Incendiary interviews Martha Wainwright

You know how men are said to be controlled by tits and ass? I think it can be the same for women and it’s sort of an obsession with the male genetalia and the power it can have over you if you’re lonely or you need affection or attention or to get fucked or whatever – pardon my french…

You know how men are said to be controlled by tits and ass? I think it can be the same for women and it’s sort of an obsession with the male genetalia and the power it can have over you if you’re lonely or you need affection or attention or to get fucked or whatever – pardon my french…

Incendiary caught up with chanteuse Martha a couple of months ago, whilst she graced Holland with a set of fine shows. Here’s what she had to say to Tiffany Davenport


IN (TD): A couple of months ago I was watching Jools Holland, or rather my boyfriend was watching it. I was in the next room going to sleep and I heard your performance. I think you were singing Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole and it woke me up.  I got out of bed and came into the living room and said, "who the shit is that?" and I’ve been a fan ever since. I bought your cd the next day and I’m crazy about it so again, I’m very happy to be interviewing you right now and congratulations on the cd.


MW: That’s very kind.  Thank you.


TD: How was the Jools Holland show?


MW: Great, and not all interviews start as nicely as this one!  That’s very sweet of you.  Jools Holland was totally exciting. I was really excited that they were going to have a national warning on television for my song which made me really happy. It’s a great show we don’t get to see it alot in the states but I’ve been hearing about it for years and it’s the kind of show that any artists would want to do and the line up was great.  I got to go on with the Kaizer Chiefs, Frank Black, Eve from The Eels, Van Morrison and it was great! Ricky from the Kaizer Chiefs jumped up and hugged me on camera and while preparing for my song I got to be staring into the eyes of Van Morrison. It was very nice…


TD: Do musicians in America know about Jools Holland?


MW: Well, the good ones do.  They know that’s it a show they want to do. It’s an important music show.  We don’t really have anything like that in the states. Early on when the record came out I got to do Letterman which was great and through, I’m sure nepotism I got that opportunity. It actually came out really well but that’s not necesarily the audience that… But you never know?  But late night TV doesn’t actually sell records.  Jools Holland was a real treat.



TD: Did you see a boost in sales after that?


MW: I don’t know.  I think we might have.  But a boost in sales for me is usually a little ripple.  I have a tendecy to not pay attention and worry more about what I look like.


TD: You looked good.


MW: Thanks, I actually never saw it.


TD: No one taped it for you?


MW: No it’s really weird.  Everyone downloaded it on their computers but I don’t know how to do that. I’m being tortured by technology at all times.  


TD: I read in your biography that you were ‘a star in the making’.  Do you want to be a star?


MW: I think a part of me does, a big part of me.  One thing that I’m bad at is imagining myself as a star and having a huge amount of ambition. In the sense that those are the people that can really become stars.  You have to set your mind to it and you have to work really hard, be a perfectionist and go to the gym, you know whatever it is that makes one a star now a days. I think I have a tendancy to live a little too much in the present and coming from a folk back ground, I’m pretty dedicated to the idea that it’s about the music.  But I also having screaming fits about why I don’t sell more records. I have dreams and aspirations of being a star but I think the music that I’m making is not flash in the pan hits, obviously.


I have this understanding of what long careers are and people that have made careers based on critics liking them, not necesarily selling millions of records and that’s something that appeals to me – maybe as much as being a star does.


TD: It kind of allows you to have some fun with it.


MW: Being a star or being your own artists?


TD: Both, the fact that you can play with it.  I saw your video for When the Day is Short and before I saw it I thought you’d be very serious…


MW: That’s why I didn’t do it.  Rounder Records in the United States wanted me to make a country music telelvsion video where I’m sitting with a guitar and I was really fearful of that. I wanted to wear a wig or something ridiculous and I wanted to almost re-enact archytypes of different women, hence the stripper and french student. It was me playing all these femine architypes that we all are and we all aren’t.


TD: It was nice to see the playful side of you…


MW: It’s so serious so much of the time, my music and the interviews. There’s a lot earnestness in it and it’s ok and people know my parentage and my shows are pretty pared down. I don’t get my hair done and wear big outfit so it was fun to do something a little different.



TD: Do you get compared to other female singer songwriters in the press?


MW: I haven’t been; which is interesting. Journalists are smart enough not to do that.  It would be hard to compare me to young singer-songwriters who are doing what I’m doing because I’d like to think of myself as somewhat of an individual. I’ve been influenced to an extent by other artist but not really that much.


Some people say things that are weird that make me uncomfortable like Tori Amos and Sarah McClaulin, which I don’t see at all.  Who did you think of?


TD: Well, now I don’t want to say…


MW: It’s ok.


TD: Kate Bush.


MW: When anyone has compared me to Kate Bush I feel totally not worthy. You know, she was heavly influenced by the McGarrigle Sisters, so may be there’s a connection there.


TD: I was happy to read that you opened for Loretta Lynn.  What was that like? Did she pass on any advice to you?


MW: I didn’t really get to meet her, she sort of hangs out on her bus.  It was just a couple of shows. One in Southern Ontario outside of Toronto and one in London, Ontario which is a pretty redneck place. The audience was pretty hard-core-country-music-fans. I certainly wasn’t going to sing Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole because I don’t think Loretta would’ve appreciated it and I don’t think the 70 year olds in the front rows would’ve appreciated it. That was a bit strange.


