Ahead of her forthcoming summer gigs in the UK, GrapevineLIVE had a chat with Suzanne Vega in New York. It has been seven years since Vega released any new work so we talked about the new album, American humour, and why she has a soft spot for the London School of Economics.
So, the obvious question to start with was what has she been doing all this time. “I’ve been creating my own record company, re-recording my back catalogue and taking time to write.”
When asked what prompted her to start her own record company, she laughed as she replied frankly: “Well, being dropped by my label had something to do with it!” Her first project with her own label was recording her back catalogue. The “Close Up” series worked out well and sold, so the structure was in place for a new recording, and “Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles” was born.
Released in February 2014 it is classic Vega – the story teller and word-smith. Although she would not describe herself as a confessional singer, she weaves words that make you listen, that make you think. “…such expensive innocence, never knowing any cost.” from Fool’s Complaint for example.
A favourite with the fans at gigs is the song “I Never Wear White” which I put to her, excusing the pun, is a very dark song. “Yes, it is dark yet some American audiences find it funny.” I suggested that this might be because generally speaking irony can be lost on Americans. “Possibly, “ she laughed, “but that is a generalisation. My American husband wields irony like a weapon!”
When asked how she felt about being described as a vanguard of a new generation of female singer songwriters she replied: “I have mixed feelings about that. Generally I don’t mind. I write, it is what I do. But even now we have to work hard to highlight the work of female singer songwriters. In any list of the top 100 singer songwriters, there are still very few women.”
The three shows in the UK will doubtless feature tracks from the new album but I was curious as to whether we would hear old favourites such as “Luca” or “Tom’s Diner”. “Yes, I never tire of playing those. It is how we end our shows with people dancing in the aisles. Ironically Tom’s Diner, which was a small song about alienation, has become a very big song that brings everyone together.”
No stranger to playing in the UK, I asked if she noticed any difference between UK audiences and other countries. “Oh yes, UK audiences like to be talked to, they love to be told a story. The more detail the better and the closer to London the less you get away with!”
Suzanne has been a judge on the Independent Music Awards so I asked what she looked for in other musicians. “Sincerity… I guess. People without a private agenda – I don’t like propoganda. And of course there is the visceral, do I like it?”
In her career to date she has played a wide variety of venues. I asked whether she had a preference for large or small intimate venues. “Well, big venues mean you have been successful. The Royal Albert Hall was amazing, but I played my first ever UK gig at the London School of Economics to about 300 people. That venue will always be special to me.”
Our time together was short but the conversation was easy and I suggested that she seemed to be a very relaxed person. “No, that’s not me, I am not relaxed, just ask my husband!”
So if you were not a musician what would you be, I asked. “A librarian or a writer maybe, I love to read. I love biographies, I am fascinated to learn about other people’s lives and what they go through – I currently have a thing about Charlie Chaplin.”
My final question was a personal curiosity. When it comes to Suzanne Vega on social media, is that you or a marketing team at the keyboard? “No, that is me. Which is why on Facebook you’ll find some days I just have nothing to say so I don’t bother.”
Suzanne Vega plays three dates in the UK, you can catch her at:
- Cheltenham Town Hall on Monday 30th June
- Cambridge Corn Exchange on Wednesday 2nd July and
- Poole Lighthouse on Thursday 3rd July