Both hail from Montreal, the city of saints. When Clash brought the two together, they had a lot to catch up on.
Murray Lightburn is the enigmatic frontman of The Dears. The globally lauded sextet craft songs reared from classic pop – hints of The Smiths sparkle throughout Murray’s introspective and yearning vocals, projected on a backdrop of epic sonic flourishes.
Martha Wainwright is another prodigious talent from an eminent dynasty that has continued to innovate folk music with glorious results. Daughter to Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle and sister to Rufus Wainwright, all outstanding musicians in their own right, Martha’s own style and voice is individual and captivating, rich and enchanting.
Murray Lightburn: So are you ready to jump into this?
Martha Wainwright: Yeah, let’s do it.
MW: What school did you go to in Montreal?
ML: Oh wow, well I went to some public schools because I grew up on the south shore in Braeside. I went to a high school called Centenary Regional High School, which had like 17,000 kids there. It was massive. Where did you go to – Faith?
MW: No, my brother Rufus went to Faith for a bit, but I grew up in Westmount for some of the time so I went to The Study, an all-girls school.
ML: You went to The Study?
MW: Yeah, for about 3 or 4 years, then I moved to New York for a couple of years, and then I moved back and went to a girl’s school down on St Geneith St.
ML: Right, so that’s some pretty poshy schools.
MW: We definitely stood out like sore thumbs in Westmount. We were definitely the odd kids on the block but I guess in 1976 the housing market was good in Montreal and my mother decided to buy a big house, but I’m sure they wanted us out of the neighbourhood.
ML: Considering your background, would you call yourself a winner or a loser?
MW: In the family circle I’m slightly behind everyone else and trying to catch up. I think I was kind of a loser for a long time, but I think that in a family of black sheep – which everyone in my family is – I’ve finally found my tuft of grass to graze, which should back out on to the rest of the earth.
ML: I’m sure you’ve had this type of sibling rivalry question before, but do you feel like now is your time to be busting out?
MW: Well I’m busting out as much as I can, but I think that my job, really, is too busy out on an international front than on a familiar front. I could see my brother as something to surpass but I think the world is much larger than that.
ML: Of course, yeah.
MW: Rufus is generally one step ahead of me, like any brother would be. Everyone finds their place in their family – everyone has their roles. Are their any artists in your family?
ML: No. Absolutely not.
MW: How did they take your choice to be a musician, was that a good thing for them?
ML: Well, they laughed at me for years, but last year I bought a house on the salary of being a musician so I guess now I’m getting a bit of respect. But my brother still wrestles me to the ground, bends my arm behind my back and stuff like that.
MW: Do you remember me from Montreal?
ML: Where did we hang out?
MW: We crossed paths I think, but those would have been pretty blurry nights anyway.
ML: Exactly, I know we both know Arialle.
MW: I think I know some other people in your band, but I definitely remember you from that scene in the early days.
ML: I think that you have a really fantastic and beautiful voice, and you’re beautiful, but have you heard that enough or do you still need to hear it?
MW: I think that what is maybe attractive is that I don’t really believe that. I mean I believe some of that on a certain level – and I’m not saying that you’re wrong, I want you to be right – but so much of what I’ve felt is about feeling inferior about things like looks and talent. So it has become a part of who I am. There’s a strength behind my music, as well as a vulnerability, and it’s that duality that is probably what a lot of people would feel. I think we’re all attractive but also all feel ugly. I’m not a great beauty. I go on stage and contort my face like I’m being stabbed. So basically, I can’t get enough of hearing that…it’s like oral sex. Are you married?
ML: Ha ha, actually I am.
MW: Okay, so I won’t ask if you get laid a lot on the road, because I always think that men do more than women.
ML: Oh really?
MW: Well, I think so, but we’ll move on because you’re married.
ML: How does that answer the question then? Do you think that because I’m married I don’t get laid a lot, or I do?
MW: Well, I mean on the road with strangers…
ML: Oh, right. Well, we do try to role play sometimes.
MW:Does she act like a screaming fan, wanting your autograph?
ML: Yeah and sometimes I’m the male groupie.
MW:The first song on the record, after the instrumental, what’s it about if you don’t mind me asking? I have my own instinct about it. You mention MAL in it, is that madness or something?
