Photo: Ally Norton / Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Lucy Wainwright Roche Contemplates Heart’s Hard Lessons With “Soft Line” (premiere + interview)

Folkie Lucy Wainwright Roche's latest single "Soft Line" further establishes her singular voice, stately songwriting.

Lucy Wainwright Roche‘s new single and video, “Soft Line” is the latest culled from her new LP, Little Beast, which will arrive September 28. The song’s delicate acoustic guitar lines and her similarly delicate whisper of a vocal performance offer the listener a sense of resolve rather than resignation, a sense of escape from the kind of pain that can feel inescapable. The world may long ago have had enough of silly love songs, but it certainly hasn’t had enough of this kind, the ones that reach inside us and serve to remind that sometimes there’s nothing heavier than the moment before the final letting go. (Some surprise guests turn up in the video, offering some sense of levity.)

Wainwright Roche‘s lineage ties her to two of America’s first families of music: the Roches and the Wainwrights. Her mom is the inestimable Suzzy Roche, her dad Loudon Wainwright III, the guy who corned the niche on dead animal songs (“Dead Skunk”) early in his career, then spent the next 40-plus years making us laugh and cry with portraits of his own life that were portraits of our own. Carrying the traditions of her parents with her, she also continues a line that includes her half-siblings Martha and Rufus Wainwright. The names are shared but her talent, she has demonstrated more than amply, is her own.

Thank you for sharing “Soft Line” with us. It’s such a beautiful song. Do you remember where/when it started?

I started writing “Soft Line” a couple of years ago. If I remember correctly, the first thing I had was the melody of the verse and a small piece of the lyrics. I was at home in Brooklyn when I was first writing it but I finished the song while I was out on tour. It took a long time to finish.

It seems like it would be easy to over-emote with a song like this but you take the quieter route here, understating the emotions. Can you say something about your vocal performance/the quiet nature of the tune?

Although I’m a big fan of large scale emoting, cut to me crying in the car while listening to musicals, my own songs and my reimagining of other people’s songs have always tended to be on the quieter side. I’m a sucker for a sad song and I feel like sometimes the saddest things are the understated and the lonely.

You have some friends who drop in for the video.

The video is a little glimpse inside the days we spent in the studio and a little hello to some of the great musicians that played on the album. It was an honor to have Indigo Girls come in and participate. Amy Ray came in to sing on one song, Emily Saliers came to play the guitar on “Soft Line.” They are two of the loveliest presences in my life.

Tyler Osmond and Claire Indie also appear in the video. Tyler played some of the bass on the album and Claire played the cello on several songs. I hadn’t worked with either of them before but they were delightful. I think that comes across in the video: they are the cute people standing with tea cups!

In addition to other guests in the video, you see some shots of me singing as well as some of Jordan Brooke Hamlin playing the piano. Jordan produced the entire album and the little bits of her playing the piano in the video really don’t do her work on this song justice. I think Jordan connected early on to this song and her imagining of it really brought it to life in a way that I never would’ve conceived of on my own. Left to my own devices I don’t think this track would’ve become as compelling as I think it is. Jordan really gives it a whole other life that I love so much.

I really loved 2013’s There’s a Last Time for Everything. How do you see this new album as different/similar from/to that?

There’s a Last Time for Everything was also produced by Jordan Brooke Hamlin and also made in Nashville. Other than those two things, everything about the process of making Little Beast was very different. The 2013 release we made that one in about eight days. So, very quickly. Little Beast was made in fits and starts over the past few years during different trips I made to Nashville. Jordan and I worked largely alone at her studio MOXE.

We spent many late nights and even some very early mornings diving into the songs (we once did a vocal take at 5:30 am). The time we took this time around really allowed us to go deeply into the songs in a way that we hadn’t gotten to previously and I think the arrangements reflect that. I also think that the writing on this album is different than some of my earlier songs. I allowed myself to say things I may have backed away from in the past to a certain extent and when it came time to sing the vocals, Jordan really encouraged me to lean into my singing which created some subtle differences in the tone of the record.

I’d hate to think about writing songs and writing songs about specific people because, in the worst case scenario, the song takes flight and for 10-20-40-50 years I’d have to sing about an old flame or someone who smashed my heart in a billion pieces. How do you separate the specific experience from the art that might come from it?

Yes, it’s certainly a weird feeling to take your personal experiences and spin them into something that goes out into the world. It’s funny, though, I find that for the most part once I write and record a song, it feels very distant from me personally. There were several songs on this recording that felt that way even before we were done recording. It’s not a feeling of alienation from them as much as a distance and almost a forgetting of how they were written. At the same time I feel that this album is probably my most personal group of songs so far. It’s a funny combo of feelings, maybe my human brain need to separate from the work in order to stand how vulnerable it is to let people hear them. This sounds like a therapy session!

Is there a subject you haven’t written about yet that you’ve been dying to tackle?

I’ve been incredibly lucky in my career to be supported by many other wonderful and generous musicians. I’ve opened for many, many people and I’ve made friends all over the touring circuit. The gratitude I feel for those relationships and the support I’ve received from fellow musicians is something I’ve always wanted to write about. So far though, I haven’t been able to! I guess it’s a very deep connection to know people on the road, but also a difficult one to pinpoint and sum up in a song.