Q&A: Rufus Wainwright on his family, being a Montrealer and proud Canadian

As Montreal celebrates its 375th anniversary, Our Montreal host Sonali Karnick caught up with the singer-songwriter to talk about his plans for Canada's big birthday.

Wainwright says his busy schedule is not easy but it makes the time spent with family 'sacred'

Rufus Wainwright talks Montreal, his favourite music and how he manage his busy work-life balance.

"Music is the emotional life of most people," said the late Leonard Cohen.

Another Montreal musician, Rufus Wainwright. is living testament to this quote.

As Montreal celebrates its 375th anniversary, Our Montreal host Sonali Karnick caught up with the singer-songwriter to talk about his plans for Canada's big birthday.

How Canadian would you consider yourself?

I was born in the U.S., but then I was brought up here. I've always maintained a real strong connection to both of my families — one Canadian, one American — I've somehow managed to bridge the gap.

For my sister Martha Wainwright, my mother, the late great Kate McGarrigle and for myself, coming from a half French, half English background in Montreal, bridging the gap has always been a function of our musical existence.

What would you consider to be some of the most quintessential Canadian music?

]Aside from all of our material? ( He laughs.) Well, whether it's Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell or Neil Young or Arcade Fire, there's a vast repertoire of material.

It is quite astounding actually when you think of the per capita output compared with what's out there and how much success there's been, in Canada.
Rufus Wainwright will perform at the Our Lady of the Harbour benefit performance in Montreal on August 16 and 17th. (Benoit Rousseau/CBC)

Tell us about the song that defines Canada for you?

In this Leonard Cohen world right now, the song Suzanne really represents everything that is mysterious, shall we say, about great Canadian songwriting.

I like it, because there's an esoteric quality to it — where you don't quite know what they're singing about, or who it's about, or where it takes place. It's this kind of dreamlike quality. So I'd have to go with Suzanne, right now.

Rufus and Martha Wainwright, 2008. (Benoit Rousseau/CBC)

Can you tell us a bit about the concert at at Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours?

It's benefiting the Kate McGarrigle [Foundation], which in turn raises money for cancer research and McGill. We're doing that and I'm also performing my opera Prima Donna, in June, in Paris, which is very exciting.

Wainwright will perform at the ​Our Lady of the Harbour benefit concert in Montreal on August 16 and 17 at Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. Tickets went on sale May 18.

What are you doing in Ottawa?

I'm singing in Ottawa with the orchestra there at the National Arts Centre on July 12. It's very, very exciting.

I live for that room and I love those people. It'll be an evening full of different material, some of it classic, some of it contemporary. I'm proud to be a part of it.​

Rufus Wainwright has covered many of Cohen's songs. (CARAS/iPhoto Inc.)

If there were songs this summer that you would want your daughter to listen to, what would they be?

She's listening to a lot of Moana right now. But essentially she's a big fan of her grandfather, Leonard Cohen, and she's starting to like my music too.

But I think for a healthy upbringing, she should turn on the boob tube and see what the kids are doing.

Wainwright says his daughter likes his music, but he just wants her to be a kid. 0:13

How are you balancing work and family life?

I'm still a young man in my 40s and in relatively good health, so I just travel a lot. And I have a very, very, very understanding husband.

And my daughter is also aware of the reality of the situation, so it's not easy but it also makes the time that we are together so special and so sacred and so wonderful. We completely embrace that wholeheartedly.

Will you be able to appreciate your busy summer?

Yeah. That moment when you're on stage and time stops and you're engulfed in beautiful music and lyrics, you do appreciate the music and it does make it all worth it in the end, the sacrifice.

It's a gamble worth gauging.

Note: This Q & A has been edited for context and clarity.

With files from CBC's Our Montreal