Martha Wainwright: ‘It’s a relief to not have the pressures of youth’

Martha Wainwright

Martha Wainwright - Credit: Archant

Bridget Galton talks to singer Martha Wainwright about being happy to turn 40 and performing at In The Round

Martha Wainwright has fond memories of headlining the Roundhouse at a moment when she’d stepped up to a new level of success.

Eight years on, the Canadian-American singer-songwriter returns to the Chalk Farm venue with a new album that marks another chapter in her life: turning 40.

“I love the Roundhouse not just because of its amazing history but because it’s very special to me,” says Wainwright, who has two sons with her producer husband Brad Albetta.

“I had a great show there for my second record, it was a pretty rocking gig, one of my first times doing a big show in London. I was very pleased with myself.”

Ever the collaborator, she’s hooking up with Ed Harcourt on Feb 2 for the In The Round series of intimate concerts.

Both have new records out, but a recent lunch to thrash out the playlist yielded more play than list: “after some pints we didn’t do much figuring out,” she confesses. Goodnight City is a hymn to her happy life in New York, inspired by two-year-old son Francis’ obsession with a “crappy book”.

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“I love New York, it’s where I had my second son, he kept wanting to read this book Goodnight New York City. The title had a great ring to it and worked with a lot of the themes on the record. It’s the end of something, but also a new dawn, a farewell to an old lifestyle, turning 40, turning my back on my youth, but also to some of the things that I hate about myself.”

Renowned for her confessional songwriting and raw vocals, Wainwright has previously worked out broken relationships and tricky family ties in songs like Bloody Motherf***ing A**hole.

She says the new record is her most optimistic and “forward facing”.

“There’s a lightness to it, for women 40 can be a very nasty benchmark. There’s a sense they have lost something. Women are praised for their youth unfortunately, but I am realising it’s a relief to not have the same pressures I put on myself as a young person, not to care as much what people think of me. It’s important to embrace the fact that life is better when we know more, are more confident and have accomplished something.”

Besides she adds of ageing, “I have never been a great beauty, I have never relied on that so it’s not that traumatising. I feel very lucky. I have great kids. I am working, on stage playing a guitar, travelling to great cities. It’s a good time for me.”

Of course juggling domestic and work spheres has its issues. This tour is the first time her eldest Arcangelo is school age so she’s travelling alone.

“When he was young I brought him all the time on the road so this is an experiment. I’m going out solo then they’ll come along for a bit. The first week is good fun, I can sleep in, have nice dinners and not miss them too much. But it gets harder. I can get sad and miss them, I am prepared for that.”

Wainwright’s own childhood with folk musician parents Loudon Wainwright III and singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle taught her all about a performer’s peripatetic lifestyle.

“I was very proud of my mother. She was my mum but also this artist, this wild person who represented a certain form of freedom. My kids would want me to work, to be proud of me and see me on stage. As much as I wish they were just hanging off me, they have always been able to see me walk out the door and not freak out.”

Her sixth album is another departure in featuring mostly songs either written for her or in collaboration including one by Beth Orton and brother Rufus.

“This record has forced me to be creative and fit my songs with other artists, or else they were handed to me and I made them my own. I picked ones that were expressions of something that sounded like I could have written them and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s the beginning of a new chapter for me. I write about my experiences, the pains and joys but this is more outward looking and the record has an uplifting feeling.”

Wainwright’s early career singing backing vocals on Rufus’ album and contributing to her mother’s means she finds “linking with other musicians a comfortable group activity.”

“Singing is an individualistic but also a group act. As a family we were taught to sing together, just enough to get noticed but not to stick out and detract from anyone else or the whole experience of playing music together.”