It’s been 23 years since Suzanne Vega released Solitude Standing, the album that simultaneously launched her career and went on to become her best-selling work to date. In the wake of Solitude’s breakaway hits—namely “Luka” and the oft reworked “Tom’s Diner”—Vega continued writing, recording, and touring under the A&M label through 2001, then jumped ship in 2007 to release her most recent collection of new material, Beauty & Crime, on Capitol’s Blue Note. Today, Vega’s a proudly independent woman, having just opened her own Amanuensis Productions label and released her first indie record, Love Songs. The collection, a reworking of some of Vega’s most beloved tales about love and heartache, finds the singer/songwriter at her most minimalist, and perhaps most genuine.
“I’m very curious to see how people will respond to the recordings,” said Vega via phone just days before the official release of Love Songs. “Are people going to say, ‘Ugh, they’re so plain!’? They’re really unadorned and don’t have all the production. … [But] I also didn’t want the album to have the aesthetic of sitting in your room listening to a bunch of demos that are kind of half-baked. I wanted it to have a finished feeling, but still be kind of intimate, and you have to draw a pretty fine line there.”
As the first indie release in Vega’s nearly 30-year-long career, Love Songs points not only to a personal shift, but to a change in the music industry that many have long purported. In conversation, Vega spoke candidly about the move away from her major label roots. “Before, I was always very proud of having a major-label deal,” she said. “I really enjoyed the process. I liked the machinery of it—I liked presenting it to the record company presidents and having them involved in presenting it to the world. But these days, it’s not that kind of atmosphere anymore. This is an experiment for me, and I guess I’ll figure out when it comes time to do a new album. I figure me re-recording my catalogue and presenting it to my audience is risky, but it’s not that risky. I know from doing shows all these years that people like these particular songs and many of them would probably welcome a cryptical quoting. A new project is something else entirely. I would have to figure out how much budget, what type of record, how to promote it; all of that is different now.”
Industry evolution aside, Vega has already lined up three follow-up albums for Love Songs, all featuring back catalogue material re-recorded and recompiled by subject matter. “The second one is called People, Places and Things, and that will have ‘Tom’s Diner’ and ‘Luca’ and ‘New York Is a Woman’ and ‘Liverpool’ and ‘Iron Bound’—a lot of songs that people know. The third CD is going to be called States of Being, which includes songs like ‘Cracking’ and ‘Blood Makes Noise.’ Then the last one is going to be called Songs of Family,” she explained.
In addition, it’s her recent vocal work on the 2009 Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse release, Dark Night of the Soul, which has garnered Vega some extra attention from some unlikely sources. (Think director David Lynch and alt-rocker Mark Linkous, whom Vega describes as “a very interesting, very shy, very talented guy.”)
“The reason I think I’ve lasted in this industry for so long is that everything I’ve done has been based on standing on a stage and singing songs to people in an audience,” she explained. “It can be a small audience, it can be a larger audience, but it all really comes down to that. You have to know how to perform; you have to know how to write something with your point of view. Don’t try and copy someone else and don’t try to write something you think will be a hit, but if you feel the genuine need to write something, write it as truthfully as you can.”
Arts & Lectures presents Suzanne Vega in concert at UCSB’s Campbell Hall this Thursday, February 18, at 8 p.m. Call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for tickets.