Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Doing the Wainwright thing


Rufus on his latest album, 'Release the Stars'

Rufus Wainwright.
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With his previous four CDs, beginning with his self-titled 1998 debut through 2004's Want Two, Rufus Wainwright has created a musical legacy. Release the Stars (Geffen), Wainwright's latest and perhaps greatest, is no exception. His first self-produced effort, Release the Stars 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 addressing the current political climate or the politics of love, he never fails to make his point and leave listeners with a tune they can't stop humming. I spoke with Rufus shortly before the album's release.

Gregg Shapiro: Your recreation of the Judy at Carnegie Hall concert remains the stuff of legends. Are there plans for a CD/DVD release?

Rufus Wainwright: Yes, we're releasing a CD of the Carnegie Hall show in September. 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, 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're also playing some select dates on the True Colors tour, one in Washington, DC, and one in Boston. Did you choose those cities, or were they chosen for you?

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

Are there things you felt like you were unable to do on previous albums that, as producer, you were able to do on Release the Stars?

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 are no kind of mutual masturbatory-like voyages where you're just writing for the other person. There's you and the music, and you end up having to be really critical of yourself, because nobody else is going to do that.

Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys received an executive producer credit.

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 inc

redible 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," where it sounds like you're lashing out at corporate fat-cats and the religious right.

If there's any time to strike, it's now. The right wing is so ridiculous at this point, and inept, and the pendulum is swinging.

"Nobody's Off the Hook" has a great line about a guy "hanging with a homo and hairdresser" who becomes "the one desired in every woman's heart." Who's 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, 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!

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 longterm relationship, so this is all very new to me at the moment. We've been together for about two years; that is definitely longterm 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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