Chatting with Suzzy Roche of The Roches
by Gregg Shapiro
It's been almost a dozen years since The Roches (sisters Maggie, Terre and Suzzy) released a new CD as a trio, but their new album Moonswept (on 429) made the wait worthwhile. Since they first introduced themselves in song, on "We" from their eponymous 1979 debut disc, The Roches have provided voices of reason, rhyme and amusement. Their gorgeous harmonies, distinctive sense of humor, and knack for songwriting helped establish their devoted following. Moonswept easily ranks among their best work. Youngest sister Suzzy graciously took time out of her schedule to answer some questions about the new disc.
Gregg Shapiro: I just finished reading the essay compilation Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, about the relationships between gay men and straight women. As someone who was a theater major in college, do you qualify as one of the title girls?
Suzzy Roche: Yes, you hit the nail right on the head! I was just saying the other day that all of my friends are gay!
The English writer Sukie De La Croix told me about a cover of [Roches song] "The Married Men" by a gay man named Kinny Gardner.
He's not the only person in England who's done a cover of "The Married Men." There's another guy named Julian Dawson who did a cover of it. I think it's great, I like all the gender mixing. I think that's a good sign. I think there's a Swedish version of it. People have covered things in different languages. It's always fun to have them in different languages.
Performing as a trio, how does song selection and the songwriting process work?
We've done a lot of solo projects, each of us. Especially with this particular record, we wanted to do a lot of co-writing, so that the voice of the group came out, as opposed to individual voices. We did a lot of bringing in lyrics and switching off to each other, so that it would sort of distance ourselves from the individual.
The Roches have a reputation for humor.
It seems like an obvious thing to want to include, but it's dangerous, because it tends to make you into a sort of novelty act. So that's a problem. I think things are funny and sad at the same time, so there's something about staying in-between the balance of those two things.
Moonswept includes two references to 9/11, in the songs "Only You Know How" and "Sept. 11th at the Shambhala Center."
Terre [Roche] wrote both those songs. Living in New York, there is no way that is not going to work its way into your work. Because it's just something that's so in-your-face everyday, even if you're not consciously thinking about it. Every time you get on the subway, you're wondering. It was such a huge event for everyone in the world, but if you happened to be here and watch it happening, it's just like being bombed. I think it changed all of the people in New York. It was a traumatic thing for everybody.
The moon is also a recurring theme, in the title track "Moonswept," and in "Stop Performing."
The moon is such a great person! It's like a friend or something that is out of this world. Sort of a window to something greater and mysterious. I think that the moon keeps coming up because it literally keeps coming up.
I recently interviewed Maria Muldaur, and we talked about the next generation of musicians from great musical families, the incredibly talented offspring who are now making music on their own. As the mother of one such artist, Lucy Wainwright, how does it feel to be part of that family tree?
It's very, very mixed, because I feel that it's a very tough life.
That's almost exactly what Maria said.
Really? Yeah, you have to really, really want to do it. But at the same time, things have changed so drastically with people being in charge of their own music now. In a way, things are more possible for people. But I worry about it. And I also worry about the way artists are sort of isolated from the society now. There is this sort of elitism that goes along with the celebrity culture. You've got do something useful in this world, and you have to keep your eye on that, if you're going to do this for a living.