A Tower Of Songs: Martha Wainwright's Favourite Albums
, February 8th, 2017 10:25
In a revealing Baker's Dozen interview Martha Wainwright discusses family, love, parenthood and music with Elizabeth Aubrey. Portrait by Carl Lessard
Since her self-titled debut in 2005 Martha Wainwright has grown in confidence and style as a singer in her own right, emerging from the shadow of brother Rufus and her famous parents, Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle. "My mother always talked about allowing yourself to have vulnerability at the same time as having strength," she says. "It took me a long time to gain confidence enough to do it… I've always been a bit of a late bloomer!"
It was while working as Rufus's backing singer that Martha found her way as an artist. "People would ask me, 'who is your mentor' and I could never think of who that might be. I think it ended up being my brother because I just watched him. He was much more certain and much more capable of executing it when he was younger than I was. Just watching his work ethic and watching him not falter from his musical dreams or his musical style and just basically making a very great and strong career out of music that would be considered quite marginal. I think that was most amazing to me to watch but I realised that I couldn't have gotten there as quickly as Rufus because we're different. What I had was more fragile so it did take me years of doing shows and making EPs and then finally making records to find my stride."
Wainwright's song choices take us on a journey through her childhood, growing up with Rufus and her late mother, who Martha paid tribute to on the emotive album Come Home To Mama in 2012. Wainwright also talks honestly about the loneliness of her mother following her separation from her father, as well as the sense of loss she still feels following her mother's death. "My mother had two sisters and the fact my mom's not around to help me with my kids really means that I'm leaning a lot more on my aunts and they've been incredible. It's not quite the same thing, but it's a close second and I appreciate it."
Like her own music, Wainwright's Baker's Dozen choices are characterised by eclecticism. "There's some weird ones in there!" she tells me. "As first I was worried at coming up with so many because whilst I love music, I don't consume it a lot, y'know, every day. And then once I started, I sort of knew really, it wasn't that hard. I was like that's great, that's great, that's great… so it was a lot of fun!"
"Rufus and I listened to a lot of the same music when we were younger and that included the radio – pop radio – we listened to Michael Jackson and The Eurythmics and things like that. We had more of a split as we became older. Rufus, from the age of 14, just got deeply into classical opera and classical music; he turned away from rock and pop music. I probably started to listen to more traditional music and English music, but also world and folk music. But we always came back together on certain records that we felt really strongly about. We both really loved jazz and Rufus and I really do have this appreciation for older music – classic songs, The Great American Songbook are songs we can always connect on."
As well as classics from The Great American Songbook, Wainwright's choices range from folk to jazz, to world music, pop and rock. Here, each album comes with its own emotive, funny or even tragic anecdote, all told by Wainwright in her typically amusing, frank and unpretentious style. Click on the image of Martha below to begin.