RUFUS Wainwright is in sunny California. He spends much of his time there these days, “in Hollywood”, as he says, adding a typical sense of glamour. His main base is New York, however, where he was born before being raised in Montreal, Canada.
Wherever he is, he’s a long way from the start of his first solo tour in Washington, some 20 years ago. With a Best Of collection, Vibrate, ready for release, he’s been thinking back to that first gig.
“The years have gone by in a flash,” he says. “It was only yesterday I was leaving for that first tour; I remember very vividly driving through Washington in the springtime with the cherry blossom blooming. It was a new beginning and I had the sense that it was the start of a very long journey.”
Vibrate, named after a song from his 2003 third album Want One, sees him at a crossroads in his career. He will continue to tour as he has done with regularity since that defining day in Washington (you can catch him at the Usher Hall, next Wednesday, 5 March), but will carry on pursuing opportunities in areas he’s only so far dipped his toe into, mainly opera and writing film scores.
“Now I have a husband and daughter, I have to be somewhat available and present,” he says, referring to spouse of almost two years, artist Jorn Weisbrodt, and daughter Viva, born to Wainwright (or Daddy #1) and Lorca Cohen, daughter of legendary crooner Leonard.
“Although I’ll always tour, that’s how I make my money, I can’t go off for months on end. I wouldn’t say I’m entering a new era, but I finally feel as if that drive through the nation’s capital among the cherry trees has ended, here in sunny California.”
Now seven studio albums, plus a handful of other releases into his career, Wainwright says choosing the songs for Vibrate was relatively easy. Largely because he farmed the job out to his dear friend and one half of the Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant, and his publicist (“an artist should never pick their Best Of”).
He did insist on a couple of changes though - the addition of a couple of songs, Foolish Love and April Fools, from his 1998 self-titled debut.
“I really fought for their inclusion,” he says. “I know that record wasn’t a big deal in the UK, but it was in the States.”
Here in Britain, it was his second album, 2001’s Poses, that made his name, with songs like Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk, Grey Gardens and the title track - all three included on the Best Of - marking him out as a startling talent.
The son of masterful singer-songwriters Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he’s so musically gifted, as is his sister, Martha.
“Listening back to my albums reminds me of what I was going through at the time,” says Wainwright now. “The first record was my adolescence, the second my blissful decadence and the third the payback for that.
“It can be painful listening back, but I tend to be hopeful and encouraging of my craft. It’s hard to listen to songs about my parents, that gets melancholic. Such deep wounds, my mother’s passing [McGarrigle died in 2010] or my early experiences with my father, which have now improved immensely, but I’m still that wounded little boy in some of those songs.
“That said, there are no songs of mine I would forbid from being on a Best Of,” he says, “but I think if I had to choose three songs to play to someone to introduce them to my music, I’d go for Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk, Going To A Town and probably a Judy Garland song, just for the hell of it.”
Rufus Wainwright, Usher Hall, Lothian Road, 5 March, 7pm, £22-£49.50, 0131-228 1155