Notes on a homecoming
Meghan La Roque's new single "Little Island," to be released on iTunes within the week, celebrates the singer/songwriter's return to the Vineyard, her childhood home. She sings, "It takes a little island/ it takes a little snow/ six years and sixteen cities / to find my way home." The singer spent a number of years on the West Coast pursuing her musical dreams, only to find that, as she says in her MySpace page, "The mirage of beauty that I tasted in L.A. has become the treasure under the tree in my backyard here at home."
Ms. La Roque's voice is mellifluous, at times adopting a rich lusty edge. Listening to her often confessional lyrics, one feels like they're receiving sage advice from a trusted friend. Although there's a palpable energy in Ms. La Roque's delivery, her music is alluringly hypnotic.
Photo courtesy of Meghan La Roque
Ms. La Roque is a second generation Islander. Born in Oak Bluffs, she was the only girl in a family of five kids. Her parents founded the New Faith Ministry (which later became the Christian Fellowship of Edgartown) in their living room. Ms. La Roque's father, Bill Nicholson, who was also a carpenter, acted as minister. When Ms. La Roque was nine years old, her mother passed away. "Music was a vehicle for me to deal with that," say says, adding, "I learned to rely on my core."
Winning the role of Annie in a production at the Vineyard Playhouse was an eye-opener for the burgeoning singer. "I was always a very quiet girl," notes Ms. La Roque, "and I remember singing very loud for the audition. It felt comfortable and I realized that this is what felt most natural." Ms. La Roque started writing songs in her teens, switching from the violin to the guitar. At 16, she won a songwriting contest at the Wintertide Coffeehouse, a popular Vineyard Haven venue in the 90s.
At college, Ms. La Roque focused on drama. "I was almost afraid of music. It's more of a true thing. [In theater] I could hide behind a character." After graduating with a degree in theater and a minor in music, she decided to pursue her real passion, recording a demo and then moving to San Diego.
There, Ms. La Roque flourished as a performer. She soon made a name for herself, becoming a fixture at Java Joe's, the San Diego hotbed for singer/songwriters where performers such as Jason Mraz and Jewel honed their talents. "After being shy for so long I really came out of my shell," recalls Ms. La Roque. She also admittedly became ambitious and more aggressive - both in her pursuit of success and in her musical style.
Seeing L.A. as her natural next step, Ms. La Roque began performing in both cities. She started a traveling musical showcase, called "Acoustic on the Rocks," which helped singer/songwriters from both scenes reach a larger audience. Ms. La Roque plans to bring the concept here, and she hopes it will eventually develop into a national tour.
Ms. La Roque's years in L.A. were marked by a whirlwind of writing, playing, and promoting, all balanced precariously against a full-time job and constant moves (she relocated 13 times while in California). She recorded an album, "Drunk in a Kiss," which received local acclaim.
But eventually Ms. La Roque's demanding schedule and disenchantment took their toll. "I stopped playing out live as much and started writing more personal music - mellower stuff," she says. Just when her career was poised to take off, the artist became disillusioned with the Southern Californian music scene. In the end, she says, "I felt like the universe spit me out of L.A."
As she sings in the chorus of "Little Island," Ms. La Roque said "Goodbye to all those city lies" - she returned to Martha's Vineyard. Just days after arriving, she was introduced to local producer Jimmy Parr, a chance meeting that, in combination with other serendipitous events, convinced her that she was exactly where she needed to be.
Soon after her arrival, Ms. La Roque's father died. In dealing with this second tragedy, she found strength in many of the qualities she believes she inherited from her father. "He was really honest - a straight shooter," she says. "He had a really strong work ethic."
Coming back home has helped the singer realize that, "Happiness is not gaining notoriety or accolades from the press. Listening to the breeze and picking up my guitar and having a bout of creativity is true happiness for me."
Since returning, Ms. La Roque has carved a niche for herself in the thriving singer/songwriter scene here, which she describes as a creative swell. "Things are coming together," she says. "I've gotten out of my own way and the forces in the universe are taking care of me."
Ms. La Roque has performed at local venues, including Che's Lounge in Vineyard Haven, and contributed her talents to numerous fundraisers. She's now taking a break to record "Carry Me Home," with Mr. Parr, an album based on the recent eventful years in the singer's life.
Ms. La Roque compares her odyssey to the one immortalized in "The Alchemist," one of her favorite books. The hero of that allegorical novel undertakes a journey that leads him far from home in search of a treasure, only to eventually find it back in his hometown. "I'm in a more peaceful place emotionally than I was out there," she says. "Martha's Vineyard is my roots. I almost can't believe I left it."
Ms. La Roque borrows a lyric by Carly Simon, one of her inspirations, to describe her homecoming: "Shoot the stars off in your own backyard."
Listen to the single "Little Island" on iTunes or at meghanlaroque.com.