Music Interviews
3:54 pm
Tue October 22, 2013

Lucy Wainwright Roche: In The Family Business

Originally published on Tue October 22, 2013 6:13 pm

Songs by Lucy Wainwright Roche seems to be told with a shrug, a note of apology, or modesty. And, yet, her father is the witty and acerbic singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III. Her mother is Suzzy Roche — one third of the harmonious Roche sisters. Her half-brother and -sister are Rufus and Martha Wainwright, each acclaimed singer-songwriters in their own right.

But Lucy Wainwright Roche looked around at all that talent and didn't really want to be a part of it.

"I had no interest in being a musician because I was surrounded by them. It seemed like a terrible plan," Roche tells NPR's Melissa Block, laughing.

Her own shyness was also an initial problem.

"The very first show I did alone had been a terrible, awkward, horrible disaster," she says. "And then the second one — about halfway through I realized I should just be the way I would be if I was just talking to one person. That solved the problem. Then I was like, 'Oh, I'm not really building the mystique. I'm just sort of being normal. And that helped because I'm not much of a mystique builder."

None of Roche's family appears on There's a Last Time for Everything. That's in part due to the short recording schedule, but she says it was "great to do it in a little bubble away from the family."

Somewhere in the middle of the album, Roche covers the empowering Robyn anthem "Call Your Girlfriend" and strips it down to what a friend of her calls a "sad snoozer."

"When I first heard that song," Roche says, "I was like, 'Wow, I have never heard someone say exactly that in that way in a song before.' I'd never heard somebody say, 'Look, call your girlfriend. Tell her we're going to be together now and tell her it's fine.' I thought it was a quite direct and interesting approach, although I'm not sure how well it would work in real life. But I was smitten with the idea of the song."

The first time listeners might have met Lucy Wainwright Roche was in a 1985 song written by her dad and aunt, Terre Roche. "Screaming Issue" is a beautiful lullaby about Roche as a screaming baby. She loves it now, but as a kid, she really didn't like it "because people would always sing it to me."

Her parents split up when she was 2 years old, and since Loudon Wainwright spent part of his time in England, father and daughter didn't see each other very much during her childhood. Roche says as an adult, she's traveled a lot with him on tour.

"I think it's a thing that most people who don't spend a lot of time with a parent as a kid, [they] rarely get to make it up," Roche says. "And we have in a way. So that's been a really interesting chapter for us, I think."

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Songs by Lucy Wainwright Roche seems to be told with a shrug.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL YOUR GIRLFRIEND")

LUCY WAINWRIGHT ROCHE: (Singing) No, it's not her that's calling, it's just me. So, settle your jumpy, broken heart...

BLOCK: She sings with a note of apology or modesty, and yet talk about an impressive musical pedigree. Her father is the witty and acerbic singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright. Her mother is Suzzy Roche, one-third of the harmonious Roche sisters. Then there are her half-brother and sister, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, each of them acclaimed singer-songwriters. But Lucy looked around at all that talent and said, no, thanks.

ROCHE: I had no interest in being a musician because I was surrounded by them and it seemed like a terrible plan.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: So, Lucy Wainwright Roche steered away from the family business. She got a master's in education and settled in, teaching elementary school. But then Rufus talked her into coming on tour with him. And, as she told me, she got swept up into the romance of being a musician, even though she thinks she's really, really shy.

ROCHE: The very first show I did alone had been a terrible, awkward, horrible disaster. And then the second one, about halfway through, I realized that I should just be the way I would be if I was just talking to one person. That solved the problem. Then I was like, oh, I'm not really building the mystique. I'm just sort of being normal. And that helped because I'm not much of a mystique builder.

BLOCK: I want to ask you about the song on the new album that's called "Seek and Hide."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEEK AND HIDE")

ROCHE: (Singing) I fell in love last year, it's not a thing I do a lot. Pack up all my lonely habits and give it all I got...

BLOCK: What do you think is going on in this song?

ROCHE: That song, I guess, is about just in the rush of what it's like to be in a relationship at first and it feels like everything is so different. And this sort of realization that you are stuck with you no matter what is going on and no matter how much time has passed. And that's sort of like your constant companion, like it or not, is yourself and sort of the shortcomings of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEEK AND HIDE")

ROCHE: (Singing) I'm just the same old sorry kettle calling black as pot. You gotta watch it all change. You gotta watch it all stay the same.

