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Roches Regroup After Decade Apart

Of the Oakland Press

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The Roches didn’t plan to take a decade off as a band. And the youngest Roche, Suzzy, is still a bit surprised that she and sisters Maggie and Terre spent as much time apart as they did before the recent release of “Moonswept,” the trio’s first new album in 12 years.

“Our father died over 10 years ago,” Suzzy Roche, 50, explains,“and right after that I think we thought, ‘Oh, let’s take six months off,’ and that turned into 10 years.”

And, Roche adds, the break wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Looking back on it,” she says, “we all needed to do things on our own — which we did. It was an incredibly busy period. I did four records and also toured all over the place with the Wooster Group, a theater group here in New York. Terre did a solo record and was teaching and studying music.

“And Maggie did ... unspeakable things,” she says with a laugh. “You’ll never get a word out of her!”

The time off brought a temporary end to what had been one of the strongest cult careers in pop music, a two-decadeplus span during which the New Jerseyraised Roches won a fiercely loyal following for their idiosyncratic and occasionally irreverent songs, all laced with distinctive three-part sibling harmonies.

The trio actually started as a duo of Maggie (who was born in Detroit but moved when she was young) and Terre, who got their big break singing on Paul Simon’s 1973 album “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.” They recorded one album, 1975’s “Seductive Reasoning” (on which Simon guested), before Suzzy joined the group. Their first trio album, “The Roches” in 1979, was produced by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp.

They recorded 10 albums up through 1995, including the holiday set “We Three Kings” and a children’s album, “Will You Be My Friend?” Ironically, fellow singersongwriter Phoebe Snow had the biggest hit with any Roches song when she recorded “The Married Men” in 1978.

“We’ve never been successful enough to breathe easy for a minute,” Suzzy notes, “and, yet, we’re always just successful enough to. ... It’s hard to turn away, you know?

“One thing about it is we have had incredible creative freedom because we don’t have one particular form. Our community is just the three of us. That can be very isolating, but at the same time it’s liberating because you’re not constrained by the ‘rules’ of some scene you’re part of.

“There’s no safety net in it at all. You’re constantly making something out of nothing.”

The Roches came together again in 2004, at a campaign benefit for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.

“We just sort of had a good time,” Suzzy recalls, “so we decided to do some more gigs.

“Then our agent said, ‘Listen, you should really have a new record,’ and we all groaned. We just said, ‘Let’s see what happens if we get together and try to write things.’ ”

The goal for “Moonswept,” she explains, was to “make it a group effort so that it really had a Roches feel. We’d all done solo projects; we didn’t want this one to be just solo projects on a record together. So we deliberately tried to cross-pollinate.”

Suzzy and Terre wrote three of the album’s 14 songs together, and Maggie and Terre collaborated on another. Suzzy and Terre wrote individual songs as well, and they also received contributions from New York street poet Paranoid Larry and from Lucy Wainwright Roche, Suzzy’s 25-year-old daughter with Loudon Wainwright III.

The creative process was grueling, however. “Our songs are oddly structured and the music is generally more sophisticated than a lot of other singer-songwriters,” Suzzy explains. “Then, of course, with the arranging of everything, that’s where the real nitty gritty Roches thing comes out — figuring out harmonies and guitar and keyboard parts.

“I don’t know why it’s so diffi cult to accomplish. I think it’s because we do go note-by-note and everybody has a big opinion about what note they’re gonna sing. Kind of where we work out our relationships is in those three-part chords.And those are some pretty deep relationships ...”

The question now, of course, is, will the Roches’ performing relationship continue? Suzzy’s quick answer is, “I have no idea,” which she says has more to do with the rigors of touring than anything else.

But, she acknowledges, getting back in front of audiences has reminded her and her sisters of what they’ve missed during the past 10 years.

“The people who come out to see us, they’ve really been affected by the music for a long time,” she notes. “You can forget about that, because as a writer you’re sitting at a desk and it doesn’t feel like anyone else is there.

“Then you go out and play and there’s people from so many different kinds of places who have had this experience with these song that you’ve long since let go of. It’s a surprise at the end of it, when you actually see that there are people there.”

The Roches perform at 8 p.m. Thursday (March 29th) at The Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $15. Call (734) 761-1451 or visit www.theark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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