What’s the strangest or totally off the mark interpretation you’ve had someone relay back to you about your songs?
For me, Want Two’s “The Art Teacher” always perplexes me. It’s a well-known song to my fans and people always think it’s something I wrote about myself, and I’m like, this song is about a young girl. Yes, there is a young girl within me but I never went to Catholic girl school. I never went that far!
Darren Criss makes an appearance on the standalone 2018 single, “Sword of Damocles,” which you directly addressed to Donald Trump and took a critical stance towards. Would it be a badge of honor to be hate tweeted by Trump in response?
I would be over the moon with joy. I must say, though, I met Ivanka right before Trump won the 2016 election. I actually performed for her and a bunch of other strange people like Karl Rove and Ariana Huffington at a conference, and I was very critical [of Trump] onstage and took a couple of digs. Afterwards, I was happy I did it. But these are vindictive people, and if you upset them they will come after you. Fortunately there are so many people angry with them they can’t possibly annihilate 3/4 of the population, but I’m sure they’ve thought about it.
What’s a collaboration or project you were approached for that didn’t pan out?
At one point I was asked to collaborate for the UK’s World Cup with the great theater artist Robert Wilson. That was to be an operatic production for a bunch of English football players and I kept thinking of being backstage near the locker room. But it didn’t happen.
How has the pandemic changed your thoughts about how to engage with audiences and performance? You did a whole series of video “Quarantunes” from home on your YouTube.
I’ve done stuff from my home and duets with people who weren’t in the room with me when we sang. I also did a rather lavish production featuring the new album called The Paramour Session for WNET’s All Arts filmed at Los Angeles’ Paramour Mansion that we spent weeks setting up. I think there’s room for exploration and experimentation, but I don’t think it’ll ever top the live experience. Especially as a singer, because there’s something about singing in a live room that can’t be reproduced digitally. But it is a bit of a brave new world and I’m fortunate to be on that journey.
Now let’s talk about getting out of the house and traveling. Where would you and the husband and daughter most love to go next?
We’ve always dreamt of living in a chateau in France, and there are a couple of options and pipe dreams we have. So directly to a chateau in France. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, because you’ll need $2 million!
Let’s imagine you could create a Rufus Wainwright B&B anywhere in the world. What would it be like and where?
It would have to be in Venice, Italy on a boat, and certainly with your own personal opera singer who will be at the helm. And pets are allowed. We were never dog people before, but now we have a wonderful miniature German Shepherd, Puccini, and we’re frighteningly enamored of it. So a “Boat B&B,” I should say. And you’re only allowed to watch The Criterion Collection movies on a little video screen.
What do you always want to find in a hotel room?
A Perrier. And Pringles. I’m very well trained. Gummy bears.
Does your daughter listen to any music you disapprove of?
She flirted with Taylor Swift for a moment and that passed. I have to say I admire Taylor for the stance she’s taking politically now, but at the time a few years ago when she was looming in my daughter’s life I was apprehensive. I want Viva to grow up to be a good, kind person and some of that music was a little too flippant for me.
What shows or movies have you been binging on at home lately?
The Criterion Collection, which is highbrow, and Love It or List It. Love It is great for the family, my daughter loves it, and I think we’ve seen every episode, which is kind of crazy.
Final question: Your quarantine beard, will you keep it?
Yeah. The beard’s on for a while. I’m not saying it’ll be forever, but not having to take care of [shaving] your face is nice.