Published Oct 29, 2012Three years ago, the two biggest events of Martha Wainwright's life skimmed past each other with crushing effect: Her son, Arcangelo, was born several months premature, and her mother, famed folk singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle (the McGarrigle Sisters, mother to Rufus and ex-wife of Loudon Wainwright III) was dying of cancer. Wainwright's new record, Come Home to Mama, captures that confluence with devastating results.
"It felt really natural for me to process some of the tragedy this way," Wainwright tells Exclaim! "I knew that I wanted to make a record right away, because it had been a long time since my last record, and I had a couple of songs written. But, after the funeral, I couldn't really pick up the guitar for a few months because I'd just sort of end up on the floor crying."
While she couldn't write for a little while, Wainwright was motivated to record the album's standout track, "Proserpina" (whose video you can see below), just a month after McGarrigle's death. It's a spare but haunting cover of one of the last songs McGarrigle wrote before she died.
"I think that song is the most important one on the record," Wainwright says. "I wanted to do it because I felt I wanted to be closer to her in some way. I also didn't want anybody else to cover it," she laughs at her own protectiveness. "A few people had heard it when she sung at Royal Albert Hall, and I was like, 'This is my song!' I wanted to do a version that sounded very similar to how she sung it. And it's such an amazing song, especially as the last song she wrote. Oftentimes artists are known for the songs that they write earlier in life, so it was amazing to see someone write probably one of their best songs at the end of their life. I thought that was really remarkable."
When Wainwright finally did resume songwriting, her trademark bruising lyricism took on new depths of honesty and reflection. And though the majority of the record is really a tribute to her mother, she wanted to include at least one song specifically for her son.
"['Wrong'] was the last song that I wrote," Wainwright says. "The record was already almost finished, but I wanted to include something about Arcangelo. [Come Home to Mama] is mainly about my mother; it's not a record about the joys of new motherhood, it's not a children's album, but it was important — also I'd only known Arc for two and a half years at the point that I wrote that song, it's all still new. But it was the first way to talk about this new relationship, which is the most important relationship now in my life, and so it's my apology to him for future and further fuck-ups."
Come Home to Mama is out now via MapleMusic. You can see all Wainwright's upcoming tour dates below.
11/5 Montreal, QC - Corona
11/6 Quebec City, QC - Theatre Petit Champlain
11/7 Burnstown, ON - Neat Coffee Shop
11/8 Toronto, ON - The Great Hall
12/19 Oakland, CA - The Fox Theater
12/21 Los Angeles, CA - Royce Hall UCLA
12/22 Los Angeles, CA - Royce Hall UCLA