Musician Lucy Wainwright Roche reflects on the family business and her place in it, and plays some of her most beloved songs.

Wheat Field

Lucy Wainwright Roche

MUSICIAN

2020

LUCY WAINWRIGHT ROCHE / MUSIC / SONGWRITING / LITTLE BEAST / SUZZY ROCHE / LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III / MARTHA WAINWRIGHT / RUFUS WAINWRIGHT / ROBYN / OBERLIN COLLEGE / BANK STREET COLLEGE OF EDUCATION / EMINEM

Did Lucy Wainwright Roche have a choice?

Roche was born in New York City to Suzzy Roche—a member of the folk sibling trio The Roches—and Grammy-winning folk songwriter Loudon Wainwright III. Her parents split when she was 2, but music was still deeply ingrained in her life, if not omnipresent—Roche spent a childhood accompanying her mom as she recorded and toured, and could often be found backstage at clubs. Meanwhile, her dad documented her in song in the 1985 lullaby “Screaming Issue” … which people would then perpetually sing to her.

As Roche told Montreal Gazette, “Music was just everywhere: coming home from school, rehearsing; on weekends we would go do shows. … In this business, kids are around (music) and learn to be around it. It’s all they’ve known. I had no interest in being a musician because I was surrounded by them. It seemed like a terrible plan.”

After high school she left New York City for Oberlin College in Ohio, where she earned her bachelor’s in creative writing. When she made it back to Manhattan, she enrolled at the Bank Street College of Education, and got a job teaching elementary school.

Hers was a rebellion in reverse—but eventually, the music lured her back in. Having dabbled in songwriting as a teen before swearing it off, she began again in 2005, and was soon touring with her brother, Rufus Wainwright, as a backup vocalist. She released her first EP in 2007, and followed it with her first full-length, Lucy, in 2010. In the years since, she has collaborated with her mother on two albums; her half-sister, Martha Wainwright, on one; and has released two more of her own. (Aside: For an explainer on the Roche/Wainwright family, click here—with advance apologies for the broken image links.)

Despite her family’s ubiquitous presence in music, her output stands apart. Often paired only with an acoustic guitar playing brilliant, sparse notes, her haunting voice tells of broken love, strife, life in a divided country. Stripped down to the elemental essentials, the listener is intimately and immediately connected to the songwriter.

When it comes to a lineage like Roche’s, the music press likes to toss around terms like “inevitable,” “destiny,” “fate.”

Did Lucy Wainwright Roche have a choice?

The convenient narrative is that, no, she did not.

But she did.

And today, we’re all the better for that decision.

As a complement to this episode of Design Matters With Debbie Millman, here is a curated playlist of some of our favorite Roche tracks.

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Lucy Wainwright Roche: The Design Matters Playlist

Quit With Me

Bridge

Call Your Girlfriend

A Quiet Line

Snare Drum

Soft Line

Starting Square

America

Open Season

Heroin


 

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman