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Monday, June 24, 2013

Q&A with Martha and Rufus Wainwright

Rufus & Martha Wainwright. Photo: Lian Lunson

The musical world of Kate McGarrigle will be celebrated in Kate’s Kids: An Evening of Music with Rufus and Martha Wainwright, a concert with special guests including Emmylou Harris and Norah Jones, on June 26 at the Howard Gilman Opera House. On June 25, Sing Me The Songs That Say I Love You, a film tribute to McGarrigle directed by Lian Lunson, will be screened at BAM Rose Cinemas. Proceeds benefit the Kate McGarrigle Foundation. BAMbill asked the siblings a few questions.

How did your mother influence the music you create?
Martha Wainwright: In every way, really, even if in a reactionary way... Kate and Anna’s [her sister] style of music—their taste, their influences, their voices, and the chords—were what music is and was. I sound like Kate sometimes, which always makes me happy. I was purposely different than them when I started writing music because I knew I had to be.

Rufus Wainwright: She noticed that Martha and I, both at an extremely young age, showed talent, and proceeded to nurture it. In her dreams I imagine she would have liked us to be doctors or mathematicians (she had a degree in science) but having heard the little voices, she knew!

How did you decide who you wanted to participate in Kate’s Kids?
Rufus: It’s a very interesting lineup; it really spans her whole career. Emmylou Harris she worked with in the beginning, Norah Jones in middle age, and Mark Ronson she only met once or twice. It shows the expanse of her musical life.

Emmylou is our soul mother and Norah a soul sister, perfect for the family vibe that we always want to achieve and that we can’t seem to shake. Of course these two ladies are also in the film so it’s a way to connect back to the film and gel these nights together completely.

How have musicians responded to participating in this production at BAM?
Rufus: Everyone really loved my mom; even if you didn’t know her that well she left an idelible impression. Her music has that same unique effect, the songs stay with you. I imagine the musicians are pretty thrilled with such fine material.

Martha: Everyone is excited to play BAM. The room is so beautiful and it’s a big honor for everyone involved. Of course Rufus has a history with BAM and I live just down the road!

Are there any notable connections between artists that you’ve selected and their relationship or attachment to specific Kate McGarrigle songs?
Martha: Kate’s songs have a strong effect on people. Emmy has written with Kate and Anna so she knows them as an interpreter but also as a co-songwriter. Being women in this business sets you apart and I’ve always looked up to Kate and Anna and Emmy. The song that Emmy wrote for Kate is so beautiful and has helped to heal the sorrow of Kate’s death. In the movie Norah sings “Talk to Me of Mendocino,” arguably Kate’s most famous song. She’s a star and we wanted her to sing an important song. This song is also a young woman’s song so it fits Norah and her voice perfectly.

Rufus: Norah, Martha, and I sang “Talk to Me of Mendocino” both with Kate and after her death. As well as it being a masterpiece of a song, the three of us doing it is a pretty great trio.

Is there one particular song of your mother’s that is “the song that says ‘I love you’” to you?
Martha: “The Walking Song” that Rufus sings is so beautiful. It could be a love between friends but the sentiment is so calm and warm.

Rufus: For some reason “I Cried for Us” always gets me. Not only the fact that in the movie I get to sing it with the great Antony, its also a break-up song... but you still sense that the love lingers and will forever.

Lian Lunson’s film Sing Me The Songs That Say I Love You, a film tribute to McGarrigle (which screens at BAM on June 25) provides another layer to your mother’s legacy and music. Was there a specific message that you wanted to communicate to an audience utilizing this medium?
Rufus: That our mother Kate McGarrigle was one of the great songwriting geniuses of her era; I think the film demonstrates that.

Martha: Because of our friendship with Lian we knew we could trust her to do something that is beautiful, emotional, and true to Kate’s spirit. It felt good to put it into her hands. Filmmakers are artists and having her artistry and vision truly shines a light on who Kate was and still is.

Reprinted from the May 2013 BAMbill.

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