Rufus Wainwright's life is downright domesticated lately.
The transition from metropolitan bon vivant to family man has taken the better part of two years, culminating in the 2011 birth of his daughter Viva (conceived with Leonard Cohen's daughter, Lorca), and, in August, the 39-year-old singer-songwriter's marriage to his long-time partner, Jorn Weisbrodt.
"It's certainly been an interesting year with marriage and pop records and babies and working out and trying to squeeze all that I can out of my 30s before I hit the big 4-0," says Wainwright by phone from a California tour stop. "I am kind of treating this [tour] like a fun last hurrah; I am really enjoying my freedom at the moment and the time that I have to really focus on my big fat artistic ego. That's all because I know it's finite, and I have to be a dad and a husband and also continue my career."
That "pop record" he's referring to would be Out of the Game, his finest record in five years and one of 2012's great albums. A deeply felt, wonderfully varied collection, Game was produced by Mark Ronson and is steeped in a thoughtful sensibility better suited to the era of Joni Mitchell than that of Nicki Minaj. He'll perform songs from Game and the rest of his catalog Sunday at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.
Wainwright has traveled far from the days of casual sex and crystal meth (his harrowing Go or Go Ahead, from 2004's Want One, is a vivid evocation of his battle with drug addiction). Settling down doesn't mean he's finished having fun, although you might be forgiven for thinking so, listening to his latest album: "I'm out of the game/I've been out for a long time/I'm looking for something/Can't be found on the main drag," he sighs on Game's title track.
That longing, a recurring motif throughout Game, was brought to life by Ronson, an A-list producer who shares Wainwright's appreciation for vintage songcraft (read: the FM glory days of the early-to-mid-'70s). The pair's collaboration was an ingenious gamble for Wainwright, whose prior discography tended toward the baroque end of the pop spectrum.
"I knew Mark was definitely a choice to go into another direction," Wainwright says. "He is a pop genius and definitely has his finger on the pulse, but he has an extreme knowledge and respect for what has gone before, and really kind of ferries between both worlds in what he does."
Long a member of the nebulous world of cult adoration and critical acclaim, where sustained mainstream success remains frustratingly elusive, Wainwright can't attribute his lack of widespread public recognition to a lack of material. Still, his lush, richly detailed tracks such as Jericho, Rashida or Bitter Tears make for an odd juxtaposition with the hip-hop and electronic music currently dominating the industry. It's a struggle compounded by the prevalence of televised singing competitions, which trade quick fame for marginal talent.
"Whenever I turn on one of those shows -- America's Got Talent or American Idol or The X Factor -- I can't watch it for more than 10 seconds; it's just so embarrassing," says Wainwright. "These poor idiots who are basically ruining their lives and their careers and everything they can possibly stand on in the next 10 years. It's very tragic -- maybe some of them are very talented and so forth, but it's really like a Faustian bargain.
"Some of them are probably very talented and all that, but the fact of the matter is in the history of songwriting or literature or painting or whatever, to be an artist requires a germination period, where you're kind of protected but at the same time within this violent storm of creation. It's not about money, it's not about fame, it's not about ratings -- it's about your craft. To go out there and be a glorified karaoke singer and get a Grammy for it, it's like, 'Oh, God.'"
But Wainwright soldiers on. After wrapping up the tour supporting Game later this year, he'll turn his attention to honoring the legacy of his mother, Kate McGarrigle (she died from complications of cancer in 2010).
A new concert film directed by Lian Lunson, Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You, is due out next year. The work features interviews with Wainwright and his family, as well as footage from a May 2011 concert at New York's Town Hall theater that included performances from Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Antony Hegarty and Jimmy Fallon.
"[We're] singing the hell out of my mother's incredible music, and it's interspersed with some very revealing interviews and commentary by most of the family," Wainwright says. "It's very touching, and very sad, but an uplifting movie in the end."
It's just another in the cascading series of changes life brings to us all, a bittersweet reminder of just how much the past can enrich the future.
"I did a show recently at the Henry Miller [Memorial] Library in Big Sur, so I was reading a lot of Henry Miller," Wainwright says. "I'm definitely not in that world anymore, [with the] decadent city life and nihilistic passion. I've been there and I appreciate it, but now there's something a little more substantive, a little healthier."