Culture, Interviews, Pop — July 18, 2013 at 3:55 pm

A delicious Q&A with Suzanne Vega


New York based Suzanne Vega has always had that rep of being a folky, soft voiced waif with a guitar who sings about small blue things. But she really transcended that genre (and rep) long ago. “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” may be her biggest hits, yet she’s excelled in the so-called “alternative” genre with 99.9F Degrees, taken on Frank Sinatra’s songbook, written plays and collaborated with a breathtaking range of artists.

In short, she’s a songwriter and storyteller who can travel the world while challenging and entertaining audiences. Over the last three years, she has released several re-recordings of her songs, many of which, she’ll no doubt be performing during her debut in Hong Kong. More than 20 years after her first album, Vega’s set promises to be eclectic and full of surprises, like the artist herself.

Here’s what she had to say during a recent interview in advance of her show…

Suzanne Vega

Scott Murphy: How does it feel to come to Hong Kong (for what I believe will be the first time)? Will you adjust your show to suit the Hong Kong audience? What can the audience expect to hear? 

Suzanne Vega: I am working on the set list now with Gerry! [Gerry Leonard, guitarist and musical director]. We will do old material and maybe some new material since we are in the recording studio now.

It’s interesting that you’ve been re-recording much of your past work and releasing it again. I’m assuming that you’re doing it for ownership purposes, but has this also given you the opportunity to re-interpret and re-assess those songs? 

Yes I get to reinterpret them but most of them are faithful in spirit to the originals. My intention was to strip away the production of all the decades, so people could really hear the songs. Any songs I didn’t like any more – I just didn’t record them.

You’ve had so many different facets to your career. How do you feel when you play music from your debut now…or for that matter, from a release like 99.9F? Does it have a different meaning now?

I can always call up the original emotion – the alienation of ‘Cracking’ or romantic yearning of ‘Some Journey’. There’s more distance but I can always bring myself back to that moment and feel it again.

Some audience members might not realize that you’re a published author, wrote a play and have also been a recent columnist at the New York Times. Do these experiences lend themselves to you telling more stories while onstage, or do you stick to the songs?

It’s more the other way – I’m a good storyteller onstage and this has led to writing assignments! I always tell a few stories on stage to explain what the songs are about.

For that matter, how does it feel to write those articles for the NYT this summer?

It felt pretty good – I have been out of practice in my blog writing, so I was happy to be asked to do it again.

You’ve often been perceived as a female folk artist and comparisons have been made to Joni Mitchell. But you’ve actually always embraced new technologies, producing partners and remixes. Did you do this because you didn’t want to be pigeonholed, or is it a constant sense of seeing what the possibilities could be?

My mother was a computer analyst in the 1970s, so I was raised around computer and new technologies – I have always liked the idea of mixing the acoustic guitar with whatever is new.

If you had to pick one album, or a few songs that have the most meaning for you, what would you choose and why?

Of my own? 99.9F Degrees. I have always loved the energy of this album. It was when I met Mitchell Froom, who became my husband and I love the work we did together.

Recently, you’ve also been reinterpreting some of Frank Sinatra’s songs. Tell us about it and might some of these songs appear in your show? 

Yes it’s possible that we could add ‘Mack the Knife’ to the set list! We’ve talked about it. This was a show celebrating Frank Sinatra in Central Park to benefit the City Parks Foundation.

Of all the artists you have encountered/performed with/interviewed during your career, which experiences have been the most satisfying artistically for you…and why?

I loved playing with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead in the 80’s – he was a spiritual man and that was a great moment in time. I loved my interview with Leonard Cohen – he is flirtatious and funny. I cherish my conversations with Lou Reed. I often find Sting very inspiring.

As an artist, how is social media helping or hindering you today? Do you feel you’re embracing it, or is it a hindrance? 

I embrace it – it helps me to maintain an audience these days, and tell everyone when there are new projects. I also get to express myself on my Facebook page with my photography.

You’re apparently recording a new album for 2014. Any hints as to what it will sound like?

Hard to describe something you’re in the middle of! It’s kind of folk and rock at the same time. Some of the songs have an old fashioned quality. 

What do you want to see and experience while you’re in Hong Kong?

I’ve heard the Man Mo Temple is beautiful, and Gerry recommends the Tian Tan Buddha! And maybe some shopping…and of course, taste the dim sum.

And if you were to give us a 24 hour eating/visiting/doing tour of Suzanne Vega’s favorite places in New York, where would we go?

I love the Metropolitan Museum of Art! One of my favorite places – and on the weekend they have a lounge on the balcony where you can get a martini. I love going to Central Park around the reservoir, through the Shakespeare Garden and down to Bathsheba Fountain. Just a couple of places I like.


Suzanne Vega will be making her debut in Hong Kong at Musiczone, KITEC, Kowloon Bay on July 25th. Tickets are $480-680 from Cityline.



Artist Website
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  1. Suzanne will be playing in Hong Kong on the 25th and Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival on the 27th. Here is a Q&A with Music Weekly as she gears up for her shows.