‘My happiest ten years are also my saddest ten years – this is ten years’

Martha Wainwright, 46, is an American-Canadian singer-songwriter, daughter of folk musicians Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, and sister of singer-composer Rufus Wainwright. She had to work her whole life to come up with confidence with piercingly honest songs that told her life as it was and how it was. Disabling the page turner of a memory, Stories I May Regret Telling You, It confuses determination with vulnerability.

All your life, your career has been talked about in the context of your family – is it a blessing or a curse?
I used to see it as a curse, but I am learning to perceive it as a blessing. The blessing came as a responsibility after my mother died. [in 2010]. There was a void created by a great artist who, for better or worse, occupies a lot of space in my life. It was necessary not to fill his place specifically, but to live everything I could. I’m not saying I’ve accomplished this…

Has your readiness to put yourself in the background put you off?
Someone sent me a picture of me from the Boston airport next to my book. can’t wait. I wish I could send the photo to my father: at least mine [childhood] it wasn’t that bad [laughs]. There is a hierarchy in families that pushes people into roles, but my ego deficiency mostly comes from myself.

Would you describe this as low self-esteem?
Absolutely. The people and other artists around me scared me. It took a long time to build up his belief in himself. I was recently sent a photo of me when I was 13, with Rufus when I was 16 – he was. beautiful and notable. I feel lucky to have him as a brother and still have him.

Rufus Wainwright, Kate McGarrigle and Martha Wainwright in 2009.

Rufus Wainwright, Kate McGarrigle and Martha Wainwright in 2009. Photo: Sipa Press/Rex

Your self-image tends to be more negative. Never femme fatale or gorgeous blonde, “noisy, interesting, pretty”. Do you find it difficult to see yourself as others see you?
I’m always surprised to find out that I’m being perceived as a literal sex symbol, but some people find me attractive. People after divorce at 40 [suitors] came out of the woodwork and thought: wow…

Stories I May Regret Telling You great title – how much do you regret it?
The things I regret helped me find out who I am. Even the hard stuff – my initial career, my marriage, my hard-hitting divorce…

Do you agree that marriage is more about luck than anything else?
There have been things about me that have led me to unlucky decisions. My parents were bad parents so it didn’t help [laughs]. While my divorce was going on, I called a family friend, Chaim Tannenbaum. I said I was worried for my children and for all the time they would spend with their father, and he said: “There are many examples of wonderful people with terrible parents… joyful.

With Kate on her deathbed, Rufus and I were forced to become adults very quickly.

How does music help in dark times? What do you listen to while chasing a pick-me-up?
Most of the time I gravitate towards sadder music that matches my feelings. When Chrissie McVie died, I obsessively listened to the song Songbird I sang when I was 15.

You write: “My dream in life was to be a mother and a singer – to be able to do both equally well.” How hard is it to be a mother?
What I didn’t expect was having to be a co-parent. This is so hard. Parenting is now about holding on, but also about letting go.

Can we recognize our parents as human beings?
I knew too much about mine. As a young person, my parents told me that their marriage was very rock’n’roll and not very loving – it bothered me. I came back to watch an early video – my family was incredibly beautiful, very sexy, and impressive to their fans. I think it was too much for me.

What was your happiest ten years so far?
My happiest ten years are also my saddest ten years – this is ten years. It’s been hard not seeing the kids all the time, but I met my incredible partner who was a better choice than any man could have been. I feel freer than before.

You write about the glamor of the mundane life, imagining yourself as the cashier girl in the wonderful Montreal supermarket… would you like anonymity?
Ever since I was a child, I loved being on stage. I like the attention. But I could have lived a well-received life as a teacher or something where you are not an artist but perform.

Sounds overwhelming at the traumatic birth of your eldest son to coincide with your mother’s last illness?
I remember focusing on the living to make sure the baby would survive. My mother made it clear that this should be my focus. With Kate on her deathbed, Rufus and I were forced to become adults very quickly – we had never been adults before.

It’s like you’re still mourning your mother 13 after the years?
It sure gets easier but it was shocking at first because my mom was young and we felt robbed and also because we built it to be an extension of ourselves.

what are you working on right now?
I’m excited that I haven’t written a song in a while. I’ve been touring in Scotland and the north of England and I’m about to hit the road. When I come back, it will be time to write.

  • Stories I May Regret Telling You released in paperback on February 2 (Simon & Schuster UK)

  • Martha’s tickets go on sale at Waterstones Glasgow on February 4th. For tour dates, see marthawainwright.com

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