Thankfully Rufus Wainwright isn’t a lady. Or else his sister might be a goner.
“It’s a godsend that I’m gay because if I wasn’t I’d want to sleep with my sister, and if I was a woman I’d want to kill her,” Wainwright snickers.
After bonding for several weeks over the holidays – and performing together during a family gig at Carnegie Hall where he turned a major architectural monument into his living room – the two siblings will perform at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival at Hill Auditorium. Don’t count on any duets, though. Wainwright may not be able to see his sister, Martha, perform since he’ll be flying in that day.
“But maybe she’ll stay for mine,” he chirps.
On the heels of releasing his fifth studio album, “Release the Stars,” Wainwright is pleasantly relaxed as he chats, in a drowsy-sounding voice, about his chock-full year – wrapping up the new disc, releasing his Judy Garland show and penning an opera – from his New York home.
The “popera” crooner’s fully aware that “there’s a lot happening.”
Unlike former richly-textured albums, Wainwright concentrated on spawning a record with stark instrumentation for his upcoming project. That didn’t happen.
“I couldn’t resist the romantic flourishes that just come naturally to me,” he says. “It is still a very baroque record.”
Wainwright chose to record in Berlin, along with London and New York, and used the city’s destructive past for the vision of “Stars,” due in May. “I really intended to … live somewhere that has already been defeated in history,” he laughs, “… only because in America I feel like we’re causing so much disruption and turmoil but we know nothing about it ourselves on a visceral level.”
The album threads together Wainwright’s critical eye on national issues and more personal reflections of the people in his life.
He goes on, “They’re not necessarily positive songs about them.”
After Wainwright’s trip to London earlier this month to finish mixing the album, he’s about ready to wrap up the yearlong project. He took on the long overdue duty of producing the entire disc single-handedly despite being highly involved in the process of previous albums. “I kind of was really itching to have my own project for many years.”
To give fans something to chew on until the release, Wainwright recently recorded “Bewitched” for “The History Boys” and three tunes for the upcoming Disney film “Meet The Robinsons.” The crooner also lent his emotive operatic voice to the “Brokeback Mountain” and “Shrek” soundtracks.
Some might say Wainwright’s at his prime, but he still believes he’s sort of just, well, there.
“Though I’m not, let’s say, covering the body, I’m sort of like your left hip,” he says and continues laughing, “I’m kind of necessary.”
From the get-go, the musician’s never shied away from revealing his sexual orientation. But, had he masked himself as bisexual, asexual, androgynous or even as a “fantasy-type character,” Wainwright could shift into mainstream success. But does he want to be there? Nah.
“I think it’s very easy to pull the wool over the public’s eyes about your sexuality,” he reveals. “I don’t think people want to hear the word gay, really. Or at least they haven’t in the past. But, that being said, I think I would’ve been completely unhappy and also I don’t think I would’ve had the solidity that I have today in terms of my fan base. I think I would’ve been more of a fad.”
Pot of gold
Still, Wainwright’s carved, with relatable candid accounts of crystal meth use and the religion-homosexuality tug-a-war, a niche in the gay community. And should he cook a more mainstream meal, he’d feel less comfy.
“I have a bit of a cache,” he notes.
This reserve allows Wainwright to pursue projects that harmonize with his overly ambitious nature. Soon he’ll sink into opera.
“What’s so great about this medium is that it really has to be perfect when it’s written. I mean you can’t really skimp artistically when you’re writing an opera. That sort of defeats the purpose. I just like that whole idea – that there’s no thought of radio play or length, but it is supposed to touch an audience.”
As a Judy Garland zealot, he echoed her infamous 1961 Carnegie Hall concert in its 27-song entirety, which will be released on CD in the fall.
“(It took) a lot of work, a lot of money, a lot of sweat, a lot of tears and a lot of nightmares,” he laughs and continues, “with happy rainbow endings.”
Though his attitude about her seesaws (some of her antics irk him), “there are certain moments that she’s hit artistically and professionally and with all sorts of machines behind her – whether it be MGM or the ’60s or great photographers or recording engineers – she’d hit these moments that have never really been masked in terms of showbusiness.”
Though psychically attractive in her “Wizard of Oz” days, Wainwright admired her later, as he notes, toothless awkward aura.
Even if then she was, “actually quite ugly.”
2007 Ann Arbor Folk Festival
6:30 p.m. Jan. 26