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Rufus Wainwright Explains His Music

Genre-Defying Crooner Reveals Roots in Opera, Folk

By Nina Kshetry

Singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright spoke to The Tech via telephone from Los Angeles, explaining his musical influences and style. Wainwright is preparing for his upcoming tour, which kicks off in Boston at Avalon Ballroom on Friday, Feb. 8.

TT: Your parents are both folk musicians and you have a variety of musical interests from opera to classical. Can you explain what has influenced you the most in developing your particular style of music?

RW: It’s been a lethal cocktail of all of those things you mentioned. On the one hand opera is my personal religion in music. When I go to the opera house it’s like going to church, but that’s a very personal thing. I’ve taken a lot from opera. But on the other hand I did grow up in such a musical house. Both of my parents are incredible musicians, and my sister and everybody around me was -- I have to say that it has equal input. Also I went to music school and studied piano for a long time. So, yeah, I got a lot of different sides to it.

TT: You dropped out of music school, right?

RW: Yes.

TT: Did you find the time that you spent there helpful?

RW: Yes, I did. I got to do great things. I got to do a performance of Verdi’s Requiem with a full orchestra and chorus. I was in the chorus. But essentially I got bored one day and just walked out. All my professors were sitting on the steps and they said, “Where are you going?” and I said, “I’m gonna go make a record,” -- and that’s what happened.

TT: How would you describe your style of music to people who have never heard it, since it seems hard to categorize?

RW: Well, I don’t know what it is either. I’m confused as well. I wish somebody could categorize it to me. I would like it to be considered good American songwriting. It’s American songwriting.

TT: Since your music is different from mainstream music, do you find it hard to sell your albums?

RW: Well, I don’t find it hard to sell my albums. People are always dying to buy my albums when they see me. I think that my record company and certain record stores have a hard time, but that is their problem.

TT: What would you say are the differences between your first CD and your second CD?

RW: The main difference is that the first one was very exclamatory. It was kind of [saying] “I am a great force arriving here with my orchestra and 80 xylophones. Here we go! Look out!” Which I had to do, and I was aware of that at the time. I could have made a solo piano record and it still would have been quite good, but I needed to open with a splash. For my second album I wanted something that was more subtle. Something you could play really loud and enjoy it, or have it in the background and it will lend something to the atmosphere. The last record, I found, tried to grab your attention so much that some people found it annoying, which is fine. But I wanted this one to be more seductive.

TT: How do you feel about being attached to a big record label? Do you find it restricts you in any way?

RW: Yes, it does in a certain way; it is a definite sacrifice. You have to appease record companies because they give you all that money. You are under contract to deliver something that they want to sell. But it is better for me to make that sacrifice now so that more people are aware of me, so that later I can take that bunny out of the hat. But for now it is necessary.

TT: Do you enjoy going on tour?

RW: Yeah, I need to go on tour in order to sell a record at this point. I like going on tour. It’s grueling and it’s exhausting and I go crazy, but it’s a great honor to be able to play for people.

TT: Are you planning on playing any songs that aren’t on your CDs on you upcoming tour?

RW: I don’t plan on it, but you never know especially if you are doing an encore. You use what seems right at the time, and some of the other songs are good for that. One thing I do want to do is sing a lot of the songs from my soundtrack albums.

TT: Are you going to perform any songs from your first CD?

RW: Yeah, I’ll do a little bit of this, and I little bit of that. Mainly songs from my first cd, but you’ll be happy don’t worry.

TT: What advice can you give an aspiring songwriter on how to go about the process of making a song?

RW: I think the only advice I could give is that a great song has blood and guts and life experience and that you really have to lay it all down on the line. Music is fun and wonderful and happy, but it also requires pain, and you have to go through the pain in order to feel happy again.