When Lucy Wainwright Roche lived in Durham in 2003, she was a 22-year-old recent Oberlin College graduate looking to start her post-graduate life in a new city. Lured by a wide range of grad schools and a region that seemed culturally rich but affordable for someone in her position, she headed South with her boyfriend. Roche found a job teaching an after-school program and a house on University Drive.
"I was really focused on my life there, enjoying my life living there," remembers Roche. "It was the first place that we'd gone outside of school as real adults, with the adults in quotation marks."
Part of her new life in Durham stemmed from being a few hours removed from her famous family's legacy in New York: Her father is folk singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright; her mother is Suzzy Roche, of '70s vocal trio The Roches; and her brother is the young troubadour Rufus Wainwright. Though she spent a portion of her teenage years touring with her parents, Roche was the family member who was never destined for a career in music. Or so it seemed.
"No one in our family has a real job, a 9 to 5 job," she says, laughing. Roche rarely played guitar or thought about making music in Durham. "So, when I got a job teaching, they were like, 'What is that?' I was the real rebel by not having a music career."
But Roche's romance in Durham ended, and she headed to New York. She found another teaching job and enrolled in grad school. In the summer of 2005, when she was between school sessions, her brother, Rufus, invited her on the road to sing back-up vocals. On stage for those shows, Roche realized she hadn't escaped the music business as cleanly as she'd imagined. She taught for another year, but started to take time off to work on her songs. In 2006, she made her getaway, and her career has accelerated steadily since. Two EPs—last year's 8 Songs and this year's 8 More—reveal a writer using imaginative, evocative imagery and a round, pure voice. She's toured with her mother, father and brother, which allows her to spend more time with them than in recent years: "It's been good for family relations."
Later this summer, Roche will spend two weeks on the road with Philadelphia songwriter Amos Lee. First, she'll play Broad Street Café Friday, June 20. It's only her third trip to Durham since leaving in 2004 after the relationship that brought her here ended. Listen for "University Drive," the song that stemmed from the move back north.