Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche: Sad Songs for a Sad Time

For their third collaboration, I Can Still Hear You, the acclaimed mother-daughter combo explores the reality of life in 2020.

Lucy Wainwright Roche and Suzzy Roche (Art: Ron Hart)

For their third collaboration, I Can Still Hear You, Suzzy Roche and her daughter, Lucy Wainwright Roche, explore the reality of life in 2020.

It’s an album that will set your spirit soaring with its combination of clever turns of phrase, intricate harmonies and heartfelt emotion. They began the recording process in Nashville, but after the pandemic hit, they went back to their apartments in New York and isolated. Despite the problems of long distance recording and harmonizing – Suzzy lives in Manhattan, Lucy in Brooklyn – the songs on the record have a warm, lived in feel. The eccentric worldview that made the work of The Roaches so unique is in evidence here.

Even the saddest tunes have a sense of better things to come. Standout tracks – “Swan Duck Song,” a quiet, jazzy song of transformation and mystery, that’s marked by the duo’s otherworldly harmonies and a backdrop of chiming guitars. “Joseph D,” a ballad about spousal abuse, with a subtle blend of organ, piano and muted acoustic guitar adding to the song’s unsettling tension. “I Can Still Hear You,” a look back at a past love affair, full of poignant longing and resignation, buoyed along by minimal piano, gently strummed acoustic guitars and lush intertwining harmonies.

Suzzy spoke about the process of making the album from her Manhattan residence. 

 

 

Why did you choose “I Can Still Hear You” as the title track?

We made the bulk of this record during the shutdown in NYC. We were both isolated for much of the recording process. It was brutal. I was waiting for Lucy’s song. Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible to complete the record without it.  When she told me the title, I said, ‘Well, there’s the title of the record!”  I think maybe she knew that when she wrote it.  Obviously, it speaks to the isolation so many of us were/are feeling during this difficult time.

My sister Maggie (Lucy’s aunt) died on the night Trump was inaugurated. The next day was the Women’s March in Washington.  My mother (Lucy’s grandmother) died four months later. We had the #metoo movement, we watched the world spin crazily into lies and mistrust. Racist remarks became normalized, hate speech run of the mill. Speaking for myself, I’m a middle-aged white lady artist, so what can I do?  Sit in my room and write. I’ve never felt particularly essential, but even less so in the face of all this. After a lifetime of making records, I could make a good argument for laying down my guitar. Still, the nature of creating something out of nothing is that the process happens, no matter what you do, seemingly outside of your control. After I wrote a bunch of songs, I narrowed them down as a general feeling began to emerge. 

 

Why is the album credited to Suzzy & Lucy, when most of the songs are yours?

Lucy has a solo career and typically, when we make records together, we don’t draw from her songs. She uses them for her own recordings. However, on this record she contributed the title track “I Can Still Hear You,” and the song “Get The Better.” It’s our first co-write and both songs are crucial to the record. Aside from the writing, though, the sheer authentic beauty of Lucy’s voice is the driving force of the entire record.

Suzzy Roche & Lucy Wainwright Roche I Can Still Hear You, Story Sound Records 2020

What did Jordan Hamlin bring to the process? Have you worked with her before? What did you do in Nashville, before coming back to NYC and the lockdown? 

We had a little over a week in Nashville with Jordan. It was a lot of fun, and productive, too.  She has a great studio down there, Moxe.  Lucy, Jordan and I laid down a bunch of tracks, mostly playing live together. Jordan is a wonderfully talented musician and we left Nashville with basic tracks we were excited about. We planned to go back to Nashville several times to finish, but, of course, the lockdown happened and everything was cancelled. Lucy and I set up studios in our apartments: Lucy in Brooklyn, me in Manhattan. We received some files from Jordan, but it was hard. Honestly, I thought we weren’t going to be able to complete the project. Eventually, we realized we couldn’t finish the record remotely.  Lucy and I sang the songs in our apartments. I put on a bunch of guitars, and we finished it here in NYC with [producer] Stewart Lerman. He did an amazing job helping us sort it all out. Jordan’s contribution was huge, but alas, we were hampered by the pandemic. The record does have a sonic cohesiveness and I think that’s amazing.  


How did the arrangements get worked out? Do the harmonies come naturally or do you “compose” them?

In this case, we each worked out our harmony parts separately in our bedrooms. Normally, we might sit together and do it. Because of the pandemic, we weren’t supposed to be in the same room with each other, much less singing. Lucy would send her vocals and I would add harmonies, or vice versa. It’s all done by ear. We don’t write it down, but both of us have a long history of thinking in harmonies.

 

VIDEO: Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche “I Can Still Hear You”

How did you pick the cover tunes? How did you discover Connie Converse?

I love including covers on an album. Often, when I hear other people do cover songs, I hear them in an entirely new way. I had more original songs, but it became clear to me, over time, which songs seemed to belong together. This record is unapologetically feminine. I wanted to include Connie Converse, because she is an amazing songwriter and was overlooked, which I believe caused her great pain. I think she knew how good she was, but most of the world didn’t see it.

 

The songs are all a bit dark and sad. Was that influenced by the times or is it a natural tendency?

I think a little of both.  The world is weeping right now. I’m weeping along with it.  

 

How has your music evolved in the past few years?

For me, it’s a continuation of the same thing – singing, playing, performing, writing. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s a lifelong study to write a song, then to sing and play it.  So much is involved, and the way I see it, it’s taken my entire life to make this particular recording. It seems fitting to me that it’s a collaboration with Lucy. She and I grew up together in a way, but I never in a million years thought I’d sing with her. Wonders never cease. Now that I’m older, and this might possibly be my last recording, I never take it for granted.  This is a recording I’m proud of.  

 

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j. poet

j. poet has been writing about music for most of his adult life. He has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, Harp, Paste, Grammy.com, PlanetOut.com, American Profile, Creem, Relix, Downbeat, Folk Roots, New Noise and more national and international publications and websites than he can remember. He wrote most of the Musichound Guide to World Music (Visible Ink, 2000) and had two stories in Best Rock Writing 2014 (That Devil Music). He has interviewed a wide spectrum of artists including Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and Godzilla. He lives in San Francisco. 

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