Music

Songs in Praise of Women, Without Apology

Singer-songwriters Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche on writing music in this strange moment.

Two white women look directly into the camera.
Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche. Shervin Lainez

On this week’s episode of Working, June Thomas spoke with mother-daughter musical duo Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche about their new album I Can Still Hear You. They discussed recording music during a pandemic, what it’s like to collaborate on art with close family members, and their different processes for writing songs. This partial transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

June Thomas: I was a big fan of The Roches, and there was a particular style: Often the first time you would listen to [a song], it seems kind of silly. Not always, but often. Then you would realize, “Wow, actually, this is really profound.” On the new album, “Swan (Duck) Song” reminded me of that tone. Starting with these sort of joke-y lines, and then suddenly you’re listening to the lyrics and realizing, “No, this really is a song that has profound meaning.” Can you explain where that song came from, and how it evolved?

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Suzzy Roche: I was thinking about writing a swan song for myself because I’m old. I was thinking, “Well, this is probably it for me.” That was just a little idea that kept coming to me. I didn’t do anything about it, but one day I sat down and that song just kind of plopped out, like when a cat throws up. Have you ever seen a cat throwing up?

All too often, yes.

Suzzy Roche: [The cat] looks at it like, “Whoa, what’s that?” As if the cat didn’t do it. Then I realized it wasn’t really a swan song. It was a duck song.

Can you talk about the meaning of that song for you?

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Suzzy Roche: Well, I think what it wound up meaning is that there is so much loss—loss of identity—as you go through life. You think you’re someone, and then things change after going along the same way forever. Then you change into something, and it doesn’t feel so good, but you have to go through that. Then the next thing you know, you change into something else. I think that’s really true. It happens to be very relevant also right now with the pandemic, because nobody knows what’s going to happen, and it doesn’t feel OK a lot of the time.

There is a traditional Irish song on the new album that The Roches used to perform, “Factory Girl.” Why did you want to revisit that particular song?

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Lucy Wainwright Roche: I personally grew up listening to The Roches sing that song on the road, and I always loved it. I love a lot of those traditional songs, but “Factory Girl” stands out because it’s very hard to find those traditional songs where the woman in the story triumphs. Oftentimes, they meet a very tragic end or are terribly abused in some way. That’s one of the things about “Factory Girl” that’s so great: The female character in it is powerful and also in control in the story. That’s a reason why that song, at this moment, is especially appealing. Plus, it’s just a beautiful song. I’ve known it for my whole life, so I am very into it. I love it.

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Suzzy Roche: One of the themes in this record is, I think, a reaction to the whole #MeToo movement. I shouldn’t speak for Lucy, but I think both of us have been very affected by that. I wanted to have a lot of songs that were in praise of women, without apology. My sister Maggie died on the night of the inauguration of Donald Trump. To me, that was like a starting point of this record. The constant abuse, the disgusting comments, and that leading into Harvey Weinstein and all of it. It was like everything that I grew up with, the changes that occurred in my lifetime, seemed to be wiped away in one fell swoop. So I got mad.

To listen to the full interview with Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche, subscribe to Working on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or listen below.

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