By Kristi Kates
House of Rufus is a new box set collection of a half-dozen studio albums, two live albums, six DVDs, and four extra albums of previously unreleased material that hit stores earlier this year.
Rufus, of course, is singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, he of the elegant, operatic-pop songs, rich tenor vocals, and stylish piano skills.
A few weeks ago, Wainwright took whats best referred to as a House of Rufus experience to the Royal Opera House in London, a five-night series of live performances that made him the first solo artist to take up a musical residency there. Special guest appearances by Wainwrights father, the famed Loudon Wainwright III; his sister, Martha Wainwright; and his half-sister Lucy Wainwright Roche added to the glitz and glamour of the shows, while the Britten Sinfonia chamber orchestra provided the musical backdrop.
Wainwright, as colorful an interviewee as he is a performer, considered the shows a huge success - and hes not shy about saying so.
Im often accused of being a megalomaniac, but what can I say - they were a triumph, Wainwright chuckles, otherwise I would be lying. A great highlight was singing with Martha, Loudon, and Lucy; and an emotional moment certainly was the final song of the run that I dedicated to Amy Winehouse, who had died that day, a new song of mine, Candles, which will be on my next record.
COLLABORATIONS AND FAVORITES
Wainwrights next album isnt quite in the works yet, though. Hes still basking in the great reviews of House of Rufus, which showcases his work from old demos all the way up to collaborations with his equally-talented family members and additional artists including mother Kate McGarrigle and her sister Anna McGarrigle, Teddy Thompson, Burt Bacharach, and The Pet Shop Boys. All housed in a rich red velvet case, natch. But with so many tracks included in the extensive collection, selecting them couldnt have been easy, given Wainwrights accomplished career to date.
For me, the box set is more of a purge than a selection, he says, and I mean that in a positive way. With the new album I am working on with Mark Ronson, and another opera in the works, I wanted a clean slate.
It was emotional, he agrees, but pleasantly so.
While fans both dedicated and casual would probably recognize such Wainwright tunes as Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, California, and his stunning version of Leonard Cohens Hallelujah, its some of the more obscure songs or alternate versions that Wainwright thinks stand out the most; asked what three of his favorite songs are from the box set, he picks an eclectic trio.
Going to a Town seems to have stood up, Wainwright says, there is a beautiful live version of Poses on the set; and He Aint Heavy was good to rediscover - thats a cover song I did that appeared on the Zoolander soundtrack. Youll hear some of these at the Interlochen show.
Interlochen might just prove to be one of Wainwrights most interesting venues - even held up along such sophistication as the Royal Opera House - as he was actually a student there in the early 90s. Yes, its true - the Northern Michigan camp that has seen among its campers such musical notables as Josh Groban, OK Gos Damian Kulash and Tim Nordwind, Jewel, and Norah Jones also assigned Wainwright to one of their camp cabins, where he says he was thrown in to a far richer and more in-depth schedule than he ever expected from a summer camp.
Though I only went once, I was struck by how intense and thorough the curriculum was, he recollects, it was a good wakeup call in terms of how difficult classical music was.
And, of course, there were the requisite camp stories, one of which involved his mother, folk singer Kate McGarrigle, who had a rather rustic introduction to Up North.
My favorite experience at Interlochen was my mother coming to visit and camping out, Wainwright laughs, she heard some animal in the woods and was frightened, so she pretended to be a dog in her tent to frighten the intruder away.
Wainwright has carried at least a little of those camp sensibilities to his own summer vacation, which wraps up musically this year with the Interlochen show and one more Chicago show to follow. Relaxing is next on Wainwrights schedule, with, as he puts it, beach, beach, and more beach.
Camp Rufus is in full swing, he smiles.
Rufus Wainwright will be performing at the Interlochen Center for the Arts Kresge Auditorium on Friday, August 12 at 8:00 p.m. More info and tickets may be found online at http://presents.interlochen.org/events/rufus-wainwright. Wainwrights official website is at www.rufuswainwright.com