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Baker's Dozen

Want 13: Rufus Wainwright's Favourite Music
Barnaby Smith , March 11th, 2020 13:32

Ahead of the release of his new album Rufus Wainwright guides Barnaby Smith through his favourite music, from Leonard Cohen to Eurythmics and his abiding love of opera

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The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
For me, this is very much a hallmark of where I was able fit in musically in my career. When I started out I was in Montreal, but went to New York periodically and failed miserably with what I was trying to do. It was right at the time that Jeff Buckley was on the rise, and grunge, and that whole movement was incredibly heterosexual, incredibly nihilistic, incredibly guitar-based and very, very dark. I admired it, I'm not against that, but when I was dropped into that equation I was this gay piano-playing opera queen who wanted to be romantic and harken back to other more refined eras. What I was trying to do just didn't make any sense in New York. People would often try to categorise me and say I was cabaret or that I should be doing Broadway. It was very complicated and I never figured it out.

Then I was signed to Dreamworks, by Lenny Waronker – whom I believe helped make Pet Sounds. I went to Los Angeles and suddenly realised that I was definitely more part of the Brian Wilson tradition. Whether it was him or Randy Newman or Van Dyke Parks or Harry Nilsson, there was a kind of spot that I could fit into. So I listened a lot to Pet Sounds. You can hear it somewhat on my new album, songs like the last track 'Alone Time', but all through my career there's been a real concentration on harmonies and interesting chord changes and a dreamlike quality. I was able to find my niche through that tradition, as opposed to the East Coast. I have a lot to thank Brian Wilson for, he allowed me to inhabit my world comfortably, as opposed to when I was in New York and I was a total anathema to what was happening there. I can't say that I listened to the album obsessively or that I'm obsessed with him and know all his work, but I definitely feel I am a Wilsonite.

Did you see the film, Love & Mercy, with Paul Dano and John Cusack both playing Wilson?

Yes, that was a brilliant film. I particularly liked Elizabeth Banks in it, she was great. And it also relates a bit to what I'm doing now – I moved back to Los Angeles and made this new album, and I think half of the songs were recorded in the studio where Pet Sounds was made. So I'm just very much part of that tradition.


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