PUTNEY — Singer-songwriters Lucy Wainwright Roche and Suzzy Roche have devised a special way to celebrate this Mother's Day. They're giving a concert.
“That at least guarantees that we'll be together for the weekend - on stage,” says Wainwright Roche, who is known for her crystal clear voice and straightforward, funny stage presence.
Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche are a mother-daughter duo whose most recent CD, Mud and Apples, was released in 2016. Their previous CD, Fairytale and Myth, was the 2013 winner of the Vox Pop Independent Music Award for best singer-songwriter CD.
On Saturday, May 13, at 7:30 p.m., Next Stage Arts Project presents the return engagement of this special mother-daughter act.
“Mom and I first performed at Next Stage a few years ago,” Wainwright Roche says. “We loved the space and had a really nice show. Since we had not been back in four years, we thought it would be a fine time to return.”
However much they may enjoy it, Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche don't always perform together.
“I mostly perform alone,” Wainwright Roche says. “But, every few months, I take a couple of weekends to tour with my mother, which makes a nice alternative. It's more fun than normal touring. I don't know if I would want to do it all the time, but for a small burst it's great.”
Both women have impressive accomplishments in their own separate careers.
Before establishing herself as a solo artist, Suzzy Roche spent two decades singing alongside her sisters in one of folk music's most celebrated bands, The Roches. In addition to recording numerous albums with The Roches, Suzzy has recorded two solo albums, and an unusual collection of musical prayers, Zero Church (with Maggie Roche), which was developed at the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at Harvard University.
Beyond music, Suzzy has had a rich and varied professional career. She has written two books: a novel, Wayward Saints, and a children's book, Want To Be in a Band? She's performed with the avant-garde theater company The Wooster Group; and has taught performance at both the graduate and undergraduate schools at New York University, as well as at Princeton University in the Atelier Program.
Her daughter, Lucy, is also the child of a singer-songwriter, Loudon Wainwright III, a Grammy Award winner, whose song Screaming Issue is written about Lucy.
Lucy is also the half-sister of singer-songwriters Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright (whose late mother Kate was half of the Canadian folk duo Kate & Anna McGarrigle).
Wainwright Roche ultimately followed in her parents' musical careers, but initially rebelled against the family business by teaching elementary school for several years before getting involved in music.
However, after graduating from Oberlin College, she began singing backup for her brother Rufus, opening for her father Loudon Wainwright III, and touring with Dar Williams, Neko Case, and Amos Lee.
Personal and political
As a solo artist, Wainwright Roche has released two EPs and two studio albums, Lucy (2010) and There's a Last Time for Everything (2013). Wainwright Roche has performed with a number of musicians including the Indigo Girls, Neko Case, and Over the Rhine, and has toured the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
“Touring is a big part of my life,” Wainwright Roche says. “Most of the songs I write are place-based because I tour so much. Other of my songs are about planes and cars, again because I spend such a large amount of my time on the road.”
The subjects of her songs can be both personal and political. “My style pretty much falls into the singer-songwriter genre,” she concedes. NPR has compared Wainwright Roche to Joni Mitchell and Patty Griffin.
Wainwright Roche has written about 30 songs.
“That isn't that many, at least when compared to my parents, who have written an endless number,” she says. “My dad had an especially active career in the 1970s, putting out many records and doing a lot of shows.”
When Wainwright Roche performs solo, she accompanies herself with guitar. When performing with her mother, Suzzy plays both guitar and piano.
Wainwright Roche's music isn't so different from her mother's that they can't work harmoniously as a team. “We turn mom's songs into two-part harmony, and then do the same with mine,” she says. “In concert, we also do covers of songs we both love.”
When Lucy and Suzzy do a cover, however, they often transform it.
“We like to take a song that is usually done as an upbeat number, and 'dirge-ify' it,” Wainwright Roche says. “We play the song incredibly slow and sad. It often works out so well that people who don't know the original can't believe it could ever be done upbeat. Oddly, the words to these upbeat songs are often incredibly sad, which works well with me. I prefer everything to be slightly melancholic.”
Wainwright Roche promises that audiences get a realistic dose of mother-daughter relations in their concerts. The duo talk a lot onstage as they tell stories of their lives.
“I think our performance are quite representative of what our relationship is like, both the good and the bad,” she says. “Audiences wonder what is it like for a mom and her daughter to spend life on the road together. They are curious about things like how things go when sharing a room together weeks on end.”
If there are some generational issues that come between Lucy and Suzzy, mostly they enjoy the same things. “We both love Eminem and enjoy listening to the cast recording of the Broadway musical Hamilton,” Wainwright Roche says. “We agree on enough things to make our life on the road work.”
The one generational thing that does bother Wainwright Roche, however, is that with age, Suzzy's eyesight has become so poor that Lucy is stuck with all the driving for the duo tours. Oh, the heartaches of life on the road!