Music interview: Martha Wainwright

If Martha Wainwright's sixth album Goodnight City has a certain homely quality it may have something to do with the fact that the singer has reconnected with her roots.

Thursday, 19th January 2017, 7:00 am
Martha Wainwright

Three years ago she decided to leave behind New York City, where she’d spent the last 15 years, and move with her husband Brad Albetta and two young sons back to Montreal, the Canadian city where she was born and raised.

The feeling of “return to home” helped shape her latest record, the 40-year-old singer says. “We made it in Montreal which was important for me to do because the kids were in school and day care, we didn’t want to have to move around too much. With the comfort of that we did it in the studio of a guy called Pierre Marchand who had produced my mother [Kate McGarrigle’s album] Heartbeats Accelerating and [brother] Rufus’s Poses, he was someone that I’d know since I was 14 years old so there was just a lot of familial feelings.

“I think New York, like any city, can influence your song writing. It certainly did at the beginning of my song writing time when I moved down there, there were a lot of songs about late nights and a lot of songs that were rocky and sort of aggressive that were really reflective of the city. Maybe there’s sort of softness on some of these [new] songs that comes with maybe age but also the mood of the town.”

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She suggests the “main theme” on Goodnight City is parenthood. “It’s sort of a farewell to my youth and the insanity or the wildness and a new stage where it’s perhaps more confident and a little more stable in a way and more careful with a need to be responsible and protective of these two people we brought into the world. There’s a different type of attitude about it. It’s more forward-facing and forward-gazing than navel-gazing maybe.

“I would say that’s one of the biggest themes because there’s a lot of references to kids. But also what I’m hearing on the record in some of the songs is love – almost painful love for the children – but then sort of a struggle to make sure that I’m not forgotten in a way, that there’s the individual artist in there too.

“I’m never conscious of this when I’m writing these songs but I still want people to remember I’m in here, that Martha Wainwright the artist, the songwriter, the singer is still present and she’ll be coming to a town near you,” she chuckles.

Coming from a family steeped in music – her late mother Kate McGarrigle was one half of a famous duo with her aunt Anna, her father Loudon Wainwright III is a folk singer, her brother Rufus a singer-songwriter – Martha Wainwright has long been aware of their legacy – to such an extent she once said she felt like she’d been in the music business herself for 60 years.

“I think at an early stage it was definitely weighty because I felt I was probably carrying around the baggage a lot of my parents’ career but then none of my own,” she admits. “Now that I’ve created almost 20 years of playing my own shows and making records and getting better, and ups and downs, it’s just a part of the whole thing, the legacy of all of the musicians in my family – my parents, my brother, my cousins, my sisters, it extends outward. Now I just feel more a part of the giant ship that’s hopefully going to stay afloat. We’re all just trying to row it together and prop each other up and what I’m seeing with time is how much we really need each other to stay alive in this business.”

Martha Wainwright plays at Leeds City Varieties on Friday January 27.