous! Thankfully I happened to be with the heavy hitters.
“Looking back I’m amazed at how madly ambitious I was, I was truly starving for attention,” he reflects. “I think that’s a necessary ingredient for when one starts out and it can go either way: to ultimate fame or ultimate destruction… thankfully I got the former.”
Although some 20 years older, the restless young man who wrote songs like April Fools, Foolish Love an Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk is not entirely unfamiliar to the now-seasoned performer and composer as he revisits his earlier work. “I was and continue to be a consummate romantic,” he says. “Someone who blurs the lines between art and life, both fed and victimized by beauty.”
“I’m actually struck by how much they make more sense to me today,” he continues. “Even though the material seems quite lavish, deep down I was always comparing my work to classic and great repertoire, [but] tried to shy away from too much indulgence. Paid off in the end.”
One thing that has changed however, is his voice. After revisiting challenging projects like his 2009 opera Prima Donna and Judy Garland tribute Rufus Does Judy at Adelaide Festival in 2017, which saw him tackle songs like Do It Again in Garland’s original key. “I am singing about 200 times better now than I did then. My breath control, pronunciation, tone, it’s all much more clear. This makes a lot of sense considering I’m such a huge opera fan, in that world it’s in your forties when you really sing the big heavy roles properly.”
Which leaves Wainwright in a perfect position to revisit the ornate pop of his early career with his forthcoming tenth album. “I’ve completed my next pop record with the great producer Mitchell Froom, I’m absolutely thrilled,” he says of working with the producer behind Crowded House’s early releases.
But first, Wainwright will be taking songs from both Rufus Wainwright and Poses to fans around Australia.
“It was an auspicious start and I’m happy to revisit those high standards,” he reflects. “Quality!”
Rufus Wainwright – All These Poses tour
Friday February 22
Adelaide Festival Centre