Meghan La Roque is a gypsy. She doesn't pester American tourists in Paris for pocket change, but the singer-songwriter has moved 12 times in the past year alone, including a stint in an L.A. office building that sounds a lot like squatting.
"It was an old, well-known Hollywood building, which will remain nameless for a few more years," she says. "I paid very cheap rent and called it my "creative space.' I wasn't supposed to sleep there, but you do what you have do to survive while fighting the good fight."
With no shower, La Roque freshened up at a nearby gym. "It gave me an excuse to keep in shape, for sure. I lived out of a duffel and wore flip-flops. I still do from time to time. That's the life I chose."
La Roque is one of those who sung before she could speak. She won a modest songwriting competition at age 16 at a coffee shop in Martha's Vineyard, the gazillionaire enclave where she grew up (she's no trustafarian-her gramma bought property there long before James Taylor Carly Simon moved in).
"It was similar to a Java Joe's or a Lestat's," she says of the joint of her first anointment. "I had been playing guitar for about three months. It was actually an instrumental-your standard angst teen, girly A-minor E-minor deal-but I was getting fancy with the hammer-ons.
"I won $50!"
She should've saved it. She graduated college at age 21 with a degree in theater and a minor in music, and is still paying off the loans. After school, she drove to San Diego with a friend and moved into a two-bedroom apartment with three others. It wasn't long before they got kicked out.
Essentially homeless, she crashed on the floor of a stranger's apartment for a month. That stranger, now a good friend, introduced her to Java Joe Flammini, who owned a coffee shop in Ocean Beach where Jason Mraz was making a name for himself. Flammini hired her as a waitress.
"I had no idea about Joe's history," she says. "[It was] very serendipitous."
It was there she saw Mraz blow up. It was there she fell in love with San Diego's acoustic scene. She released a self-titled disc in 2003, and sent a copy to CityBeat. We were indifferent. The voice and instrumental chops were great, but it was standard girl-with-voice-has-guitar stuff.
Two weeks ago, she sent us her new EP, Drunk in a Kiss.
The standard girl has grown up on Drunk, developed a vocal prowess like a nascent P.J. Harvey. She's learned how to prowl a song, peck at a melody, restrain then attack. It's got moxie, a palpable sense of cool.
Maybe the leap forward can be credited to Joe's, where she says she learned how to "work a room." Maybe it's gleaned from her pappy, a former priest who, she explains, "now has piercings... [but] still tells the best stories and always keeps it real and honest." Maybe it was her producer, David Ybarra of Modern Bakery Productions, who La Roque is quick to credit.
Or maybe it's just her, two years later. There's still room for improvement, and maybe she'll get it at "Acoustic on the Rocks," a showcase of San Diego musicians she's spearheading at L.A. club Highland Grounds.
"We all know the San Diego scene kicks butt," says Laroque, who now averages five days a week in Hollywood and two in Ocean Beach. "The line-ups [at "Acoustic on the Rocks'] are awesome and the L.A. people are digging it. I mean, why wouldn't they?"
No reason. Same goes for Drunk in a Kiss.BMeghan LaRoque holds a CD-release party for Drunk in a Kiss at Twigg's, 8 p.m. on Feb. 6. $8. 619-296-0616.