Suzanne Vega

Last updated

Suzanne Vega
SuzanneVegaLebanonNH.jpg
Vega performing in Lebanon, New Hampshire, 2010
Background information
Born (1959-07-11) July 11, 1959 (age 60)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Origin New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Singer-songwriter
  • musician
  • record producer
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • guitar
Years active1982–present
Labels
Associated acts
Website suzannevega.com

Suzanne Nadine Vega (born July 11, 1959) is an American singer-songwriter, musician and record producer, best known for her folk-inspired music. [1] [2]

Contents

Vega's music career spans more than 30 years. She came to prominence in the mid 1980s, releasing four singles that entered the Top 40 charts in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s, including "Marlene on the Wall", "Left of Center", "Luka" and "No Cheap Thrill". "Tom's Diner," which was originally released as an a cappella recording on Vega's second album, Solitude Standing (1987), was remixed in 1990 as a dance track by English electronic duo DNA with Vega as featured artist, and it became a Top 10 hit in over five countries. The song was used as a test during the creation of the MP3 format. [3] The critical role of her song in the development of the MP3 compression prompted Vega to be given the title of "The Mother of the MP3". [4]

Vega has released nine studio albums to date, the latest of which is Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers , released in 2016.

Early life

Suzanne Nadine Vega was born on July 11, 1959, in Santa Monica, California. [5] Her mother, Pat Vega (née Schumacher), is a computer systems analyst of German-Swedish heritage. Her father, Richard Peck, is of Scottish-English-Irish origin. They divorced soon after her birth. [6] Her stepfather, Edgardo Vega Yunqué, also known as Ed Vega, was a writer and teacher from Puerto Rico. [7] When Vega was two and a half, her family moved to New York City. She grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side. [8]

She was not aware of having a different biological father, Richard Peck, until she was nine years old. They met for the first time in her late 20s, and they remain in contact. [9]

She attended the High School of Performing Arts, [10] now renamed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, where she studied modern dance and graduated in 1977.

Career

1980s

While majoring in English literature at Barnard College, [11] she performed in small venues in Greenwich Village, where she was a regular contributor to Jack Hardy's Monday night songwriters' group at the Cornelia Street Cafe and had some of her first songs published on Fast Folk anthology albums. [12] In 1984, she received a major label recording contract, making her one of the first Fast Folk artists to break out on a major label.

Vega's self-titled debut album was released in 1985 and was well received by critics in the U.S.; [8] it reached platinum status in the United Kingdom. Produced by Lenny Kaye and Steve Addabbo, the songs feature Vega's acoustic guitar in straightforward arrangements. A video was released for the album's song "Marlene on the Wall", which went into MTV and VH1's rotations. During this period Vega also wrote lyrics for two songs ("Lightning" and "Freezing") on Songs from Liquid Days by composer Philip Glass. [13]

Vega's song "Left of Center" co-written with Steve Addabbo for the 1986 John Hughes film Pretty in Pink reached No. 32 on the UK Singles Chart in 1986. [14]

Her next effort, Solitude Standing (1987), garnered critical and commercial success, selling over one million copies in the U.S. [15] It includes the international hit single "Luka", which is written about, and from the point of view of, an abused child—at the time an uncommon subject for a pop hit. [10] While continuing a focus on Vega's acoustic guitar, the music is more strongly pop-oriented and features fuller arrangements. The a cappella "Tom's Diner" from this album was later a hit, remixed by two British dance producers under the name DNA, in 1990. [10] The track was originally a bootleg, until Vega allowed DNA to release it through her record company, and it became her biggest hit.

1990s

Vega's third album, Days of Open Hand (1990), continued in the style of her first two albums.

In 1992, she released the album 99.9F° . It consists of a mixture of folk music, dance beats and industrial music. This record was awarded Gold status by the RIAA in recognition of selling over 500,000 copies in the U.S. [15] The single "Blood Makes Noise" from this album peaked at number-one on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks. Vega later married the album's producer Mitchell Froom.

Her fifth album, Nine Objects of Desire , was released in 1996. [10] The music varies between a frugal, simple style and the industrial production of 99.9F°. This album contains "Caramel", featured in the movie The Truth About Cats & Dogs , and later the trailer for the movie Closer . A song not included on that album, "Woman on the Tier," was featured on the soundtrack of the movie Dead Man Walking .

In 1997 she took a singing part on the concept album Heaven and Hell , a musical interpretation of the seven deadly sins by her colleague Joe Jackson, with whom she had already collaborated in 1986 on "Left of Center" from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack (with Vega singing and Jackson playing piano). [16]

In 1999, Avon Books published Vega's book The Passionate Eye: The Collected Writings of Suzanne Vega, a volume of poems, lyrics, essays and journalistic pieces. [17]

2000s

Vega onstage, 2008 Suzanne Vega Barcelona 2008.jpg
Vega onstage, 2008

In September 2001, Vega released a new album entitled Songs in Red and Gray . Three songs deal with Vega's divorce from her first husband, Mitchell Froom.