BLOCK: I imagine it was a deliberate choice to not have any of your family members on the album - your mom Suzzy Roche, your dad Loudon Wainwright, your siblings, Rufus and Martha Wainwright. None of them are on here.

ROCHE: None of them are on here. In part, that was due to recording in Nashville in a very short period of time and they were all in New York. But I think it was hugely different, a challenge and also great to kind of do it in a little bubble away from the family. It was interesting to see what would happen when I went off by myself as if I was just some person who didn't know anybody else making records.

BLOCK: You do one cover on this new album. It's the song "Call Your Girlfriend," which was originally a dance hit by the Swedish singer Robyn. Let's take a listen to her version first.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL YOUR GIRLFRIEND")

ROBYN: (Singing) Call your girlfriend, it's time you had the talk. Give your reasons, say it's not her fault...

BLOCK: And, Lucy, here's your version.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL YOUR GIRLFRIEND")

ROCHE: (Singing) Call your girlfriend, it's time you had the talk.

BLOCK: So, Lucy, you've taken this hyperactive dance hit and turned it into just about the most stripped-down song you can imagine.

ROCHE: Yeah. That's one of my specialties is taking upbeat things and turning them into, as a friend of mine said, sad snoozers.

BLOCK: Sad snoozers?

ROCHE: Yes. I love that song. When I first heard that song, I was like, wow. I have never heard someone say exactly that in that way in a song before. And then in the recording process, I discovered with the producer that we both had a deep love of this song. We kind of looked at each other like could we possibly and...

BLOCK: Turned it into a sad snoozer?

(LAUGHTER)

ROCHE: Yeah. Is there any way that we could find a sad snoozer in that song? And sure enough, we did.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL YOUR GIRLFRIEND")

ROCHE: (Singing) And you tell her that the only way her heart will mend is when she learns to love again. And it won't make sense right now, but you're still her friend. And then you let her down easy...

BLOCK: You were saying you'd never heard somebody express quite that emotion in a song.

ROCHE: Yeah. I've never heard somebody say, like, look, call your girlfriend, tell them we're going to be together now and just tell her it's fine. You know, I thought it was a quite direct and interesting approach. Although, I'm not sure how well it would work in real life, but I was smitten with the idea of the song saying that.

BLOCK: Tell her it's not her fault.

ROCHE: Yes, tell her it's not her fault. She'll be fine. That's fine.

BLOCK: Yeah. I'm sure she'll love that. I'm talking with Lucy Wainwright Roche. You know, I was thinking, Lucy, as I was getting ready to talk to you the first time I met you in a song was in a song that your dad wrote about you when you were a baby.

ROCHE: Oh, yeah, "Screaming Issue," right?

BLOCK: "Screaming Issue."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCREAMING ISSUE")

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT: (Singing) You have Ludwig van Beethoven and...

ROCHE: "Screaming Issue" was written by my dad and my Aunt Terry, written, I think, New Year's Eve right after I'd been born. I was born December 16. And I was just a horrible baby that screamed constantly for a while. And so that they were up with a screaming baby and they wrote that song.

BLOCK: But it turned into this lovely, beautiful, beautiful lullaby.

ROCHE: It is a really beautiful song. It is. As a kid, I really didn't like it because people would always sing it to me. Like once I had a math teacher that would sing it to me and point out that each of the notes in the song had the same length, and he thought that was really interesting.

BLOCK: And you really didn't want to hear about it.

ROCHE: No. I was just horrified. But now I really like that song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCREAMING ISSUE")

WAINWRIGHT: (Singing) Lucy, when I hear you cry, I don't know what I can do...

BLOCK: If I have this right, your dad wasn't part of your life from a pretty early age.

ROCHE: Well, he was a part of my life but my parents split up when I was about two, and he lived in England part of the time. We definitely didn't spend large amounts of time together, and so that's been really interesting to tour with him as an adult. I think it's a thing that people who don't spend a lot of time with a parent as a kid, you rarely get to make it up. And we have in a way. So, that's been a really interesting chapter for us, I think.

BLOCK: That's Lucy Wainwright Roche. Her new album is "There's a Last Time for Everything." Lucy, thanks so much.

ROCHE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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