Martha Wainwright does not write obtuse parables in the third person; her songs are frank and often torrid glimpses into her soul.
On her new release, ‘Goodnight City’, she eases the burden of autobiography by collaborating with an immaculately-curated selection of famed songwriters.
For Martha, there are obvious benefits that arise from singing songs written by the likes of her brother Rufus, Irish troubadour Glen Hansard and long-term friend Beth Orton. “It’s less work; that’s an advantage to be perfectly honest.
“And it’s actually kinda fun because in many ways, in my music in particular which can be so autobiographical, I can get bogged down in my insecurities and in my strong emotions and caught up in that, which is great and I think people appreciate it because when you are very personal it’s a very universal thing.
“I think people like to hear personal stories and things that are revealing in a personal way. When you get to sort of break out of that a little bit and find yourself in other people’s music, it’s more expansive and I think, you know, you get to know another part of yourself.”
Martha has interspersed her solo career with painfully exquisite renderings of other artists, most notably as part of the Leonard Cohen tribute concert, film and album, ‘I’m Your Man’.
She explains how singing the words of others forces her to lift her own vocal game. “It puts the pressure on to perform as a singer and what are you going to do as a singer because that’s really what your job is now and it allows you to be maybe more theatrical or experimental or sort of more outward with the voice.
“What I learnt about [myself] was that I was able to climb into these songs and to make them feel like they were my own, which is sort of the power of music. It can be such a vacuum with you doing your own stuff.”
While Martha did make some alterations to the original compositions by the guest songwriters, she wanted to retain the essence of who they were as artists in the sound of each track. “When you hear Rufus’ song, 'Francis', with him playing the piano, you can hear his sensibility and that’s what I wanted.”
‘Goodnight City’ is a blend, though, as it includes new odes from her own pen about the joys and struggles of motherhood.
In modern society, there can be pressure for mothers to put on a brave face and not talk about the difficulties, but Martha does not shy away from the taboo. “On my last record, ‘Come Home To Mama’, the first song that I wrote about being a mother was called ‘Everything Wrong’; that talks about [the fear] that you will ruin your child’s live.
“The hardest part is not being able to take them with me on the road all the time and that’s the challenge; to find the way to be an artist and also a mother and that’s a challenge of all female artists I think.
“I am sure that the next record that comes out in the next four years, because they all seem to come out every four years, will be a lot about that.”
Martha Wainwright Shows
Wed 8 Mar – Astor Theatre (Perth)Fri 10 Mar – Melbourne Zoo TwilightsSat 11 Mar – Twilight at Taronga Zoo (Sydney)Sun 12 Mar – Oxford Arts Factory (Sydney)Tue 14 Mar - Anita's Theatre (Wollongong)Wed 15 Mar - Canberra Theatre CentreThu 16 Mar - Lizotte’s NewcastleSat 18 Mar – Lismore City HallSun 19 Mar – The Triffid (Brisbane)Wed 22 Mar – Theatre Royal (Hobart)Thu 23 Mar – Devonport Entertainment CentreFri 24 Mar – Capital Theatre (Bendigo)