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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 1, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 5
A true original - Suzanne Vega brings genuine songs, stories to Seattle
Arts & Entertainment
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A true original - Suzanne Vega brings genuine songs, stories to Seattle

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

SUZANNE VEGA
BENAROYA HALL
February 5


They don't make singer-songwriters like they used to. Case in point: Suzanne Vega. The veteran folk-pop artist is someone who writes songs that tell stories about real people. The kind of stories you can insert yourself into, the ones you listen to on buses and trains and that feel as if they were written just for you - and all about you.

Vega's newest album, Close-Up Vol. 4: Songs of Family, is a collection of mostly reworked songs from her back catalog that also includes a few unrecorded tracks penned in her teenage years. The Grammy winner performs live at Benaroya Hall's Nordstrom Recital Hall on February 5 (go to www.seattlesymphony.org/benaroya for ticket information). I spoke with Vega by phone this week and here's what she shared with me inside 'The Music Lounge.'

Albert Rodriguez: For your Seattle performance, will it be an acoustic set or are you playing with a full band?

Suzanne Vega: It's myself and Gerry Leonard on guitar, which is like playing with a full band. He's not just a guitar player, but we get a lot of sound out of what he does. So it's stripped down, but it's still kind of fully produced.

Rodriguez: From tour to tour, do you change the arrangements on the songs so that they sound different?

Vega: It depends. Our tours have been sort of constant and yet we don't hit the same markets. I can't tell you the last time I came through Seattle - I'd have to go back and look at my itineraries. We like to keep it fresh for ourselves, so we change it up from time to time.

Rodriguez: Does the mood or vibe of a city - Seattle is gray, rainy in the winter - ever impact your performances?

Vega: It does, in that the audiences change from city to city and venue to venue. So usually audiences in the bigger cities, people like the edgier material, so we might play a little more of that.

Rodriguez: You co-wrote a play with Duncan Sheik and I'm wondering if that will be revived and taken on the road at some point?

Vega: I've been rewriting the whole play from beginning to end and I'm very close to finishing it. We've got a few more songs to write until I feel like we're done. We're going to probably do a reading or some kind of run somewhere on the West Coast - it might be in L.A., it might be in San Francisco. It's still in the workshop stage, but I'm hoping that it will be finished in the next two years. For me, it's been a labor of love and I'm very excited to see how this new version of it stands up.

Rodriguez: On your latest album, it's the final three tracks ['Brother Mine,' 'Silver Lady,' 'Daddy Is White'] that had been unrecorded up until now?

Vega: Yeah, that's right. There's a live version, I think, of 'Silver Lady,' and there was a demo version of 'Daddy Is White,' which came out like five years ago. But other than that, they had been unrecorded.

Rodriguez: Will these new songs get some action on this tour?

Vega: No, actually. [laughs] Surprisingly. If we get a request we might find a place for them. We've been promoting the [Close-Up] series as a whole, but I haven't really been promoting each album as they come out.

Rodriguez: Do you like today's pop music? Do you listen to any of it?

Vega: I listen to whatever I can pick up on the radio. My daughter and I share an iCloud, so whatever she buys comes pouring down into my iTunes account, so I listen to what she's listening to. I like Top 40 radio probably more than she does - she listens to Punch Brothers and other random stuff - but I listen to whatever I can. It's so much more segmented than it ever has been. In the '70s when I listened to music, we had a cool FM station and they would play everything from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground to Motown to Electric Light Orchestra, or Joe Cocker. It had a wide variety of styles. Now, everything is so targeted. Because I'm a woman in my mid-fifties and I'm white doesn't mean I want to listen to other white women in their fifties. I'm just as likely to want to hear somebody who's Black and 17, like Frank Ocean or Bruno Mars. I don't really like the way things are marketed today.

Rodriguez: You're a Grammy winner and previous nominee. Have you looked at the list of nominees this year, and is there anyone you're hoping will win?

Vega: I haven't looked at it yet, and I should. I should definitely do that.

Rodriguez: Well, you mentioned Frank Ocean. He's a nominee and someone who made an impact last year.

Vega: Yeah, he really did and I thought that was great. I think he's open-minded and he's got sensitive, very cool lyrics and really good production. So yeah, I'm rooting for him.

Rodriguez: I love when artists allow the listener to interpret the songs on their own. I have no idea if 'Small Blue Thing' is supposed to be sad, but I still cry inside when I hear it. The entire first album [Suzanne Vega] has a melancholy feel throughout.

Vega: I agree with you. I think a lot of the songs are melancholy. Some of the songs I cry when I write them, I cry when they come to me. And those are the songs I feel compelled to write. But that's why I talk in between the songs because I don't want everyone to leave in a shell-shocked, melancholy state.

Rodriguez: For anyone just getting started in music, do you think it's still important that they learn to play an instrument or write their own songs?

Vega: I think it helps. The kids who only play the guitar and go out sometimes and play in coffeehouses and stuff like that, I tell them to also do their social media thing. Get a Facebook page, collect people who like your material. For kids who only have a Facebook page, or MySpace, or only do electronic music and upload everything, I tell them to get out on a stage and play for real people. Each thing helps the other. Ultimately, it's still about getting some kind of audience. When I was younger and someone came up to me and said, 'I like your material,' I would take down their name and their address and send them a flyer. So I grew a whole audience that way. Facebook and social media are just that, only it's using technology. But it still comes down to how many people like you, how many are in your audience.

Rodriguez: It's been great talking with you again. Did you have anything else you wanted to say?

Vega: Just that I've always really loved Seattle. I love the fact that it's cold and rainy. I love the weather, I relate to it there and I think it's got a real cool, arty thing going on which I enjoy, so I'm looking forward to it.

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