Suzanne Vega interview
added: 2 May 2012
interviewed by: David Spencer
Suzanne Vega is reminiscing about the start of her career in the eighties as I chat to her on a phone to New York. Her reflections are sparked by a discussion about how much the music industry has changed since then. It is now 25 years since her major commercial breakthrough, Solitude Standing. At the time CD was only just taking hold on the market and no one could have predicted quite how things would change.
“I remember being a receptionist in an office and suddenly getting a record deal, and also being successful. A&M records when they signed me thought they’d sell 30 thousand records and ended up selling a million. I went from lowly receptionist to a very successful solo recording artist almost overnight. I remember thinking back then, that this is incredible. The amount of money spent on production, videos and dinner! I was at some dinner where the record company executive spent 350 dollars on a bottle of wine and they could just put it on their expenses. It struck me as so wasteful.
“Now all these years later, obviously all that mentality has shifted. The large record companies have crumbled under the weight of all that excess. Now artists can have more power if you want it, if you go after it and build your audience. You can have more direct contact with your fans.”
But with that power brings added complications. For bands like Marillion and Dodgy, using fans’ money to fund records kept them in existence, but the quality of the work never flourished. I cannot think of one band that has produced a classic album thanks to the funding of fans or supporters.
“I haven’t crossed that line, where artists ask for fans to pay, and there are some really successful artists doing it. I am still feeling that line out. I haven’t decided yet, if that is the way to go for a new album. As long as it is a once a day posting on Twitter or Facebook then we can have a conversation (with fans). They can decide to like or not like whatever I do, or if they are abusive I can just delete them! It is a fine line, but it is like that in the ‘real’ world anyway.”
So a quarter of a decade since her biggest and best album, Suzanne Vega is heading to the UK for more live shows. Does she notice a difference when coming to the UK?
“The English audience really likes a good story, so I always make sure I have something to say between songs. More than other audiences, they like something witty, something punchy. They respond to the language, which isn’t surprising. I think the further north you go the more people really show what they are feeling. Down south it’s still warm but not as vocal. In London you can definitely have a more reserved audience.
“The show right now is myself on guitar and vocals and Gerry Leonard on guitar. Gerry was David Bowie’s musical director for a number of years. he also worked on my recent albums. It is just the two of us on stage but he is more than just a guitarist so it’s a really well produced show despite there being just two of us.”
The acoustic shows come as Vega prepares to release the fourth in her Close Up series of albums, where she has re-recorded her material.
“I started doing the stripped down versions of songs for a couple of reasons. One was artistic. I thought fans might like to hear the songs in a more intimate way, without the original eighties production. But also because of my previous record deals, it was a way of me recording these songs and owning them, because the A&M tracks are owned by them, so it gave me a way of owning my own material.”
Suzanne Vega plays the UK in June.
Wednesday 13th London, Union Chapel
Thursday 14th Brighton, The Dome
Tuesday 19th Gateshead, The Sage
Wednesday 20th York, Grand Opera House
Thursday 21st Basingstoke, The Anvil
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