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Martha Wainwright Interview (Part 2)

April 3, 2009


Here is the second and final part of my interview with Martha Wainwright for your reading eyes. You can find the first part here. I also decided to add a few streaming tracks of the nice covers which Martha refers to in the answer to my last question, which I am a bit of a sucker for.

Without further ado:

PP: Throughout this album (I Know You’re Married But I Have Feelings Too) – your voice, especially with headphones on shines through! Also at times it seems as if you’re whispering in my ear as well. There’s that nice whispy quality there.

MW: Well I like to sing fairly quietly and then all of a sudden sing quiet loud. I try to keep a bit of dynamic there in my vocals volume wise. You know, I actually just like to use my voice to back up what the words are saying.

It’s just a dramatic way of singing. That might change when I get a bit older. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a bit over the top, but it really is just what I am. This record is just a representation of the last couple of years of my life. The last record showed a real moment in time when it was made and I think this was one as well.

It’s important to be honest and be connected to who you are as an artist at one time and not be too worried by that. Like saying “is that a hip sound” or keeping with the trends, or saying “is this wrong?” or “is this right?”. Does it feel right is what is important and your instinct. If it is important, then just go with that.

When you were younger, did you sing a lot?

Yeah, I sang a lot. The family are pretty much musicians, so we had to sing a lot. It was a way for us to get attention as well! I then tried to just do little things by myself once I got the knack of singing with the family. I find even now a lot of young people like to sing, especially when they are encouraged to do so because it becomes a private thing when you go to your room and mimic Cyndi Lauper or Eurythmics or whatever. Then you find your own voice through copying pop or other types of singers.

It’s a great relationship because you connect with yourself, but you also find a way to find your personality through singing. I find it interesting.

What’s your role after things go down to tape? Do you get involved in mixing the album?

The most funnest things for me in the record making process is mixing. This record was mixed by two different mixes but I always find joy in finding the balances within all the overdubs and trying to really play with the faders. Basically I really want to create a feeling by pulling things up and pulling things down.

I do sometimes get away from it though and try to focus on singing more often than not too. I’m just like: “I like this. Don’t do that. Fade this down. Oh my God, that is fantastic etc”. It’s my baby ,but you also hire people who are good at what they do and fill the gaps that you’re not capable of filling. In a way you let their creativity be added to the project. You have to trust people then.

I wrote these songs, and I definitely know what I don’t like though! I don’t know if I necessarily know what I like all the time, but I know that if something isn’t working for me, then.. (trails off) . Hmm I just have a lot of say in these things! (laughs).

Well it is your album. Am I stating the obvious here?

Well, yeah I’m not a kid anymore. I started making records when I was old enough and mature enough to know what I was supposed to do. Having grown up with people in the family who are musicians and in a studio my whole life, I sort just, knew how it all worked. So it was something that, right away, when I knew I wanted to make my first album that I was able to have a say in what was produced.

You are here on a promo tour, in which I am assuming you are talking about yourself a lot on the press junket journey. Do you find the more you talk about an album, the more you find you learn more about the album you produced?

I think so, cause at times, I don’t put a lot of thought into things before I actually do them! (laughs). I certainly don’t think about how I want the record to sound like specifically, or I don’t have a good sense of that. I let a lot of things just… happen. So, you know, it means I have the opportunity to see things after the fact – and learn things about the songs after the fact too. It keeps things fresh for me in a way.

The way that I write these songs, because I have to play and sing them so many times, is that I try to have them express several meanings. Through the use of poetry and sometimes some non nonsensical phrases, it just keeps me on my toes.

Do you ever get tired of listening or playing your songs?

No I never do. I mean singing is one of the greatest things that someone could do. It creates a bit of freedom in yourself and in your mind and your heart. The way that I do shows, because it’s not all about representing the record or representing the songs that people have been listening to on radio stations, is that I can approach it differently every night. I can change the tempo, I can sing it in a slightly different way, I can put emphasis on certain parts of a song, because, well… that’s just how I like to hear songs sometimes by other people.

Interpreting things differently is cool because if there is something there in the song, it just means that you can get creative with it.

Speaking of interpretation, I notice that you’re a bit fond of the odd cover yourself. I see that you have a Pink Floyd and Eurythmics cover. Tell me why you decided on these tunes to cover.

Well, Eurythmics is a real cover that reveals I am a child of the 80’s…

I loved the 80’s! So much good stuff!

Exactly! And I was 10 or 11 when “Sweet Dreams” came out. I also wanted to be Annie Lennox and I also think “Love Is A Stranger” is such a great phrase and of course such a great song. It’s also something I used to identify with. Of course, I recently got married, so “Love Is A Stranger” doesn’t apply for me anymore. It was for a long time though, so I still carry that interest with me.

The Pink Floyd song – well that was my mother’s choice. She really encouraged me to do that one. I just wanted to also get that onto record and her on the record. She and I were invited to learn that for a Syd Barrett tribute in London a year ago, and neither of us had actually heard the song. I know it was a very famous song from that era, ’cause I had a Syd Barrett record at home, that i remember listening to when I was a teenager.

I kinda skip over that Pink Floyd early era where that song is from. So, I was just really excited to discover that song. Then also, I think, my mum just kind of infused it with a totally kind of thing where she made it her own. She also interpreted it into another totally kind of dimension, so that is why we just decided to put it on the record.

Martha Wainwright – “Love Is A Stranger” (Eurythmics cover)
Martha Wainwright – “See Emily Play” (Pink Floyd cover)

Martha Wainwright website myspace

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