A Conversation with Rufus Wainwright
Puremusic: Hi Rufus, thanks for talking with us today.
Rufus Wainwright: My pleasure.
PM: This morning I was lying on the floor with the headphones on, letting the awesome beauty of "Vicious World" wash over me and through my system. That's an outstanding song.
RW: Thank you so much. That was originally going to be a more hard-hitting, confessional, whiney ballad. But the piano part was so percussive that I put it on the Fender Rhodes [traditionally thought of as a softer, 70s keyboard sound] and it changed the character of the song, made it much more ironic...
PM: Perhaps, if you'd be so kind, we could take this one song and walk through it from composing to tracking and mixing it, and you can share with us the story of that song as you remember it. Would you be willing to do that with us?
RW: Sure, that would be cool. Let's see, I think I wrote it after I had a conversation with some distant love interest, while I was in Montreal and he was in New York. At the time, as I am most of the time [laughs], I was feeling very lonely, and in need of, uh, Superman. So, I think after seeing too many movies or watching too much Lifetime television, I imagine people being able to fall in love over the phone, or over the computer. I think it also has to do with the fact that I travel and tour constantly, and can't usually be there in the flesh. So, I called this person, but we didn't fall in love over the phone. I had that part of the lyrics for a long time.
Then I thought about some other situation of the "slap you in the face" variety, and it culminated into the song "Vicious World." That little chorus part I actually ripped off slightly from a Berlioz piece. [Here Rufus drew a correlation between the lyric and perhaps an operatic libretto, but alas, his momentary reflection was too faint on the recording to transcribe.]
And then the next verse was just about me after that phone conversation, looking around at people and realizing that I'm starting to get a little older, and that youth is really stronger than brains, you know, and that I'm still down there. There really is a big difference between a 19 and a 29 year old guy, and the whole vicious youth thing.
So, I finished the song, and the person who really loved it the most from the beginning was [label co-head] Lenny Waronker. He really flipped out over that song. So it's also a kind of ode to him and to Brian Wilson, since it embodies that happy/sad thing...
PM: Speaking of that Fender Rhodes sound on that song, how is that repeating thing that it keeps doing achieved?
RW: That's just me, that's how I was playing it on the piano. On the piano, it's vaguely Lisztian [laughs]. There's some recorder on it as well--that little flute part is actually a recorder, which I also played. I think I played everything on that except the double bass. continue