ML: Oh no, MAL are my initials. I was writing this song because, at the time, my wife Natalia – who plays keyboards in the band – was pregnant with our first child. I was thinking about leaving Dorval Airport and coming home to Pierre Elliott airport, so I was thinking about having that kind of legacy. I think I was writing a song about reaching that point – doing what I am – addressing the fame issue, and how I didn’t think it was going to happen but that I’m about to become a father and create this thing were I’ll leave behind this legacy through my daughter. So, that’s why I say MAL because I guess I was imagining an airport named after me! (Laughs)
MW: Fantastic, that’s great!
ML: But the title of the song was really elusive. I was out one night showing off pictures of my daughter to some friends in a bar and this guy goes, “Wow man, you’re so lucky – you got 2 tickets to immortality.” So I said “I’m stealing that” and I went home and wrote it down on top of the lyric sheet.
MW: That’s beautiful. I was just in Liverpool and the airport is called John Lennon Airport.
ML: That was one of the things I was thinking of…
MW: Do you think this record, or you guys as a band, have a sound that is Canadian in any way?
ML: Well I could ask you the same question…
MW: Well you go first…
ML: I don’t think so. Well is there a Canadian sound? I don’t think so. There’s some stuff, yes, that when you hear it on the radio it’s some kind of gross Nicklebacky, Pro-Tools rock record.
MW: I think, with your record, there’s a sensitivity that exists, and a questioning that exists, that I wonder if theirs isn’t as angry a questioning, like not as angry and self-important as American music. Maybe this is totally off, but I love that line “There is no doubt they have guns in their hands”. There’s something that strikes me as Canadian in that, as we have a more objective view of America from our standpoint.
ML: This is something I was saying on this press tour, was that Canada is like being in an observatory – watching the world go by – because it’s such a young place. It’s never been blown to smithereens like Europe or gone through civil war. The thing with Canada is that nothing ever really happens there. It doesn’t have that crazy history that other places have… but it’s cool.
MW: Yeah, I think it’s great.
ML: I think that explains what this whole Canadian renaissance period is all about.
MW: It’s great to not always be watched, you can come up with your own sort of thing. All of a sudden there are all these great bands. There’s a freedom there which certainly doesn’t exist south of the border.
ML: The first track of your LP reminds me of The Beatles, while the second of Frank Sinatra. Would you consider your music all original?
MW: I’m not reinventing the wheel in any way. I stand up with an acoustic guitar and play pretty songs, and you can hear it’s Bob Dylanesque or has a Chrissie Hynde chime to it, but one of the reasons it may sound like many different things is because I’ve never been a fan of one or two particular bands or tradition. I’ve always had really eclectic taste.
ML: Some of that stuff might be more obscure as well, right?
MW: It’s interesting that you say ‘Far Away’ sounds Beatley because the first line is (starts singing) “Long ago…” Just like (singing) “Far away…” These are things I would have heard by mistake and then come to love. But everything is borrowed from everything. My interest is always not to sound like anyone else, and the only way I could do that was to convert what was going on inside me in the most natural way, without any exterior influence, and hope to God that it’s interesting.
MW: What’s your favourite country to play in?
ML: England’s been fantastic – the UK in general. We’ve had some great times in Holland and great shows in Belgium. Those are the most notable ones and, of course, the home country, which is also great.
ML: I’ve seen you play shows with your brother and you’re also doing your own thing now. With you, is it all music all the time?
MW: No, I’m really lazy and a terrible musician.
ML: Are you ever just sitting around your house in your underwear playing Playstation?
MW: No, I put on my underwear and cook and eat. I like to do laundry, clean and play house… I’m supposed to be writing songs but instead I paste and pull out clothes to try on. This is one of my biggest problems, is that I don’t live and breathe everything as a songwriter. I tend to just live life and hopefully have lots of interesting experience that I could draw from to put into a song, but it puts me in a difficult position because it takes time. Do you write the songs or do you write them together?
ML: It’s tricky. I do a lot of writing by myself – I look at it like a baseball game. I’m like a starting pitcher. I can pitch and complete a whole game, but I can also pitch seven in the 3rd innings and so have to bring in some relief, and they close it out.
MW: Sometimes I need relief – maybe I should get a baseball team. They’re hot.