A newfound privacy

Singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright learns to get less personal

“This is a look into our future together as a married musical couple” Martha Wainwright says from the Wrest Point Hotel Casino in Hobart Australia. “My husband Brad and I in our 70s and doing shows yelling at each other onstage in Atlantic City or the Montreal Casino.”

Pessimistic and with an edge of self-deprecation is how Wainwright starts the morning. As the day progresses the self-deprecation should blossom into emotional transparency if the singer-songwriter’s music is any indication. Even on her supposedly pop-friendly new album I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too her songs speak of heartbreak and regret. Then again you’d have casino-themed visions of a doomed future too if you spent an entire day inside the Hotel Casino. The day has just begun and despite going to bed early after her show last night Wainwright’s voice is a bit raw.

“The best thing to do is not talk” she says and then catches herself. “Of course we’re fine today don’t worry.” It’s a moment of annoyance from someone who’s been unusually open to the public and press willing to discuss her feelings of inadequacy concerning her more famous brother Rufus Wainwright the perseverance of her mother folk singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle and especially her relationship with her dad. This was the woman who wrote the song “Bloody Motherfucking Asshole” about her father acclaimed and Grammy-nominated folk singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III.

Now having quit smoking and happily married to producer Brad Albetta Wainwright has grown up. You can hear it in her music the navel-gazing and angst replaced with self-reflexive distance though she still sings about heartbreak with the same emotional earnestness. She no longer tells those stories about her father and childhood.

“It’s been pretty public stuff” she says about her life. “Nobody comes from the perfect family. I believe my story with my family and my feelings about what I do all that stuff people respond to it because they recognize themselves in it. There’s all these roles that people feel they’re stuck in and they try to get out from that.”

Even as Wainwright becomes more reticent about discussing her past its impression on her is still unmistakable. Her father was known for his frank stage banter and autobiographical songs. That’s something Wainwright is trying to avoid.

“I’m probably more open in many ways through my songs” she says. “But I think the danger is and what I have realized over time is that it’s hard to go onstage all the time with that openness. You have to find a way to leave something for yourself your family and the people around you. What’s been very useful has been leaning on the craft so I’m not always completely gushingly open on stage.”

The Wes Anderson-like dysfunctional family history may sometimes overshadow her career but she’s not particularly concerned. When she speaks about growing as a songwriter and writing a protest song or two it’s not the usual platitudes but a step towards leaving behind some of her baggage. Maybe one day when her biography is written they’ll leave out the part about her family. It’s a future Wainwright looks forward to even if it also includes the ringing of slot machines and the Rumba No. 2 beat on a Casio keyboard.