Friday, November 2, 2007

Lucy Wainwright Roche, with Musical Lineage to Spare

Interview Conducted in Fall, 2007

By Bruce Menin

Lucy Wainwright Roche is the daughter of Suzzy Roche and Loudon Wainwright III. Her mother, along with aunts Maggie and Terre, make up the eclectic and much beloved Roche Sisters, who recently appeared in Newburyport. Her father Loudon has been writing heartfelt and eccentric songs for more than 30 years, including the achingly funny “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.”

Did I mention her brother Rufus, and her sisters Sloane and Martha?

Lucy Wainwright is ready to set out on her own, however.

“Yeah, I feel a little bit of anxiety about the family thing, they’re all so talented. After college, I really stopped having anything to do with music. Over several years, I edged a little closer, but I worried a lot about being compared to my siblings. Once I stopped worrying about that, then I found I really was hard-pressed to sound the same as them, or act the same way. I have a lot of similarities to a lot of people out there, a lot of women who play guitar. I wasted a lot of time prejudging myself. I should’ve gone out sooner than I did.”

Wainwright Roche is typically self-deprecating; she didn’t exactly waste time. She finished a Master’s Degree and taught 2nd and 3rd grade for several years.

“I loved elementary school myself, I went to a public school in Manhattan. I’ve always loved kids and babies and people younger than me. I had a great teacher in 2nd grade, so I had it in my head that that was the level I wanted to teach at. I’ve really loved it.”

“Now as I get older, I think I could get into older kids; middle school, and high school. Before, I felt I was too close in age to them to have much to offer. But being a teacher is so amazing, I think it’s one of the most creative jobs you can have, especially now, when resources are scarce.”

Surprisingly, music did not appear as part of her teaching toolkit.

“I was very avoidant of that, I was going through that phase. I did teach the kids to sing one song, and another year, I did bring my guitar into the class to do some songs for them. In a funny way, I think being a teacher has made me a better performer, and being a better performer will make me a better teacher.”

Lucy wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up, somehow, combining her two careers.

“As much as I love teaching, I began to realize that I would always regret it if I didn’t try to get out and perform. Ideally, somewhere down the road, I figure out how to combine teaching kids with my music.”

Because of the sheer breadth and talent in the gene pool surrounding her, Wainwright Roche admits to being intimidated.

"Oh, gosh, I would never ask my relatives to help me finish a song, or put something together. It was so easy for me to get spooked at the thought of what they would say, or suggest. I would never let Rufus hear anything I had done. I mean they all care, but after a while, I realized they’re busy doing their own stuff, and there was nothing so precious or weird about what I was doing that would cause them to criticize me.”

In many ways, being surrounded by songwriters, Lucy Wainwright Roche’s life is something of an open book. She understands that often, the songs each or her parents and siblings are writing are autobiographical, and she is part of that story.

“Because so much of what I’ve lived is wrapped up in our music, I can’t really subtract the things from the music from the things that are part of my life. To do so would like removing puzzle pieces that fit perfectly well right now.”

She understands that her name and lineage has opened doors for her, but she is really determined to rise of fall on her own talent.

“We’ll just have to see how it happens. I’m really just starting out; the first show where I performed solo was in January of ’07. The field has a lot of complicated connections. I know that I have access to a lot of people that others don’t. I’ve been opening for a lot of people, which has been great. Just being able to watch others perform, that becomes a very rich environment to draw from. And I can call my mother, who has a lot of years is this business; there’s an upside and a downside to that. In the end, if what I’m doing doesn’t come together, all the relatives in the world won’t make it work. You have to survive on your own ability. I don’t know exactly when I get to that point.”

Despite the preponderance of talent in the home, Lucy laughs when asked who sang lullabies to her when she was young.

“No one, actually. We were always read to, which was the most fun thing ever.”

As for songwriting, Wainwright confesses the process mystifies her.

“I don’t really know how it happens, I just know it feels lucky. A handful of songs have come from family, but those don’t tend to be as confessional as the rest of my family writes. All of my songs have to do with relationships with others; they are all about today. I guess the major relationship I write about is the one I have with myself, which is always changing.”

“I remember reading in a liner note that my Aunt Maggie wrote that sometimes when you’ve lost something, but when you wrote a song about it, you’ll feel better. I was in a hotel in Charlottesville, and there were some losses I was feeling. And this song came to me. And the truth, was I did feel better after I finished it.”

For more information, try

Roche has an eight-song demo CD, half originals, and half covers.

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