Rufus Wainwright returns to The Pabst

Gregg Shapiro, Contributing writer

Multi-talented out performer Rufus Wainwright has returned with “All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu” (Decca), his first studio album of new material since 2007’s “Release the Stars.” He’s been keeping busy professionally in between, releasing a pair of concert albums and working on his opera “Prima Donna.”

Personally, Wainwright has been dealing with his mother Kate McGarrigle’s illness and subsequent passing earlier this year. The melancholy and emotional “All Days Are Nights” is reflective of this loss. Possibly Wainwright’s least accessible release, it is nevertheless well worth the investment of time and psychic energy. A sort of mourner’s prayer, the album also finds a way to celebrate life, which is much to the credit of his bountiful talents.

Gregg Shapiro: I want to begin by offering my sincerest condolences on your mother’s passing.

Rufus Wainwright: Thank you.

GS: I had the honor of interviewing her for “The McGarrigle Hour,” the 1998 disc on which you also performed. It’s being reissued in a vinyl edition. Are you involved with that project?

RW: Well, I am in spirit and historically. But that’s really Anna McGarrigle’s territory at the moment. I’m really happy that it’s coming out. I think it’s a fantastic album. I do intend, along with Martha (Wainwright’s singer/songwriter sister), to further my mother’s legacy down the line, for sure. But at the moment, we’re just trying to get our act together in general (laughs). There is a void. But it’s great that that’s coming out.

GS: “All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu” and your previous release, the live album “Milwaukee at Last!,” are released domestically on Decca. Does being on Decca give you license or freedom to pursue your more classical side, as you do on “All Days Are Nights”?

RW: I think that it definitely ensures that the album will be made and that there won’t be too much interference, which I did experience a little bit of before on Geffen and Interscope. It was such a pop label. But on the other hand, a huge major label is a huge major label. When you get a project out with one of those companies, you do have a lot more power and it goes a lot further. I think at the end of the day, it works out to be about the same. You’re on a nice little label where you can do what you want, but they can’t push it as hard as someone who has more might.

GS: “All Days Are Nights” includes both a song from your opera “Prima Donna” and three selections from your collaboration with Robert Wilson. With so much from which to choose, how did you go about selecting what to include on “All Days Are Nights”?

RW: That group of songs, “All Days Are Nights” – they’re all flowers from a garden that I’ve been growing for at least 20 years. … I had to squeeze my artistic sensibilities to the max in order to come up with this rarified mix of material. There wasn’t a lot of sifting through songs. I knew that these were the songs of a lifetime, so I had to put them all together.

GS: “Martha” and “Zebulon” are among your most deeply personal compositions. What was it like exposing yourself through your work?

RW: Probably due to the fact that I am a musician first and secondly a lyricist, my lyrics have to be really, really potent. They come with an ounce of blood, shall we say (laughs)? I think I get some really good ideas and they’re most effective when they’re closest to my personal life and there’s a certain truth that shines through there. I have to do that in order to maintain my ability as a songwriter.

GS: Has the raw, emotional tone of the material on “All Days Are Nights” had an effect on your live performances?

RW: If anything, it mirrors what’s really going on in my soul. I’m in heavy-duty mourning, and when I get out there and I have to master these treacherous compositions and get from one end to the other without being cute, because that’s what I’m doing with this album. It’s a very serious show. I’m just going through the motions of grief, but artistically.

GS: One of the stops on your concert tour includes a return to The Pabst Theater, where “Milwaukee At Last!” was recorded. How was that venue chosen for the live CD and DVD – and did you always intend to return again to perform?

RW: Yes! That theater, specifically, has been a real milestone for me in terms of both maintaining a stronghold in middle America and also bringing back a kind of European, sophisticated sensibility that I think once existed in America, throughout the country, which that theater embodies. It’s a magical place. Also, I have to say that the owners of that theater are just wonderful – they’re a great family. That really has to be supported in this day and age.

GS: You gave a memorable performance in the 2005 movie “Heights.” Are there any upcoming movie roles?

RW: (There is) nothing set yet. But if they come to me with a good offer, I may accept. I’m not saying that I don’t want to act. But I would say that it is a little bit spooky how many music people do go into that field. I guess there’s a reason for it. But I’m battling opera at the moment.

GS: Battle on!

RW: Hollywood will have to wait!