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Rufus Wainwright’s latest ‘Release’
Gay singer/songwriter talks about new CD, life, love and politics

by Gregg Shapiro

‘It’s really wonderful. I’ve never ever been in a long-term relationship, so this is all very new to me at the moment.’
— Rufus Wainwright on his partner
of two years.
With each of his previous four CDs, beginning with his self-titled 1998 debut through 2004’s “Want Two,” Rufus Wainwright has created an exemplary musical legacy. “Release the Stars”(Geffen), Wainwright’s latest, and perhaps greatest, is no exception. As his first self-produced effort, the album is an accomplished and assured endeavor. Never one to sidestep controversy, Wainwright rarely minces words, choosing instead to set them to equally meaningful and stirring music. Whether he’s addressing the current political climate (“Going to a Town”) or the politics of love (“Leaving for Paris”), he never fails to make his point and leave listeners with a tune they can’t stop humming. We spoke with Rufus shortly before the release of “Release the Stars.”

It was great to hear the songs you did on the soundtrack to the Disney movie “Meet the Robinsons.” How did that come about?

I was approached years ago when this whole thing started, because those Disney things take centuries to make, practically. They wanted me to write music for it and I asked Elton John about the whole situation, since he had worked with them before. He said it was a good experience for him. Whenever Disney calls you have to at least consider it, because it is so huge. So, I just started doing it. And I’m not even a big animation fan; I kind of actually hate those kind of movies myself [laughs]. But what was kind of odd about the whole experience is that when I went out and actually heard the music with the animation, there was a strange thing that happened. It actually worked quite well. There is something about my voice that fits well with animation, I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s kind of comedy or something — I don’t know — but it ended up being a great experience.

I would think that the “Shrek” soundtrack probably sold as well as it did because of the inclusion of your version of [Leonard Cohen’s] “Hallelujah.”

Yeah, that turned out to be kind of a classic version.

Could you ever imagine doing an entire album of kids’ music? I mean, think of what a great influence you could be on generations to come.

I don’t know. I think I’m pretty far from that forum, only because I’m about to write this opera for the Met of New York, and that’s pretty grown up (laughs). But if that fails totally I’ll go to the kids.
There will always be kids. Speaking of influences, your recreation of the Judy [Garland] at Carnegie Hall concert is the stuff of legend. Are there plans for a CD/DVD release?
Yes, we’re releasing a CD of the concert in September — of the Carnegie Hall show. There’s also the DVD of the Palladium show that I did in London. So there will be plenty more of that coming along. I don’t know how many more times I can actually do it live. I’m doing it at the Hollywood Bowl for sure, but it’s such a difficult set. It’s fun and everything, but it’s extremely taxing and I don’t know if I can do both my material and Garland’s material without being a two-headed monster.

You are also playing some select dates on the True Colors Tour, one in Washington, D.C. and one in Boston. Did you choose those cities or were they chosen for you?

They were the only ones that were available only because I had prior tour dates before. They did ask me to do the entire tour and these fit in with my schedule. I am really honored to be able to play with so many gay and gay-friendly legends.

It’s a pretty cool line-up. Now, in this particular political climate, does performing in D.C. have any significance to you?

‘I’ve been on The Drudge Report and on The Concerned Women for America [websites] several times.’
— Rufus Wainwright on the right wing.
D.C. is going to be where it’s at for the next few years, for sure. There’s got to be a tremendous shift, now that there will be the changing of the guard. Whether it’s lobbying for D.C. to be included in being represented, or for the environment, or for the election, D.C. is going to be the center of the world for the next few years.

As someone who captured the Beales in song a few years ago, what do you think about the Broadway musical “Grey Gardens”?

I love it, actually. I saw it twice — and I was totally ready to assassinate everyone involved. I was very, very skeptical, but I enjoyed it tremendously. I think that [Christine] Ebersole does an incredible job as Little Edie and Big Edie. I can’t say that it’s a classic, necessarily, but for someone that does not know the material or the backstory it’s kind of a great opening.
In your role of producer for “Release the Stars” were there things that you felt like you were unable to do on previous albums that, as producer, you were able to do this time?”

Oh, many things! Working with Marius [DeVries], doing “Want One” and “Want Two,” I was very free to express myself in whatever way I felt. But, oddly enough, I think when you’re the sole one in charge, there is no kind of mutual masturbatory-like [laughs] voyages where you’re just writing for the other person. There’s you and the music, and you end up having to be really, really critical of yourself, because there is nobody else that is going to do that. You can go either way, but I tend to be critical.

Neil Tennant [of Pet Shop Boys] received an executive producer credit — how would you describe his role in the process?

He came into the studio a couple of times and he was also there for mixing. He was basically my advisor. He has a really incredible take on what popular music means in today’s world. He has equal respect for it, as he has for high culture. He was a good sort of filter for me to bounce things off and see what went through the hole.

“Release the Stars” feels like your most political album, beginning with “Do I Disappoint You” in which it sounds like you are lashing out at both corporate fat cats and the religious right.
The thing that’s interesting about “Going to a Town,” which is the second song, is that I actually never intended to write it. I was preparing to go out for dinner. I had about 10 minutes to spare and I sat down. The next thing you know it was finished. I just kind of went with it. The immediate tracking of that song is the one that’s on the album. It only took one take to do it, the vocal. Whenever anybody hears it, they are sucked in right away, and that’s, in my opinion, the definition of a single, that people can understand instantly. That’s why I chose it for the single. It’s not even for political reasons, but it is, nonetheless, political, of course, due to the subject matter.

The thing about “Going to a Town” is that it’s the kind of song to get you on Bill O’Reilly’s shit list, if you’re not already there.

I’m sure I am. I’ve been on The Drudge Report and on The Concerned Women for America [websites] several times.

Are you prepared for that?

Oh, yes, of course I am. If there’s anytime to strike, it’s now. I mean, the right wing is so ridiculous at this point and inept and the pendulum is swinging. I tend to be pretty realistic in these matters, in terms of, yes, I don’t want to turn into a warmonger myself and annihilate the other side, but if we don’t do that to them, they are definitely going to do it to us. It’s a tough one, you’ve got to be tough.

“Nobody’s Off the Hook” has a great line about a guy who hangs “with a homo and hairdresser” and became “the one desired in every woman’s heart.” Who is this song about?

That’s about my friend Teddy Thompson. He is definitely a prime example of a metrosexual. Skin care products. He dyes his eyes occasionally.

Yes, he is very pretty.

But he’s definitely into the ladies.

“Between My Legs” is a multi-layered number that starts out as what I would describe as a Rufus-style pop tune, and then becomes this incredibly operatic number complete with a “Phantom of the Opera” organ section and a spoken part by actress Sian Phillips.
That song I wrote about a boy I was infatuated with named Tommy Hotpants — who still cavorts about Manhattan as if he owns the place, which every young person should do. It’s like a fantasy about being able to save your object of desire when the apocalypse comes, and bring him to some sort of hidden paradise. It’s all very imaginary.

I’m glad that you mentioned crushes and such, because it wouldn’t be a Rufus Wainwright CD without love and its complications, as on “Slideshow,” “I’m Not Ready For Love,” and “Tiergarten.” Are you in love?

Yes, I have an amazing boyfriend right now. He’s from Germany. He was one of the main reasons I went to Berlin to make the album, because I wanted to spend some time with him. He’s now living in New York with me. It’s really wonderful. I’ve never ever been in a long-term relationship, so this is all very new to me at the moment. We’ve been together for about two years; that is definitely long-term in my book for gay life. We’re just plugging along. It’s going to be hard, with touring and everything. A day at a time, as they say.

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