A few things have changed for Martha Wainwright since her 2008 album, I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too. A couple of years ago, two major events in her life occurred in close succession: she became a mother, and her own mother passed away. On Friday, Halifax audiences will be treated to some of the new material she's been working on since then---songs that may evidence some of the shifts taking place in her songwriting and creative process.
"I've never really been disciplined as an artist," Wainwright says, calling from her home in Brooklyn. "Some songwriters are good at spending a few hours on it every day, but I always sort of waited for inspiration, then not played guitar for days and days and felt guilty." Having a family "has forced me to try harder and set aside the time."
But don't expect her new songs to be entirely focused on motherhood and domesticity. "It's my life now, but with an edge. My first and second record were about angst and unrequited love and being misunderstood, so there's an evolution...but I do want to keep being honest and autobiographical, to stick to that to an extent." Currently halfway through a new record, Wainwright is making some tweaks to her sound, too: "It'll be a little less rock Americana, a little more dancey, more fun."
Wainwright misses the feedback and praise she received from her mother, beloved folk singer Kate McGarrigle: "She bolstered my confidence as an artist, because she wasn't a bullshitter." For Wainwright's 2010 project, the live album Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, A Paris, a tribute to French icon Edith Piaf, McGarrigle's input was essential, especially when it came to song selection. (Wainwright skirted some of the more obvious Piaf hits like "La Vie en Rose," favouring B-sides.) "I knew I had to listen to her suggestions because she wasn't going to be around forever," Wainwright says.
Growing up in Montreal in a musical family, Wainwright became accustomed to singing backup, at first accompanying her brother, Rufus, onstage and on his albums. Now a well-known artist in her own right who has toured all over the world, collaboration is still important to her. "Being a singer-songwriter can be a seemingly lonely place: holed up in a hotel room, touring by myself. It's nice to collaborate because it reminds you of a community of artists out there doing the same thing."
Performing with family, too, is something Wainwright has come to welcome. "Before my mother died, I was more concerned with separating and defining myself from my family. I felt shackled by it. I've discovered through embracing it, singing a lot more with my brother and not having such a chip on my shoulder, that things can be more joyful, better, easier."
Martha, Rufus and other family members have done several tribute concerts to raise funds for the cancer research fund McGarrigle started. "It's a nice chance to sing someone else's songs that I miss and that I love," she says, "a way to strive for peace."