Laughing, lavishly robed and lounging on a leather sofa – this is exactly how I’d hoped to find one of popular music’s most esteemed charismatic characters, and I’m certainly not disappointed. His unique and nasal laugh fills the corridors of the office where our meeting is scheduled to be held – his humour infectious, his passion palpable and his heart worn firmly and proudly on his finely tailored sleeve. Rufus Wainwright is in London to discuss the journey which led to the creation of his latest album Out Of The Game, a journey which has seen ups as dramatic as the downs were deep, a journey exploring loss, gain, bounteous new territories and the talents of a new musical ally. Out Of The Game marks a bold and colourful return, and Rufus is delighted.
“I’m really looking forward to getting a band back!” enthuses a wide eyed, jovial Wainwright. “Because I was doing the opera and then I had All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu which was totally solo, piano, voice, so for the last couple of years it’s really just been me… me against the world! So I’m really looking forward to getting a band back together again. You know, being around rock people. Rock and rob ‘em!”
It’s been two years since we had a new album from Rufus, the last being 2010′s All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, a record released just two months after the death of his beloved mother Kate. The past few years have also seen Rufus release his acclaimed Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall as well as writing and creating his widely publicised opera Prima Donna. He became a Dad, he became an uncle, he fell in love. An awful lot has happened over the past few years, in what could be described as the most turbulent years of an already sufficiently turbulent life.
Out Of The Game marks the seventh studio release from Rufus Wainwright, an album which plays host to the many layers and facets that we’ve come to know and love of Wainwright’s repertoire. There’s an overwhelming sense of vibrancy, a joyous kind of energy and a buoyant sense of excitement. But there’s also a softness, a deep feeling of consideration and a constant, underlying sadness.
“Most of the material is very new in terms of only being written several months before we started recording, but there are a couple of songs that are very old, demos from other albums that didn’t make the cut. It was mostly Mark who sifted through some of my ancient material and found some unpolished gems. Some of those are on there as well so it’s sort of a mix between my latest dramatic lifestyle and my old, somewhat lascivious one, and everything in between.”
The mention of ‘Mark’ brings the story of the album’s producer to the forefront, a certain Mr Ronson, brought on board to produce this latest effort.“I’ve known him for a long time now, it’s coming on for about three years. I guess that isn’t that long actually…” reflects Wainwright. “But I put the question forth and Mark promptly answered ‘yes, that’d be amazing’, and we just kept the dialogue going. And over a couple of years – because he was busy and I was busy – we seemed to be continuously engaged in this idea and finally, my schedule cleared and his as well, it became time to make the next album, the opera was put to sleep briefly, before being wildly woken up again two months ago in New York! So it all clicked, we went in and made the record and it was a really amazing experience – a deeply personal relationship was created between him and I.”
As our conversation continues and the topic of this collaboration is explored further, there’s an unmistakable warmth and fondness that creeps into the tone of Wainwright’s voice. Theirs is a relationship that clearly had a profound effect on not only the creation of the record but also on Wainwright himself. “We related to each other tremendously and I consider him one of the best friends that I’ve ever had at this point. It’s a ‘two long lost brothers’ kind of tale between us in a lot of ways. I think it’s nice because we’re very enamoured with each other. He’s married and straight and I have a beautiful fiancé yet there’s a kind of crush that we share on the ideas that we both represent. I can flaunt and faun over the legend of Mark Ronson and I think he does the same with me a little bit. We’re two dreamers, I think.”
A tremendously acclaimed producer, Mark Ronson is about as sought after-an-accomplice as one could think of. Artists fall over themselves trying to get him on board with a project, so what exactly is it that he brings to the creation of an album, and what is it that makes him such an attractive collaborative prospect? “Well he’s very into songs, he likes a good song. And I hopefully delivered a few. For me, on a technical level, besides the big inspiration for the sessions being me trying to please him,” explains Wainwright, unleashing his trademark bellowing laugh, “he was just really unsparing in terms of the quality of the sound of the album. He really needed the bass to thump and the drums to pump and the guitars to… chunk! And to break through the barrier without scaring everyone away. He wanted a warmth surrounding the sessions and he really paid attention to all of the minutia of what’s entailed in that process. Which I know nothing about. So it sounds great – it’s all on tape, all recorded in very classic rooms… and not even famous studios, just rooms that he knew had created great songs before and that he loved personally. We actually recorded in the same place that Amy [Winehouse] recorded.”
“Then there was also a kind of homage to the seventies, which I think is worn quite lightly on this album, but I think is definitely there. It falls in line with [Mark’s] hallmark of reinterpreting older genres but it’s not forced, it’s more just a nod to that. Because I still think that the album and the songs and the general vibe is pretty current as well. He’s a wizard at that kind of thing.”
On to the title of the record, Out Of The Game, a title which, like the message underlying a large amount of Wainwright’s music, is a nod to his status in the world. It’s a title with depth, evidently a title with significance, and a title which is home to plethora of interpretations. So is it intended to be a positive title or a negative title?
“I think it’s a tongue in cheek title,” he replies with a wry smile. “It’s about myself, especially when you consider that this is the most commercially viable record that I’ve ever made – whether it actually does anything is a whole other issue! But that being said, it’s like ‘I’m out of the game, but before I leave, here’s what you’ve always wanted, motherfucker. So there!’ But there’s also, for me, a more literal way of looking at it too where this album and my whole existence and all that I’m made of is from ‘the game’. I’ve been in the game my entire life and this is the end product of that. Kind of like out of the gates, or the closet or whatever. It’s a departure.”