- Martha, my dear: Wainwright treads in the footsteps of her famous family.
Martha Wainwright wasn't sure which direction her self-titled debut album would take before she recorded it last year. She wasn't sure if she should follow the folkie path her parents walked (Mom and Dad are Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, respectively) or explore a more adventurous sound, as older brother Rufus has on four genre-busting albums. But there was one thing of which she was certain.
"I knew from the get-go that I wanted to make a record that had a parental-advisory sticker on it," she says with a laugh. "I knew, in this conservative age, I needed that sticker."
She got it. Martha Wainwright's centerpiece -- and the song that earned her that explicit-lyrics warning -- is "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole" (also the name of a five-song EP she released earlier this year). The remaining dozen songs on the album are less profane and more like the sharp folk that Wainwright's mother and Aunt Anna made as the McGarrigle Sisters in the '70s, and the caustic, political pop Dad's recorded over the past 30-plus years (he scored a top 20 hit in 1973 with "Dead Skunk"). "It's obvious that I didn't rebel against the family trade," says Wainwright, 28. "Things came very naturally, but I became jaded at a very young age about the record business."
Wainwright's parents divorced when she was young. In a way, she says, it's informed her career, which up until the release of her CD in April has mostly been as a musician and backing singer in brother Rufus' band. "Hearing my parents when I was a kid was so interesting," she says. "Songs about my mother that my dad wrote, songs about my dad that my mom wrote. I didn't live with both of them, and this made me feel closer to them."
Wainwright initially rejected the troubadour role of her parents. "I was into very raw, emotional songs," she says. And unlike Rufus -- who's turned his albums into modern-pop playgrounds built on operatic themes and lush, theatrical style -- Martha eventually learned to love and embrace the sometimes-confessional folk-rooted music she was raised on. "It was more natural for me to play the guitar," she recalls. "Rufus was on the piano a lot of the time, and he got interested in classical and opera music. I was too young to appreciate it, and he drove me up the wall. I was more into country music."
These days, Martha accepts her family's legacy and acknowledges the influence it's had on her, even as she tries to break, however futilely, from her past. "There were a million things I wanted to do, and I wish I could have done them," she says. "But it became clear at a certain point that I wanted to write songs and sing.
"They were a very supportive family, but at the same time, they had their own things going, you know? But in the end, for an artist, it doesn't matter who you're related to, because you still have to prove yourself to an audience. And your audience is not your family."