Martha Wainwright talks life on the road, self-love, and going all the way.

Martha Wainwright talks life on the road, self-love, and going all the way.

Jarrett Edmund · November 15, 2021

Martha Wainwright has made a career out of bearing it all. The daughter of a musical family, Martha has relentlessly wrestled against the narrative recorded (and re-recorded) by her kin — all while beating back the oft-overwhelming expectations that come with life as an artist born from legacy. Wainwright’s raw emotional journey has been documented in full, for better and for worse, across her prolific discography — weaving a career-spanning tapestry of heartbreak, familial fury, and unbridled hope. 

After a much publicized divorce (and custody battle) with her ex-husband and former producer, followed by the untimely pandemic that put a pause on everything, Martha Wainwright has emerged as determined and fiery as ever with her most recent release. She took those emotions on the road, embarking on a cross-continental tour and relishing in the newfound belief that love can, and will be reborn.

We spoke with Martha Wainwright mid-tour, as she made her way north from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with a few hundred miles (and a few shows) between her and Calgary’s November 18th date. [Edited for clarity]

Photo by Gaëlle Leroyer

Calgary Folk Music Festival: Tell us about life on the road. You’re back at shows, what’s the experience been like so far?

Martha Wainwright: It’s been really great. You know, I'm a little out of practice [laughs]. It’s been really amazing to reconnect with people, audience members, and also people in all of these cities that I’ve known for years — whether it’s family or friends. The band that I've been working with for the last five years are really great to travel with. I feel very lucky.

CFMF: I can’t imagine what that must feel like after the past few years.

MW: I’m very happy to be working again, it’s hard sometimes to be away from the kids but I know that these runs are pretty short so it’s absolutely fine. I’m really glad to have the opportunity and I'm glad that people are feeling good about coming out.

Photo by Camilla Lundbye

CFMF: You recently opened up a café in Montreal, URSA

MW: Yep! We opened that up about two and a half years ago. Just as we were really getting our footing and starting to get into a rhythm we were shut down for the pandemic. But we’ve been able to stay available through the community by doing lots of shows outside. In the summertime I ran a small kids camp and in the last few months we’ve been able to do shows again. It’s coming back! It’s been amazing.

How has the teaching experience been like at the kids camp?

MW: Well I never was a camp counsellor or anything! [Laughs] Basically it really saved my ass over the last two summers, it gave me something to do that was really meaningful and it took me away from the drudgery and the darkness of the situation — the aspects of life that are less pleasant. You get to be around children and not respond to the accountants and lawyers and manager-people and just say 'right now I’m working with the kids and we’re having hot dogs so fuck off' [Laughs]

CFMF: It must’ve been very cathartic to be around kids...

MW: Absolutely, you want to create a world that’s pleasant for them filled with wonder and joy and happiness and protect them from some of the other things that we adults have to deal with.

Right now I’m working with the kids and we’re having hot dogs so fuck off

Photo by Camilla Lundbye

CFMF: Your new album “Love Will Be Reborn” covers a lot of emotions, and you’ve said that the writing process was very overwhelming at times. What’s it like to perform those songs now, does the relationship with the music change?

MW: It’s really about channeling [that emotion] into the performance. If I’m feeling a little bit isolated from the children or feeling fragile, the lyrics can definitely stir up some of those feelings that inspired the songs in the first place. That’s where performing comes in, and being around people that you trust and love — and being applauded! My music is very autobiographical and about love and family life, and I think people identify with a lot of the aspects of it. I think that everybody suffers from complicated relationships. It’s something we identify with one another, and we don’t feel so alone.

CFMF: Do you need to love yourself in order to accept love from others?

MW: I think it definitely helps. If it’s hard to do it, maybe another thing that can happen (which is the experience that I had) is opening up to the possibility of the love that was always there. I slowly started to either love myself while also accepting things for the way they are. Once you can open your heart and your mind to the possibility of things being alright — love and honesty existing — and understanding that you’re a good person, then all the love that is around you that people want to give you can become more apparent. And you can lean on it.

I’ve always leaned on people my whole life, in doing that and accepting their help and trusting them is really what has propelled me forward to believe in myself.

Photo by Camilla Lundbye

CFMF: What would Martha Wainwright think about “Love Will Be Reborn” in 10 years, 20 years?

MW: This record seems to be a seminal moment -- coming to a new reality and a shedding of the past. That seems very essential, and a long time coming. I think that will always be the story, even in 5-10 years from now when I look back, I think the last five years will always be a difficult time, and how complicated divorce is with children involved. The door has closed on my youth, and thinking about how to live your life as a full blown adult requires a lot of self-awareness and strength and acceptance (especially in our industry) which is really centered around being young and youthful. 

What does it mean to do this? What does it mean to get in a van and drive across the country and sing these songs and not think “is this wrong, is this weird”? But also knowing what else am I gonna do? This is what it is! I have a responsibility to my children and to support them, and a responsibility to stay alive and be mentally and physically healthy. You feel yourself on the planet more as you get older. What kind of a person do we want to be? ‘Cause now the legacy is being built.

CFMF: What would be your advice to Martha on tour 10 years ago?

MW: Write more down, listen to people when they tell you that you’re good, and don’t be so hard on yourself.

CFMF: What type of evening will people have when they come out to see you on Thursday for Date Night with Wainwright?

We’ll go all the way, on our first date. [Laughs] That’s a promise.