For Rufus Wainwright, being out was always in — going all the way back to when he made his 1998 debut as a rare, openly gay artist signed to a major label.
“When that happened, I wasn’t really thinking about it in those terms. I just was a terrible liar,” Wainwright, 46, tells The Post. “And on a more serious note, AIDS was still a tremendous threat back then, and I didn’t want to get AIDS and have to lie about it … I never was in the closet. Ever.”
It’s fitting that Wainwright’s new album, out Friday, is titled “Unfollow the Rules,” because — from his sexuality to his art-pop aesthetic — the singer-songwriter has always been shaking up the status quo in the music industry. And 22 years after his first, self-titled LP, he’s come full circle. “I very much consider this album to be a bookend to my first record,” he says.
“Unfollow the Rules” is Wainwright’s first pop album since 2012, but he’s still been busy making music in classical circles.
Rufus Wainwright’s “Unfollow The Rules.”Courtesy
“I really felt the need to give back to the opera world for all the inspiration it had given me, and so I went off and wrote a couple of operas and got them produced,” says Wainwright, whose first opera, “Prima Donna,” is due to stage a new production in Stockholm this fall. “It was an amazing time. But it was also quite brutal … I had to fight tooth and nail to garner respect.
“In the end, I felt honored that they were taking me so seriously by being so mean. And now it’s good to be back where people take me seriously and they’re not so mean.”
“Unfollow the Rules” was supposed to come out in April, but was postponed due to the coronavirus crisis. Wainwright has kept the music playing during quarantine with his daily #RobeRecitals streamed from his Los Angeles home. “I practice every morning in my robe. When I was much younger, I did it naked,” he says. “Then once COVID hit, [#RobeRecitals] was just a real no-brainer. I just show up in my kimono and pray to God my face is on right.”
His at-home performances have been filmed by Jörn Weisbrodt, Wainwright’s husband of eight years, to whom “Peaceful Afternoon” is dedicated on the new album. “One of his demands is that on every record there’s a song about him,” he says. “And luckily, they’ve also gotten to be love songs.”
But Wainwright wasn’t always big on the idea of gay marriage. “I was very set in my ways in terms of, you know, the old-school homosexual habits: drugs or sex or fashion,” he says with a laugh.
Rufus Wainwright and Jörn WeisbrodtBilly Farrell/BFA.com
Now he’s also a dad to 9-year-old daughter Viva. Mom is Lorca Cohen, daughter of the late, legendary Leonard Cohen, who conceived the child through Wainwright’s sperm donation. Given Viva’s musical lineage — Wainwright’s parents are folkies Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle — it’s no surprise that she’s already displaying an artistic flair.
“Yeah, she loves to sing,” says Wainwright, who still keeps a Manhattan apartment in Gramercy Park. “She asks many times if she can be in a movie or on a TV show, and we want her to just finish her homework first. But we’ll see. She’s definitely raring to go.”
As for the next generation of out artists, Wainwright says, “I’ve hung out a bit with Troye Sivan, and I know that other artists are also fluid at this point in terms of how they identify. Sexuality definitely does seem to be less of an issue.”
But, he adds, “I’m still looking for that other Rufus down the line who will try to take my place.”