“I have a very fun life,” Rufus Wainwright says in between laughs and and tales of how his new elaborate release, Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets, came to fruition. The collection of sonnets and songs inspired by the Bard’s work includes guest performances from his sister Martha, longtime friend Helena Bonham Carter, Florence Welch, Carrie Fisher and Shakespearian-trained actor William Shatner. While three of the sonnets appeared in different versions on his 2010 Songs for Lulu LP (and began their life in German for a 2009 project with theatre director Robert Wilson), it’s clear that there is a vision for this piece, as it is another in a long line of “event” releases from one of the modern era’s best love song composers.
The New York born/Montreal raised singer notes that the record was actually the idea of record label Deutsche Grammophon, the team that released Prima Donna, Wainwright’s 2015 opera.
“I’m very, very proud of that one and for me, it places the opera in a place where I feel comfortable, then (Deutsche Grammophon) actually came up with the idea of the sonnets album, and I sort of thought it was an interesting concept and it kinda falls right in place with the Shakespearian anniversary coming up,” he says of Take All My Love, which will be released the day before the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, April 22, 2016.
“One thing became another and it as well became kind of a massive undertaking,” he says of the record. “I am quite amazed actually at how that just occurred naturally. In retrospect it’s not so inconceivable because those songs have been around for a long time. I wrote most of them around seven years ago, and they’ve had many lives. Whether it was Berlin as part of the production or I’ve sung them with symphony orchestras or on Songs for Lulu, so they’ve amassed their own theme. This is a good example of a project where the music really dictated the situation and needed a big entry. Not to mention the poems themselves are pretty substantial.”
Putting together the team behind the piece brought him back to collaborating with his Poses co-producer Marius de Vries (Bjork, Madonna) and enlisting Fisher, Welch, Bonham, Carter and Shatner, among many others, to accompany him on vocals.
“Shatner’s actually a neighbour of Marius, so that was just going next door and knocking on the door and appealing to his sense of craft, because he is a Shakespearian actor by training, doing Stratford and all of that,” he casually tells. “Helena Bonham Carter I’ve been friends with for years, we’re very close. I feel she’s one of the great theatrical animals of our age and a great movie star, so she kind of has both of those down pat.
“Kind of the most interesting meeting was with Florence Welch. I’ve always loved her work and I’ve seen her live performances, they are second to none. I was hanging out by the pool in Los Angeles at the Chateau Marmont with my daughter when Florence came down and jumped into the pool – my daughter thought it was Ariel from The Little Mermaid. So I brought my daughter over and they swam around together in the pool and that’s how that meeting came about, thanks to Disney in a way.”
Wainwright’s been in the game for years, first releasing the single “I’m a-Runnin'” on the soundtrack to Canadian cult classic film Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveler in ’88, earning him Genie and JUNO nominations at age 15.
“What I’m constantly amazed at is the audacity I had at that age, and for a good 15 years after of just completely hitting it where it counted to get ahead. I don’t think looking back that I was always the best singer, and that I certainly made some questionable choices in the way of wardrobe,” he says with a laugh. “There’s a lot of stuff that I wish was never released, but also I’m very heartened by the fact that that little boy was so hungry and driven to make it, and that’s the kind of ambition that there are echoes of in my life operating on other cylinders, but when you’re that age and you’re starting out, you really need to be somewhat insane, and I’m very grateful now for that whacky kid who wouldn’t shut up!”
Nearly a decade later, he released his debut proper; a self-titled record co-produced by Jon Brion and Pierre Marchand. Recorded at Capitol Records in Hollywood and released on DreamWorks in 1998, Wainwright notes that to this day it is a fan favourite, and he still sounds in awe of how the stars aligned for it to come together in such a positive way.
“I was anointed by the gods of popular song,” he says. “Between working with Lenny Waronker at Dreamworks or Van Dyke Parks or Jon Brion or doing the album at Capitol Records it was a total fantasy experience. I was so fortunate to have it fall in the way it did. Then you come to the second one and the third one and they have their own sort of sagas which are a little less, shall we say, saintly.”
It’s that first record that spawned his ambitious career, including such beloved studio discs as Want One, Want Two and the aforementioned All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu (a record in memory of his mother, legendary Quebec folk singer Kate McGarrigle). He’s also released elaborate tribute collections and live albums, from Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall to Milwaukee at Last!!! and his Prima Donna opera, Wainwright’s catalogue is filled with records that are more than just records – they’re major musical events. Take All My Loves is no exception.
“I keep saying Judy was a thing, and opera is obviously another one, and singing my parents’ material is always close to my heart (Wainwright’s dad is folk singer/actor Loudon Wainwright III), but I think maybe one of the last pieces to make it a complete set might actually be country music,” he says bursting into sincere laughter. “I have this thing for cowboy tunes, and I just think it’s interesting with new country and how this Nashville plastic stuff has kind of destroyed the soul of the music a little bit. I’m drawn right now to country and western, maybe because it’s three chords. There’s also a French record in there as well, so there’s 20 years down the line right there.”
Visit RufusWainwright.com for more information.