All smiles and back in the game

HAPPIER SOUL: Rufus Wainwright
HAPPIER SOUL: Rufus Wainwright

It is his lot in life, Rufus Wainwright says, with a half sigh, that people take it for granted that he's a megalomaniac. He's talking about recent announcements of a musical project based on his life and the widespread assumption that this was something he dreamed up.

Yet, he says on the phone from the US, ''It didn't come from my camp. I'm very excited about it, I've sanctioned it, I really want it to happen. Somebody wants to make a movie based on my songs, and they thought, 'Why don't we have a character who is somewhat Rufus-like?' But it's not biographical. And it wasn't my idea.''

Wainwright is on his way to New Zealand next week, with a new show that will have a different feeling from those of his previous visit. At that stage, two years ago, he had a new album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, with a sombre edge; the recent death of his mother, Kate McGarrigle, had left him raw and exposed. He performed solo and for the first half of the show, he asked that audience members refrained from applauding between songs.

This time, he says, ''I'll be there with bells on''. He has a new album, Out of the Game, made with sought-after producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Adele, Kaiser Chiefs and Q-Tip) and it's an exuberant, buoyant work that also canvasses some of his favourite subjects - pain, desire, loss and art. It will be the basis of the shows, ''along with a vague lesson in the history of Rufus-isms''.

There are, of course, songs about family - how can there not be? One of the things that Wainwright, 39, his parents, Loudon Wainwright III and the late McGarrigle, and his sister, Martha, have done all their lives is write songs about each other - such as Rufus with his Dinner at Eight, Martha with Bloody Mother F---ing Asshole and Loudon's A Father and a Son - to the extent that a New Yorker writer once described them as ''a kind of singing Glass family in an imaginary musical conceived by Wes Anderson''.

But for the first time Rufus has written not as a son or a sibling, but as a father. He and his partner, Jorn Weisbrodt, have a daughter, Viva; her mother is Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard. Montauk imagines her visit to their house by the beach and what she'll find there, but it also imagines, ruefully, in advance, departure as well as arrival - the inevitability of distance and separation: ''Don't worry,'' the song also reassures her, ''I know you'll have to go.''

''A lot of people have a very visceral reaction to [that song],'' he says. ''But when I wrote it, it was very nonchalant. It came very quickly, the piano accompaniment is very simple. It was almost a ditty, in a way, but I think it reflects a lot of emotions that I didn't necessarily have the brain to comprehend.'' They are there, he says, but not in a way that was immediately obvious to him. It has something he calls ''stealth''. ''Every singer-songwriter prays for it, but you don't often get it,'' he says.

Wainwright and Weisbrodt got married in New York last month. Their relationship began in 2006 when Wainwright performed his celebrated take on Judy Garland's Carnegie Hall concerts, ''so it was baptised with this air of fabulousness''. ''But we have really stuck it out through some big moments. And we have a wonderful life,'' he says.

In the title song, Out of the Game, he says, he wrote in a different fashion from Montauk, with a strong degree of self-awareness of his stance as ''the elder statesman criticising the younger brood''. But it's a more complex figure who emerges by the end of the song. ''The tables have really turned,'' he says, with a snort of laughter, ''and I'm just another victim of beauty. As usual.''

Another song, Perfect Man, opens with the line, ''After another production of The Flying Dutchman/ I landed in Berlin'', which seems quintessentially Rufus, but it's actually something he wrote years ago for Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys. ''If there was a, 'What pop song has the most chords?' competition,'' Wainwright says, ''it would be a contender.'' Tennant, he adds, ''very politely told me there were too many chords, which is probably true''.

''But Mark [Ronson] adored the song and now it's turning out to be one of the show-stoppers. I really owe that piece to him.''

And for Wainwright, it is the show that matters above all else.

''I love my albums,'' he says. ''I love them all, but the goal of any musician, especially a live-centric musician like myself, is that the show should be better than the record, that it should be that much deeper when you see me in person.''

When Wainwright performs next week, he will be joined on stage as part by gifted folk-jazz-soul singer and songwriter Krystle Warren and Teddy Thompson, the rich-voiced and much-loved songwriter, son of the great British musical pairing of Richard and Linda Thompson.  Warren will also be the opening act for the New Zealand show.

To be in to win a double pass for his Auckland show on September 21 at the Civic Theatre and his latest album Out of the Game send an email to with your name, address, post code and phone number before 10am on Wednesday, September 19. Please ensure the email subject line says Rufus.

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-The Age