At the memorial concert for her brother Tim Vega in December 2002, Vega began her role as the subject of the direct-cinema documentary, Some Journey, directed by Christopher Seufert of Mooncusser Films. The documentary has not been completed.

Underground hip hop duo Felt named a track on their album Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci , released in 2002, "Suzanne Vega". [18]

In 2003, the 21-song greatest hits compilation Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega was released. (The UK version of Retrospective included an eight-song bonus CD as well as a DVD containing 12 songs). In the same year she was invited by Grammy Award-winning jazz guitarist Bill Frisell to play at the Century of Song concerts at the famed Ruhrtriennale in Germany.

In 2003, she hosted the American Public Media radio series American Mavericks, about 20th century American composers, which received the Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. [19] [20]

On August 3, 2006, Vega became the first major recording artist to perform live in the Internet-based virtual world, Second Life . The event was hosted by John Hockenberry of public radio's The Infinite Mind .

On September 17, 2006, she performed in Central Park, as part of a benefit concert for the Save Darfur Coalition. [21] During the concert she highlighted her support for Amnesty International, of which she has been a member since 1988. [22] [23]

In early October 2006, Vega participated in the Academia Film Olomouc (AFO) in Olomouc, the Czech Republic, the oldest festival of documentary films in Europe, in which she appeared as a main guest. She was invited there as the subject of the documentary film by director Christopher Seufert, that had a test screening at the festival. At the end of the festival she performed her classic songs and added one brand new piece called New York Is a Woman.

Vega is also interviewed in the book Everything Is Just a Bet which was published in Czech in October 2006. The book contains 12 interview transcriptions from the talk show called Stage Talks that regularly runs in the Švandovo divadlo (Švandovo Theatre) in Prague. Vega introduced the book to the audience of the Švandovo divadlo (Švandovo Theatre), and together with some other Czech celebrities gave a signing session.

She signed a new recording contract with Blue Note Records in the spring of 2006, and released Beauty & Crime on July 17, 2007. The album, produced by Jimmy Hogarth, won a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. Her contract was not renewed and she was released in June 2008. [24]

In 2007, Vega followed the lead of numerous other mainstream artists and released her track "Pornographer's Dream" as podsafe. The song spent two weeks at number-one during 2007 and finished as the No. 11 [25] hit of the year on the PMC Top10's annual countdown. In 2015, Vega joined The 14th Annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers. [26] [27] [28] She was also a judge for the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th Independent Music Awards. [29]

2010s

Vega at Union Chapel, London, 2015, improvising by using the pulpit Suzanne Vega at Union Chapel, London 2015.jpg
Vega at Union Chapel, London, 2015, improvising by using the pulpit

A partial cover version of her song Tom's Diner was used to introduce the 2010 British movie 4.3.2.1 , with its lyrics largely rewritten to echo the plot. This musical hybrid was released as "Keep Moving". Vega participated in the Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse/David Lynch collaboration Dark Night of the Soul . She wrote both melody and lyrics for her song, which is titled "The Man Who Played God", inspired by a biography of Pablo Picasso. Vega sang lead vocals on the song "Now I Am an Arsonist" with singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton on his 2011 album, Artificial Heart .

Vega has re-recorded her back-catalogue, [30] both for artistic and commercial (and control) reasons, [31] [32] in the Close-up series. Vol. 1 ( Love Songs ) and Vol. 2 ( People & Places ) appeared in 2010 while Vol. 3 ( States of Being ) was released in July 2011 [33] followed by Vol. 4 ( Songs of Family ) in September 2012. Volumes 2, 3 and 4 of the Close-Up albums included previously unrecorded material; Volumes 2 and 3 each included one new collaboratively written song, while Volume 4 included three songs that Vega had written years earlier, but had not previously gotten around to recording. In all, Vega's Close-Up series features 60 re-recorded songs and five new compositions, representing about three-quarters of her lifetime songwriting output.

While performing live, Vega and long-term collaborator Gerry Leonard began to introduce a number of new songs into the setlist, including the live favorite "I Never Wear White". Over the course of a year, the songs were completed and recorded in a live-studio setting with the help of a number of guests. Produced by Leonard, Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles was released in February 2014. [34] It was her first album of new material in seven years and became Vega's first studio album to reach the UK Top 40 since 1992, peaking at No. 37.

