Lexie Roth on music, family, and loss

Joel W Henderson

On her web page on Kickstarter.com, a site devoted to helping artists like herself raise funds for projects, Lexie Roth describes her new CD: “This project was inspired by the amazing, influential people that have graced my life. Whether it be people I have lost way too soon or living other places in the world, they live on through my words.”

Ms. Roth has been both blessed with influential, inspiring people in her young life and devastated by tragedy, and both are evident in her work.

The 24-year-old singer/songwriter, who now splits her time between Martha’s Vineyard and Brooklyn, was raised in an artistic household where music reigned supreme. Her father is legendary guitarist Arlen Roth, who has been dubbed both “The Master of the Telecaster,” and as the “King of All Guitar Teachers.” Mr. Roth has recorded 11 albums and, among many others, has played with Bob Dylan, John Prine, Simon and Garfunkel, and Phoebe Snow.

Ms. Roth’s grandfather, Al Ross, who died two weeks ago at the age of 100, was a long-time cartoonist for The New Yorker. Her mother, Deborah, was an accomplished artist, and her sister, Gillian, a successful actress and musician. When Lexie was 10 years old, her mother and sister were killed in a car accident just days after Gillian had recorded the theme song for a Nickelodeon show that she was slated to star in.

Ms. Roth said that the tragedy brought her much closer to her father. “We made a deal,” she said. “Neither of us wants to go on, but we have to for each other.”

Although she often appears on stage with her father, Ms. Roth, who started playing in bands in the fifth grade, has enjoyed a successful career on her own. She started out playing bass, but soon Ms. Roth, whose father was an originator of video music instruction, switched to guitar, and she has earned acclaim for both her playing and her vocals. She recorded her first CD when she was 16, and she has been gigging on her own and with her father since high school.

The musical Roths have collaborated on several projects. Mr. Roth contributed guitar tracks to both of Ms. Roth’s albums, and her vocals have appeared on a number of her father’s recordings.

One of the highlights of Ms. Roth’s career was performing, along with her father, at one of Levon Helm’s legendary Midnight Rambles, at The Band drummer’s barn in Woodstock, N.Y. “He ends the show with a hoe down in the studio barn, and he’s just the sweetest guy on the planet,” she said. She and Mr. Helm’s daughter Amy sang a duet on Mr. Roth’s CD Toolin’ Around Woodstock, which features Mr. Helm.

Recently, Ms. Roth took part in two projects that she is very excited about. One of the songs from her new CD is featured in a film to be released on April 17, called “Maria My Love.” Ms. Roth met the film’s writer and director, Jasmine McGlade Chazelle, while on the Vineyard.

Ms. Roth also contributed her vocal talents to a yet-to-be-released Les Paul tribute album. She is featured along with the likes of Keith Richards, Slash, and Steve Miller.

Ms. Roth has been a part-time Vineyarder since she was a kid. Her family rented a house in Aquinnah for many summers before buying a place there in 1999. She has become part of the Island’s musical family, which includes other talented young musicians such as Willy Mason and his brother Sam Mason and Nina Violet and her sister Marciana Jones.

In 2009, after a year at Hampshire College, another year in Northampton, and an extended stay in Italy where she learned to make olive oil, Ms. Roth briefly became a full-time Vineyarder. She was among a group of young musicians who performed regularly at Che’s Lounge and the Chilmark Community Center. She participated in regular musical gatherings at the home of folk singer Jemima James, mother of the Mason brothers. “We’d go and cook dinner and pass around the guitar,” Ms. Roth said.

She worked as a private chef, often performing at her client’s dinner parties. “I’m passionate about food the way I’m passionate about music.”

Many of those musical friends migrated to Brooklyn around the same time as Ms. Roth did. “I’m living in Brooklyn surrounded by all of my best friends from all parts of my life – from Hampshire, from middle school. We [the Vineyarders] are just constantly all together.”

The singer/songwriter and skilled guitarist recorded her upcoming album in 2009, shortly after returning from Italy. Her varied experiences over the previous few years inform her songwriting. “It covers the span of my time in Italy, Northampton, and the Vineyard,” she said of the album. “It really represents a full train of thought, even though it covers different events.”

Though loss and heartache inform much of the material on her latest CD, it’s not all melancholy. With her clear, strong voice she sings of love and heartbreak, desperation and hope. The lineup includes ballads, rock, and one country-influenced song.

“It’s an all Vineyard cast on the album,” she said. Nina Violet plays bass, Sam Mason plays drums, and Matthew Cullen engineered and plays guitar.

She says she hopes to raise enough money through Kickstarter to release her album on both CD and vinyl. “I personally love albums. The whole experience of playing a record in the order it was intended, holding it, looking at the art work. I feel like you’re experiencing it in a little more organic way.”

Kickstarter offers an all or nothing proposition. If Ms. Roth doesn’t meet her target of $5,000 raised by April 12, her benefactors will not be charged for their pledges and she gets nothing. Right now she’s a little over half way to her goal.

Still, she already has an album release show scheduled for April 14, at the Rockwood Music Hall on New York’s Lower East Side. She is also scheduled to appear with her father at a few upcoming dates, including the Montauk Music Festival in May.

Ms. Roth has previously played at various incarnations of the former Hot Tin Roof (currently Nectar’s) and hopes to return to that stage this summer and make other Island appearances as well.

“Martha’s Vineyard is the most important place for me,” she said. “I just breathe a sigh of relief when I’m there.”

For more information or to donate, visit kickstarter.com and search Lexie Roth.