the Kitchen with Rufus & Martha Wainwright
Rufus and Martha Wainwright, the children of famous 60s folky
Loudon Wainwright III, stopped by Oberlin last Saturday to play
a marathon show at Finney Chapel to packed, loving Oberlin crowds.
Arts editor John MacDonald got a chance to sit down with this brother
and sister team along with their half-sister, junior Lucy Wainwright
Roche, who organized the show, to talk about their famous parents,
Rufus rock n roll education and that whole Bea Arthur
MacDonald: So, being that you are from extremely musical families,
was it always expected that you would become professional musicians,
or at least amateur ones?
Wainwright: Well, at least from my side of the family. We have different
mothers, Lucy and I it was not expected that wed be musicians
at all, but it was apparent from a very young age with me, and with
Martha as well, that we were total star material (rolling his eyes).
JM: Right, right...(laughs)
RW: Basically we [werent] good in school, our grades [were]
bad, [we were] indifferent about sports...So my mother enlisted
us in the army of art.
Now both of your moms were in groups of their own, right? The McGarrigles
and the Roches. Would any of you guys go on tour with them?
Yeah, I would go on tour with them.
Martha Wainwright: Well what they would do, they would build a vacation
around a couple of shows. They would book a few things in Europe,
or whatever, and then we would take the week off after that and
sort of hang out and go camping or anything else we wanted to do.
They werent bus tours, they were more like family tours with
gigs to do.
RW: Yeah, it wasnt grueling... Lucy really did the touring
thing more then we did. (to Lucy) Youve had weird baby sitters
a lot of the time.
So what was it like having rock n roll moms?
some debate about the appropriateness of the term rock n
roll to describe both mothers music)
Pop, not really punk, singer-songwriter moms. They were nice, I
guess. They were okay. It was nice to see moms doing something other
then cooking and cleaning.
Lucy Wainwright Roche: On take-your-daughter-to-work day, my mom
would take me to the movies because she wanted to keep it a secret
that she didnt work during the day.
Did they ever play on the same bill?
MW: [They played] on the same circuit.
back to their experiences growing up with professionally touring
and recording mothers)
You learn how to shut up and be quiet.
RW: And also, especially when theyre working in the studio,
we had to be quiet. We werent allowed to play with all the
buttons...or play any video games.
I saw you at the 9:30 Club last summer in D.C. I forget which song
it was before, but you unbuttoned your shirt and dedicated a song
to Robert Plant.
Now, I know opera and cabaret are really important to you. Do you
have other influences like Led Zeppelin and more recent stuff?
More recent then anything. I mean recent over the last five or six
years. Before I got signed, I was in Los Angeles at that time to
make my first record, I really had no knowledge of rock. [But] then
I moved in with Melissa Auf de Maur of Hole, the [former] bass player,
and met and hung out with Courtney Love, and, ya know, a lot of
that whole world, [including] Dave Grohl. It was one thing not to
know a lot about rock n roll, but when youre actually
hanging out with the people themselves, its like a sort of
crash course in pop culture.
You were classically trained in the piano originally. Didnt
you go to a school in New York?
No, to McGill. (A college in Montreal, where Rufus grew up.)
And then you dropped out with the intention of sort of doing what
youre doing now?
Yeah. Originally, I wanted to write and get a degree in music. Write
orchestra stuff, operas and so forth, which I still am interested
in. But I just wasnt good enough in school. I didnt
do my homework. I never practiced my piano. I just spent the whole
time at the bar or writing songs about guys and stuff. So I just
had to go into pop because I didnt practice enough.
Do you have any plans to start a new album, or are you just touring
now in support of Poses?
Yeah, no. Im working on a new album right now I mean,
at least writing the material...Im now 28 (which Im
really feeling today). Ive always been shocked by how... when
I was in high school, college kids seemed like 40 year-olds. But
now theyre so young. Things have just gone by so quickly.
So my main goal is to get my next record out before Im 30...and
then Ill have three records under my belt...in my 20s.
Did you write most of the stuff for this last album on tour for
the first one?
No, I wrote most of it after I finished the tour and moved to New
York and forgot all about music to focus on hedonistic pursuits.
Its definitely a New York-tinged album.
Yeah, definitely pre-Sept. 11 crash when Monica Lewinsky was the
news and everyone was making lots of money in tech stocks.
Now, being an openly gay musician yourself and knowing that Oberlins
student population is around 30 percent homosexual, does that influence
your performance or anything associated with your stay here?
I mean, I dont think it directly influences anything per se,
but ya know, Im part of a great tradition (rolling his eyes
and taking on a sarcastic tone) of gay people in show biz
like the average man in hell. (laughs). But uhh...
MW: It happens...
RW: Im definitely in the right business. Actually music is
a little different cause music can actually be very, very
straight. But at least with songwriting and, ya know, show biz in
general, Im definitely from some sort of tradition...
Did you ever expect to be playing a gig in the middle of northern
Ya know, I never really expected to be playing at all, really, in
terms of having an audience and being able to play these places.
Every day is a surprise for me in my life right now. Like I was
on Rosie ODonnell yesterday I never expected that.
And Letterman. I like to keep some sense of surprise in my life.
Okay, now, I must ask. At that same show, Im not sure which
song, but you introduced it with this whole story about Bea Arthur.
And I was on this website the other day, some AIDS foundation in
Sante Fe, and somehow they had her picture together with your picture.
Could you explain a little bit about the connection between you
We were doing an AIDS benefit together and she was the emcee. And
I was there...and I had always wanted to meet her because I obsess
over The Golden Girls, one of my favorite shows for
a long time, that and Mary Tyler Moore, both of which
were mentioned in the song California (a song on Poses).
I essentially, ya know, went up to her and told her that I was a
huge fan of hers and that I watched her a lot when I was very lonely
in Los Angeles and wasnt with my family. And I told her that
she became my sort of grandmother my TV grandmother. And
she turned to me and said Im not your fucking grandmother!
and walked away.
Now Lucy, what is the most important and/or interesting thing about
Martha and Rufus coming to visit?
Id say, its just really nice to have them come and see
where I live. You realize youre really a middle child when
you spend two weeks xeroxing big pictures of your brothers
head. (Rufus and Martha laugh). And the other really interesting
thing is just noticing that the standards of what is socially acceptable
for people to say and do gets kinda blurred when theres something
in the public eye. Its interesting to watch people on the
campus start saying things that are maybe borderline insulting...
Because of your relationship with Rufus...
But that you would never say to someone who wasnt on a poster.
Its really interesting to see the license that people think
Would it be intimidating getting involved yourself with music with
such a musical family?
RW: Yeah it is, ya know. I mean, I dont know. I had no choice
in the matter. I had to sing for my supper. But Lucy, you do music
too, right? You play guitar?
LWR: Yeah, I mean, Ive played here before and everyone has
been really supportive.
RW: Ive never heard her sing.
Any plans for you guys to tour together?
LR: I dont know. I was watching a sociology video in my sociology
class about family and a lot about that whole section of the Christian
Right and what a family should be and everything, and I was thinking
we should do a family tour with everyone involved and call it The
Family Values Tour.
Yeah, a different family values tour...
Yeah. Family rejects...
MW: (in a sultry voice) Black sheep...