New album Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers was released on October 14, 2016. [35] [36]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Suzanne Vega among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. [37]

Songwriting

At the age of nine she began to write poetry. She was encouraged to do so by her stepfather. [38] It took her three years to write her first song, Brother Mine, which was finished at the age of 14. [39] It was first published on Close-Up Vol. 4, Songs of Family , along with her other early song, The Silver Lady. [38]

Vega has not learned to read musical notes; she sees the melody as a shape and chords as colors. She focuses on lyrics and melodic ideas; for advanced features – like intros or bridges – she relies on other artists she works with. [38] Most of her albums, except the first one, were made in such cooperation. [40]

Vega finishes 80% of the songs she starts writing. [39]

The most important artistic influences on her work come from Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Some other important artists for her are Paul Simon and Laura Nyro. [39]

Theater

Vega and Duncan Sheik wrote a play Carson McCullers Talks About Love, about the life of the writer Carson McCullers. In the play directed by Kay Matschullat, which premiered in 2011, Vega alternates between monologue and songs. [41] [42] [43] Vega and Sheik were nominated for Outstanding Music in a Play for the 57th annual Drama Desk awards. [44]

The album Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers , based on this play, was released in 2016. [35] [36] Vega considers it to be a third version, because it's rewritten, and she made the first version in college. [9]

In early 2020, Vega played the role of "Band Leader" in an off-Broadway musical based on the 1969 movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice , directed by Scott Elliott and produced at The New Group in New York City. She replaced Sheik, who wrote the show's music and co-wrote the lyrics with Amanda Green. [45] In his review for The New York Times , critic Ben Brantley called the "brandy-voiced" Vega "a delightful, smoothly sardonic presence. [46]

Amanuensis Productions

Vega has established her own recording label after the 2008 economic crisis. From that point, she stopped working for Blue Note Records and started thinking about re-recording her back catalog with new arrangements and gaining control over her works (which she eventually did with the Close-Up Series ). [38]

The name "Amanuensis Productions" was meant as a private joke about "servant" (amanuensis) owning the "masters" (recording masters), also a pun at A&M still legally owning her previous master tapes. [40]

Running the label proved to be harder than she expected. In 2015 it just "broke even", but new licenses were coming for Tom's Diner . [47]

Personal life

On March 17, 1995, Vega married Mitchell Froom, a musician and a record producer (who played on and produced 99.9F° and Nine Objects of Desire ). They have a daughter, Ruby Froom (born July 8, 1994). The band Soul Coughing's Ruby Vroom album was named for her, with Vega's approval. [48] Vega and Froom separated and divorced in 1998.

On February 11, 2006, Vega married Paul Mills, a lawyer and poet, "22 years after he first proposed to her." [49]

Beginning in 2010, Ruby has occasionally performed with her mother on tour. [50] [51] [52] [53]

Vega practices Nichiren Buddhism and is a member of the American branch of the worldwide Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International. [54]

Awards and nominations

YearAwardsWorkCategoryResult
1985 Billboard Music Awards HerselfTop Billboard 200 Artist - Female [55] [56] Nominated
1987Nominated
Top Billboard 200 Artist Nominated
Top Hot 100 Artist Nominated
Top Hot 100 Artist - FemaleNominated
Solitude Standing Top Billboard 200 Album Nominated
Top Pop Compact DiskNominated
"Luka" Top Hot 100 Song Nominated
NME Awards HerselfBest Female SingerWon
1988 Pollstar Concert Industry AwardsSmall Hall Tour of the YearNominated
MTV Video Music Awards "Luka" Best Female Video Won
Breakthrough Video Nominated
Best Cinematography Nominated
Grammy Awards Song of the Year Nominated
Record of the Year Nominated
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Nominated
1990 Days of Open Hand Best Contemporary Folk Recording Nominated
Best Album Package Won
1992 Billboard Music Video Awards "Blood Makes Noise"Best Pop/Rock Female VideoNominated
1993 New York Music Awards 99.9F° Best Rock AlbumWon
2003 Glamour Awards HerselfWoman of the YearWon
2004 Peabody Awards EntertainmentWon
2008 Grammy Awards Beauty & Crime Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical Won
2010 New York Music Awards Close-Up Vol. 1, Love Songs Best Pop/Rock CompilationWon
2012 Drama Desk Awards Carson McCullers Talks About Love Outstanding Music in a Play Nominated

Discography

Studio albums

Books

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<i>Solitude Standing</i> 1987 studio album by Suzanne Vega

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<i>Nine Objects of Desire</i> 1996 studio album by Suzanne Vega

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<i>Close-Up Vol. 2, People & Places</i> 2010 studio album by Suzanne Vega

Close-Up Vol. 2, People and Places is the ninth studio album released by New York-based singer/songwriter and musician Suzanne Vega. The album consists of re-recordings of songs from Vega's back catalogue with stripped-down arrangements that highlight her lyrics and melodies. The track "The Man Who Played God" was included in its original version on the album Dark Night of the Soul, by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse.

<i>Close-Up Vol. 4, Songs of Family</i> 2012 studio album by Suzanne Vega

Close-Up Vol. 4, Songs of Family is the eleventh studio album by New York-based singer/songwriter and musician Suzanne Vega . The album consists of re-recordings of songs from Vega's back catalogue with stripped-down arrangements that highlight her lyrics and melodies. Two of the songs, "Brother Mine" and "The Silver Lady", are songs Vega wrote more than 30 years ago, but are only now seeing an official recording and release. "Daddy is White" is a song she wrote back in 2007, previously only existing as a demo attached to a New York Times article titled "Which Side Are You On?" she wrote in 2008.

Suzanne Vega discography

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