Rufus Wainwright thinks 2021 could finally be his year.
Having been showered with much praise throughout his illustrious career, the Canadian singer-songwriter is still missing one key symbol of a successful life in music: a Grammy award.
Once nominated before, Wainwright is sitting at zero wins. But that could change with his second nomination if the Recording Academy votes in his favour ahead of the postponed Grammy Awards. The ceremony was recently moved from late January to March 14 owing to COVID-19.
“I think there’s a sense that I should have a Grammy, in general, from the Academy members,” the musician recently explained by phone from his house in the Hollywood Hills.
“But it’s still a long shot … If I don’t win it, I won’t be devastated.”
Wainwright is, as he described it, up against some “heavy-hitters” in the best traditional pop album category. His record Unfollow the Rules will compete with works by Burt Bacharach, Harry Connick Jr., James Taylor and a Judy Garland soundtrack sung by Renée Zellweger (which features a Christmas song by Wainwright).
Back in 2009, his own Garland tribute album was nominated in the same traditional pop category but didn’t take the prize. Instead, the late Natalie Cole was honoured, after she had gone public with her hepatitis C diagnosis the previous year.
“I was like, `Well, there goes my Grammy,’” Wainwright remembered thinking.
“I kind of let that one go. I would say this one I’m a little more attentive.”
Chasing the win often involves behind-the-scenes campaigning, which outside the pandemic could be public appearances and industry luncheons. These days, most of those efforts take place in a virtual world, which makes it a bit easier for Wainwright to shine.
“You don’t have to play the game necessarily,” he said, “but I tend to enjoy it in an ephemeral way.”
Besides his pursuit of gold, Wainwright also recently debuted an Audible Original recording called Road Trip Elegies: Montreal to New York.
The 3½-hour audio adventure sees him embark on a road trip alongside his therapist in the fall of 2019 as he reflects on the happiness and hurdles of his past. Some of those experiences involve his late mother, Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle, while others dip into the intricacies of creating art. The often frank anecdotes are peppered with songs Wainwright performed at a Los Angeles venue.
The idea came together after Wainwright heard Audible was “looking for content and being very generous” with their offers.
He suggested recreating the “really interesting conversations about history, culture and mythology” he has shared with his therapist during past couch sessions, but to have them play out in a less stagnant location. So they hopped in a car and set out on a journey together.
“That is an incredibly private bond between a therapist and their patient,” Wainwright said.
“But I assured him, off the bat that it was really centred around me. His words would hardly ever be heard, which is in fact the case.”
Stuck in quarantine, Wainwright has been tapping into this creativity by “writing incessantly,” one of the few perks that’s allowed him to focus during this terrible period.
“These are great opportunities to really start mapping out a big project. Because it takes five years anyway to get these things off the ground,” he said.
“I’d like to write a musical play or musical movie … there’s some really interesting stuff coming out on the horizon for me.”
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