S hortly after Rufus Wainwright completed work on 2010's classically inspired All Days Are Night, his mother — folk icon Kate McGarrigle — passed away. Wainwright then teamed up with superstar producer Mark Ronson (the architect behind Amy Winehouse's hit record) and began writing material for his new LP, Out of the Game, a collection of songs about his mother's death. The album — complete with horns and strings — marks a return to the lushly ornate pop found on Wainwright's heralded self-titled debut from 1998.
Your last album was a stripped-down affair. What was it like returning to your roots and making something so ornate?
It was very bittersweet, as every experience is for me now, having lost my mother two years ago. Right after Kate died, I released my solo piano album and toured the world and wept on every major stage available. This one is more of a celebration and acceptance of reality. It's about the idea that we're here for a brief time and we might as well enjoy it.
Producer Mark Ronson is a good match. What brought you two together?
I heard of him for many, many years, and we have many friends in common. We did some gigs together. Because he is a DJ, he was usually on at, like, 3 in the morning. The minute we met, we got along famously. He's such a brilliant and also very handsome character, one can't help being seduced by him, be it man, woman, or child.
Explain the title track. Do you feel "out of the game"?
Part of me feels like I'm out of the game. It's not really a game for me anymore, be it that I want to get to that next level artistically or that I want to financially be secure or look good or whatever. Once death has touched your life, the world is not quite as playful as it once was. It doesn't mean that it's worse or bad or a darker thing. It's just that everything has that much more meaning.
I love the title song's video. How did you get Helena Bonham Carter to lip-sync it?
She's a dear friend of mine. She was such a trooper to work on the video with me. We didn't have a lot of time or a lot of money. For instance, she was going to play one of the characters and I was going to be the librarian, but we couldn't afford any other actors. So I had to play the parts. It's the way things are made. Believe it or not, she's a much sexier librarian than I am.
A song like "Candles," about the passing of your mother, is so personal. How difficult was it to compose?
That was the hardest song to get my head around. In fact, I really only recorded it once, and it was early on in the process. The first time I sang it, it was hard for me to get through it and so forth. We tried a couple of other versions down the line, and it was obvious that it wasn't a song I was going to beat to the ground. I open the show with that song. The bedrock of this album is loss and sadness, but it's about transcending that and transforming it into some sort of happy butterfly.
I once interviewed your father [singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III], who said that your homosexuality was the least of the problems he had with you when you were growing up. Were you a troublemaker?
No, no. My dad was just somewhat set in his ways. We are doing well now. It definitely required effort and a conscientious attitude, but we are doing great. My dad is really the quintessential American man. He was born in the '40s and grew up in the '60s when this country was an empire. There's a lot of baggage, in general, from having been at the top of the world. I grew up in a much less illustrious period. AIDS was really our thing. We're both from very different planets, I think.