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Martha Wainwright

Watch Your Mouth

Dec 05, 2012 Martha Wainwright
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Where some artists coming from a family of established performers might go to extremes to ensure that they find a voice of their own, Martha Wainwright found herself going full circle recently to find hers back at the source. The daughter of singer/songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle (as well as the sister of Rufus Wainwright), Wainwright chose the last song McGarrigle wrote (she died in 2010) as the centerpiece of her new album, Come Home to Mama.

Coming from the artist whose 2005 EP was entitled Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, the lyrics of Come Home to Mama can be refreshingly and sometimes amusingly direct (consider her sideways paean to the joys of makeup sex, “Can You Believe It”). Speaking before the close of the current presidential election, Wainwright suddenly seems inspired with new (and likely controversial) possibilities for BMFA.

Hays Davis (Under the Radar): Did you go into your work on Come Home to Mama with any different approaches in mind compared to what you had done with I Know You’re Married?

Martha Wainwright: Working with Yuka Honda [of Cibo Matto], it was actually my husband Brad’s [Albetta] idea. He has, for the most part, produced my albums in the past. I was talking to him about who I should work with and he suggested Yuka. I think that concept was already with the expectation of doing something slightly different. Her music is kind of electronic in a way, but I think she was able to recognize that the voice and the guitar are still the most important thing. It shifted from going way far out into a more electronic sound and then to bring it back to a place that made the most sense, which is me. Very much sounds like my music, but with these soundscapes, musical landscapes, that I would never have come up with myself.

I had wondered how Sean [Lennon] and Yuka had become involved, if maybe you had been friends with them for a while.

Yes, I had been friends with them for a long time. I was talking with Brad and was saying I’d really like to work with an artist rather than just a producer, and I’d really like to work with a woman. And I was sort of whining about it, not really thinking that I was going to find someone, and it was him who had the idea. And she’s known my music for a long time and had always been a fan, and she was really into the idea, so it worked out really well.

Nels Cline and Jim White seem like dream choices for adding some imaginative flair to the music. How did they become involved?

Nels is married to Yuka, which is great, and very fortuitous to me. They got married about a year and a half ago. And it was funny, too, because Yuka and I both know what it is to work with our husbands, and the great things you can get out of that that can be kind of intense. We had a good laugh about that, too. Nels, luckily, really likes to work a lot. He’s kind of a workaholic, so when he was at home from being off the road with Wilco for a few days at a time, he was totally willing to come downstairs and play the guitar for us, so that was really great for me. And Jim White is an old friend, and I played with him a little bit on different projects. Also, we drank at the same café. He lived around the corner from me in Brooklyn and we kept our connection that way, and I knew he would be a great choice for this record.

Did anything in particular prompt the title of the album?

“Come home to mama” is the chorus, the main line in that song. “Proserpina” is a cover. That’s a song that my mother wrote, and it was the last song that she wrote before she died, a couple of months before she died, so it’s obviously really intense for me to sing it. And also, the meaning of the song, when she sang, “Come home to mama.” I think that song is the core of the emotional story in the record. When we were mixing, we would hear all the main songs, the upbeat songs or the single or what you would lead with. And of course that song, every time it would come on it was like, well, this is really the pinnacle, because it’s probably the strongest song, really, in many ways.

My manager was saying, “Well, no, we can’t use that as the title because it needs to be more about you and less of family.” My brother and I recently produced a film of a live tribute concert to my mother. We had a little screening of it where we were trying to get it out in theaters. He saw the concert tribute, and then I think he just got it. He was like, “No, you should totally call the record Come Home to Mama and not be afraid to pay tribute to Kate and to that song.”’ And with the cover being the way it is, it’s kind of more tongue-in-cheek, because when you look at the cover and with that title you wouldn’t think it’s a serious song, that it’s sort of silly. So it’s sort of a play with the title because it’s not really what you would expect when you hear the song.

Your voice has its own character, but I do pick up some McGarrigle flashes here and there. Do you hear that much?

Good! Yeah, I think more and more. On this record I’m singing so loud and so angry, which they don’t generally do, but I know that it’s there. I hear it all the time and I thank…I don’t thank God, because I don’t know if that makes sense, but I thank whoever allows it to be the case that I sound at all like the McGarrigles. I have to work on my sweeter side to get there fully.

Looking toward your live Edith Piaf tribute album (2009’s Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, à Paris: Martha Wainwright’s Piaf Record), have you been a fan of hers for a long time?

Yeah. I grew up in Montréal and she was my favorite singer when I was, like, five. And I think that’s because my mother had her records and Rufus played them a lot. In Montréal, she would have been pretty famous, always. So she was a huge influence on me as a kid. Not that I sounded like her or could sing like her, but I just have this strong, distinct memory of some of her songs. Not so much the ones I cover but some other ones, and her image on the cover of the vinyl, and the concept of this tiny woman having this wild sound. That was very exciting to me.

I was on your website the other day and noticed that Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole was sold out, and that it also was on Amazon. I began to think there could be a trend in the making, in case you wanted to consider another few releases with really spicy titles, but what kind of reference might you end up with? “That Canadian Potty Mouth”?

You just gave me a good idea. I didn’t know that it was sold out but I’ve been watching the Republican convention and it’s been really depressing me, and now I’m wondering if there’s a way we could use that song somehow. [Laughs] I’m going to send it to the Obama people. Maybe they could put it in an ad against Mitt.


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