This article was first published on CLUAS in June 2005
Interview with Martha Wainwright
Ian hooks up with Madame Wainwright as she prepares for a gig in Dublin...
The latest in a long line of ridiculously talented members of the McGarrigle and Wainwright families Martha Wainwright has been making waves for herself recently thanks to her searingly honest song writing. Prior to her upcoming appearance at The Village Cluas.com spoke with her from San Francisco.
There are obvious benefits and disadvantages from having your last
name, people that are fans of your parents or your brother might have taken more
of an interest in you because you're a Wainwright, on the other hand I'd imagine
that there is a pressure to live up to the name. Do you feel that the plusses
outweigh the negatives?
I would say the plusses outweigh the negatives, but only by a little. Whatever benefits there are have counter benefits. But right now I feel that the plusses outweigh the negatives but I've no way of knowing really. You can't deny who you are.
Do you think that if you're good enough then talent will get you there regardless of where you've come from?
Well I definitely think that it doesn't matter who your parents are they can't buy you into success. Especially in music and especially with the kind of music that I'm doing which is very honest music, it's not like pop music you know what I mean? So my talent will have to buy me my career and keep me going because I don't think people are stupid enough to stomach something that isn't good because of who their parents are.
Is it important to you to have a distinct style to set you apart from your family?
I think that I lucked out into having this style and I think everyone was relieved to find out that I don't sound exactly like Kate and Anna (McGarrigle, her mother and aunt) or like Rufus but there are obviously similarities. I did think that it was completely necessary for me to have a distinct style and that indicates to me that I was really meant to do this on my own, and on my own merit as well.
Do all the questions about your family bother you?
No, they don't bother me but I don't know what else we'd have to talk about.
What age did you start playing music and at what age did it emerge that you had a talent for it?
I played music and sang very early on as a kid with the McGarrigle sisters during the summertime and stuff like that. I picked up the guitar and started writing songs when I was 18, Rufus started earlier and was writing through his teenage years. I tried to pick something else (she studied drama at Concordia University in Montreal) but then I was bit by the bug.
You strike me as a very direct, raw and honest songwriter, do you find writing songs to be a cathartic experience or is it just a case of "this is my life and this is what I'm going to write about"?
It's a little bit of both. I think that it's cathartic in that I've a tendency to write songs when I'm welled up with feelings abut something. It feels really good to write and to finish a song and it feels like a relief and a release of a lot of emotions and feelings that I might have about something or someone. But at the same time it's also a craft and there is a lot of beauty in that too and it's great to just create music. It's not just about my catharsis; it's also about the ethers.
Rufus comes across as being extremely confident but I don't really get that from your music, are you really as insecure as your songs indicate or is that just the facet of your personality that you emerges most when you write?
I would say that it's the facet of my personality that emerges most when I write. I do think that I tend to write when I'm crippled by something. I find that it helps to pick me up off my ass when I sit down with a guitar, it's a trigger for me to write songs.
As a Canadian based in New York do you find that you try harder to identify yourself as such? Is it more important for you to feel like a Canadian when you aren't there?
I'm not actually Canadian, but I grew up there. I was born in that states. It's a tendency that I've always had in my life to be slightly different from everybody else, in the states I'm a Canadian and I always say things like "you guys, why don't you get better health care?" or whatever and then in Canada I become an American and I seem more tough.
In simple terms do you say 'about' or 'aboot'?
I say 'about'.
Over the last few years there's been quite a lot of interesting music coming out of Montreal, is there anything about the personality of Quebeckers that makes them prone to that sort of creativity much the same way that the Irish have this romanticised idea of ourselves that we're all charming drunks with artistic souls?
Aren't all those bands Anglophone?
Yeah I suppose so, yourself and your brother and Arcade Fire although Arcade Fire do some stuff in French as well.
I don't know if they're Quebeckers though. I think that Montreal city allows a lot of creativity because it's not a very stressful environment, there's lots of beauty and hanging out and there's a cafe society, and I think that that helps.
You're playing Glastonbury this year, I know that in North America there isn't the same festival culture that we have over here but are you looking forward to playing at something like that with such a potentially large and diverse audience?
Absolutely, I know that I'll need to bring a lot of aspirin. I don't know how I'm going to feel after Glastonbury but I'm looking forward to it. I haven't told that band yet but I'm planning on camping because otherwise to get on and off the site takes forever.
You've been touring a lot recently and it seems that you've been back and forth to Europe quite often, do you enjoy the road?
Yeah, it feels very natural to me. It's hard sometimes but because I don't have a record label that buys huge ads and pay for me to be played on the radio or make videos. It's really up to me to go out there and play for people and the road is the way to do that.
What can people expect when they come to see you play?
They can expect a 5-piece band, what more can I say? They can expect someone who is very happy to be there.
This interview was conducted by Ian Wright
Martha Wainwright's eponymous debut album is on release now and she plays The Village on Friday, 1st July.