Martha Wainwright’s last name is reminder enough of her impressive musical pedigree (her parents are folkies Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle and her brother is decadent crooner Rufus), and it has fed and tortured her musical abilities. But when she releases her self-titled, full-length debut on April 12th, Wainwright is only underlining that fact.
“It is going to be compared to a lot of great records that other members of my family have made,” Wainwright says. “And the bar was really, really fucking high. That was scary and discouraged me from doing it before. That’s why it took so long.”
With her raspy, rich vocals front and center, Wainwright throws herself into heady, haunting songs about her own insecurities. Her unflinchingly honest — and unique — narratives are offset by full band arrangements. The mournful “These Flowers” features a resounding acoustic guitar, while “This Life” is decked out with alt-country flourish.
“Because the songs are so varied . . . the common thread is my voice,” Wainwright says. “That’s the best part of the songs — just this person being very expressive and emotive and telling the story of her twenties. I wanted it to be raw without sounding raw.”
Wainwright courts sexual politics and personal regret in her writing. “Ball and Chain” plunges into stormy sexuality with the caustic — and cheeky — line: “But she can read and write too/She’s getting a degree in fucking you.”
“I’ve sat here and written songs and gone, ‘Oh no, I can’t say that,’ because it’s just too shocking or weird,” Wainwright says. “But people are weird and they have a lot of weird things going on in their head.”
Another song, “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole,” — also the title of an EP she released before the more demurely titled full-length — is quite lilting musically, though her lyrics are slightly contemptuous.
“If I were singing punk rock and going, ‘Bloody mother fucking asshole,’ I think it wouldn’t matter as much,” Wainwright says. “But when you’re playing with an acoustic guitar, it’s so open that it’s more shocking when you reveal things. It’s not covered up with pop persona and I think it’s more interesting to listen to.”