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"We shopped [Last Man on Earth] around in demo form. And several labels passed. Those idiots," he adds cagily. "I won't say who, but it was basically a business decision."
He adds, unable to resist, "We took it to Enron Records and Tapes. They passed.
"But the president of Red House, Bob Feldman, is an amazing guy, and as it turned out he really wanted the record. Red House is an independent, and this isn't the first time I've been on an independent--I've done things for Rounder and other places--but the problems are always the same: distribution, airplay, getting the music in the stores. The business just keeps getting tighter and tighter. So you have to be creative. Red House was happy to take it and pay for the making of it, and they've been great. I consider myself really lucky, considering the way the music business runs."
In addition, Wainwright recently took a regular part in the Fox series Undeclared. As Hal Karp, the recently divorced father of a college freshman, he's often spotted hanging out in son Steven's dorm, trying desperately to make a new start in life and mercilessly embarrassing his progeny.
Coming on the heels of a highly praised album, Wainwright's delving into television hints at a full-on media blitz--his stint as house musical commentator for NPR, preserved on the 1999 album Social Studies, represents a third venue--but he swears it wasn't by design.
"There's no master plan. Happily, a number of career things converged at once. I wasn't looking for acting work, but Judd Apatow, the creator of the show, was a fan and asked if I'd audition. What I do on the show is very dissimilar from what the album's about, so I think the two things have helped each other. We've finished the first season of Undeclared, so we're waiting with bated breath to see whether we'll get picked back up. Like radio, the climate of television is very tight. Fox pre-empted the show a lot in its first run, because of the World Series and the holiday season, so we lost a bit of our initial momentum. But it's gotten some incredible reviews, so we'll see."
The parent-child dynamic, and its attendant troubles, has long been a source for Wainwright's music. Is it easier, in his view, to write about communication troubles than it is to actually communicate?
"I think it is easier. It's been argued--I wrote a song about it ["Father-Daughter Dialogue"]--that I use these songs as kind of excuses to make contacts with family members. But I don't find writing those songs particularly therapeutic. You don't get over the death of your parent, or solve any issues or difficulties by writing a piece of music. But I suppose writing a three-minute song about something empowers you a little bit."
His children Rufus and Martha, of course, have recently entered the business for themselves, garnering their own accolades.
"I'm very proud of both Rufus and Martha," he says immediately. "I'm envious, too, because I'd like to be in my 20s, rocking out there." Asked whether he gets called on for business advice, he says, "I offer it, but I don't get called on. And usually it's ignored, but that's appropriate. My dad used to give me advice, which I would totally ignore. My kids are almost veterans now, but it still worries me a bit, because it's a rough life. On the other hand, it's a worthwhile life--being a songwriter, an entertainer, being both. But they're talented, they're good, and what a relief that is."
With such a long résumé behind him, and such a vibrant string of current projects now in progress, might it be time to film The LW3 Story? If so, whom might he tap if he were unavailable to fill the role he was (as it were) born to play?
"Wow... maybe Russell Crowe. Or Ewan MacGregor. Or maybe Nicole Kidman. But man, I don't know who could take on that incredible role. Probably," he says dryly, "I'll be long dead if it ever happens, so I won't have to worry about it."
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