I watched her in Toronto and I was completely blown away at how good she is.


She had her Nashville band with her and they had the leather pants and long hair. There was no Jack White present. I thought there might be a sort of White Stripes thing happening but it was full-on counrty and I thought that was kind of better.  She did the hits and she did the new songs. She has so many songs.  She took requests. It was pretty old school.


TD: Were you also a Coalminer’s Daughter fan?


MW: Absolutely and also her song, The Pill.  That was one way I thought we could identify with each other, we’re both progressive women in some way. I said to her audience, "I don’t know what Loretta and I have in common, but I know I’m on the pill".


TD: How did they respond to you?


MW: I think pretty well. I sold some records. There were people in the audience and I don’t want to say I was above there heads but I wasn’t in their realm of interest, but I think there was definitely some converts.


TD: Are there any particular artists would you like to work with in the future?


MW: Kate Bush is fantastic. Also it would be pretty cool to sing back up or duet with Bob Dylan- that would be worth doing (laughs) although I don’t know if that’ll ever happen. I also think it would be really fun to sing a song with Prince.  I don’t know what he’s doing right now or what kind of music he’s making but that would be pretty fun.


TD: Are you already preparing for your second cd?


MW: Well, I’m not preparing things but I’m trying to write as much as I can. I’ve been very busy prompting the record and being on the road and that’s hard for me. I’m not chomping at the bit to get back into the studio. This being my first record I want to give it its due course.


TD: Do you find it hard to be writing something new while you’re promoting something that you’ve already finished?


MW: Yeah and it’s more about finding the space and the time to do it because I have a tendency to write in private and it’s hard to do. I also have a tendancy to write about things that are happening to me that are very autobiographical and I’ve been working a lot and there’s not a lot of material there. That being said, it’s also laziness that is not allowing me to work harder.


TD: I imagine as an artist you do need that time. You do need more experiences because you do write autobigraphically.


MW:  I think this first record is very dear to me and it has a lot of strong songs on it I would not want anything less for the second one.


TD: Because you have these experiences and some of them sound difficult, is it cathargic for you to write these songs and sing them?


MW: Yeah, absolutley. When I write these songs and sometimes I’m crying thinking about them but once you’ve produced something, it’s kinda like a mini baby – it’s not as good as a baby, well – I don’t know, I don’t have any babies, but I imagine it’s not as good as a baby  – but it’s very satisfiying. You feel like you’ve done something. If something’s hard you work through it, you come up with something and there’s a finished product.  You go and have a nice meal and that steak anda  glass of wine tastes that much better because you’ve actually done something. And now I can use it to take over the world (laughs).


TD: Some of the songs are specifically about men.  Do you get a personal satisfaction against these men when you’re singing these songs and the audience is cheering do you then picture that guy and think, ‘yeah, you suck’.


MW: The funny thing about writing songs and having some anger in them is that generally speaking you don’t really feel that way for very long but you still have to sing the song and the song is done and it’s worth being sung so you have to find other things that it could be about.  I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone.  A lot of them are love songs. Don’t Forget is a positve love song.


Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole was originally written about an argument I had with my father so that’s may be the man in that, sort of. That song is for the audience to pick and choose whoever they want it to be about. It’s a general sort of ‘fuck you’.


Some of the stuff with men… I’d hate to think that I’m still in as desperate a situation. There’s a lot of lonliness on the record and I’m not as lonely as I was then but it’s still important to sing the songs with a certain sort of connection to them.


TD: And Ball and Chain?


MW: I don’t think it’s anyone in particular.  You know how men are said to be controlled by tits and ass? I think it can be the same for women and it’s sort of an obsession with the male genetalia and the power it can have over you if you’re lonely or you need affection or attention or to get fucked or whatever – pardon my French.  But that does exist and that men who you can obsess over have a power over you. It was about someone in particular but I’ve conquered him. (She laughs) We’re all good.


TD: Being from Texas I have to ask, have you played the South by South West Festival?


MW: I was there this year and I was there 5 years before – which is odd.  It suggests that I have been doing this for a long time but I never made a record.  I did go out there to say I was a singer/songwriter but I haven’t been as productive as I could’ve been in the last 8 years but I think a big part of me didn’t really want to.


TD: Did you feel like you weren’t ready?  Did you want more experiences? 


MW: Absolutely and I felt very intimidated by where I come from and I wanted to make a great first record and I hadn’t met the person to do that with and a lot of people wanted to work with me that wanted to change the music and redefine me and I was also pretty fucked up. I was basically going out a lot and hanging out a lot and having a great time until it became time to get to work.


TD: I am impressed. It must be hard to come from the family you come from to go through this to find your own style without the comparisons but still keep up the standard.  It’s amazing that you’ve done it. You’ve made the right choice. Whatever you did to get to where you are paid off.


MW: My mother made an interesting comment once;  I was whining at one point when I was 25 that I hadn’t made a record yet because I started playing out when I was 20 and she said, ‘You’ve blown it for making a record at 21 now you have until you’re 30. You’re the next type of artist now. You’re not the young bright faced completely youthful Doe-eyed… you’re someone who is mildly seasoned and you make your first record coming out of that’ and I think that that made a lot of sense.


TD: Is she good with advice?


MW: Definitely.  She’s always says very reassuring things. She’s a very hard person but she’s very smart so when she’s says it’s gonna be ok, I believe her.


Words: Tiffany Davenport.