Suzanne Vega stuck in our heads with unforgettable hits such as "Luka" and "Tom's Diner" in the '80s. She chatted Nunn on One with a look back and a look forward.
Windy City Times: Good morning, Suzanne. I haven't seen you in years. The last time was at [ the now-closed ] Tower Records years ago.
Suzanne Vega: That has been a long time.
WCT: Is this the first time you have been at the Old Town School of Music?
Suzanne Vega: I have heard about it for years but this is the first time.
WCT: I just saw Aimee Mann play there. It is intimate and a great space but everyone will be sitting on top of you.
Suzanne Vega: Well, that's okay. [ Both laugh. ] I am ready.
WCT: Talk about Close-Up. You will be doing songs from both volumes.
Suzanne Vega: Yes, that's right: Love Songs and the new collection of old songs, People & Places. It is kind of hard to present it. It is a new album but older songs. It is a mixture of older and newish, all of it stripped-down and done [ acoustically ] . It is not a full band. It is me with my guitar player Gerry Leonard and bass player Mike Vesceglia.
WCT: What new material is on the album?
Suzanne Vega: The newest thing is the song "The Man Who Played God," which was on the Sparklehorse album that was released in July of this year. I did a stripped-down acoustic version of that song.
WCT: You did all of these love songs on the first volume. What do you think makes a good love song?
Suzanne Vega: The songs that I consider to be a love song are the ones about love. I have some room to improve to be honest. I feel you can always deepen a love song or widen it. I think my love songs are fairly quirky. So I would not judge my love songs against the standards of all time. When I write a love song I am just trying to express one side of it. I don't think I have written the quintessential love song yet.
WCT: And you are in love and been married for a while.
Suzanne Vega: Yes, it is going to be five years in February.
WCT: Congrats. I saw on your website that you are doing a play on the life of Carson McCullers.
Suzanne Vega: Yes, I am doing that in April of next year. It is already booked for the Rattlestick Theatre, which is off Broadway here in New York. In fact that is what I am working on this week. I am working on the script and on the songs.
WCT: I didn't know too much about Carson. What can you tell people about her?
Suzanne Vega: She is a fascinating writer who wrote in the '30s and wrote all the way until she died in the '60s. She wrote The Member of the Wedding and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. She is from the South. She has a very interesting social view. She is a great and interesting author with a wild personal life.
WCT: Did you have to learn a Southern accent?
Suzanne Vega: I listened to a lot of her recordings. She has a deep dark thick Southern accent. I mimic her as well as I can, as well as mixing it in with other influences. So the answer is "yes."
WCT: I want to come see that.
Suzanne Vega: Yeah, it has been really fun. We have been doing readings from time to time in preparation for the opening in April. The real test of it will be when I go down for her birthday. They are having a big birthday celebration for her in February at the Carson McCuller estate in Georgia. So I am going to go and perform the play there in February.
WCT: Oh, my gosh!
Suzanne Vega: Yes"Oh, my gosh"I have to make sure that southern accent is absolutely credible.
WCT: That is making me nervous just thinking about it.
Suzanne Vega: It is making me nervous, too. [ Both laugh. ] Anytime that I am not on tour, I am working on it. This project is huge but a lot of fun and I am loving it.
WCT: It is something different for you. Have you done much acting before this?
Suzanne Vega: I minored in acting in college, in theatre. I have done little things here and there but this is the biggest role that I have had.
WCT: I read your dad is Puerto Rican.
Suzanne Vega: My stepdad who raised me is Puerto Rican. He passed away two years ago. I was raised in a half-Puerto Rican family. My mom is actually from Minnesota and grew up in Ohio.
WCT: Did you always want to be a singer?
Suzanne Vega: I wanted to do a lot of things in the arts. I wanted to either write or act or sing or dance. I did all of those things when I was kid. I always had people coming up to me and saying, "You are kind of artsy, aren't you?" Yes, I was and still am.
WCT: You studied dance.
Suzanne Vega: Yes, I went to the High School of Performing Arts as a dance major.
WCT: That is a school like in the movie and television show Fame?
Suzanne Vega: That is the Fame schoolthe one it was based on.
WCT: I wanted to go to that school!
Suzanne Vega: It is a really good school. Actually, my daughter goes there as a vocal major. It has gotten even better than it was back then. Before it was kind of small but now has merged with the other art school. It is bigger and the other academics are really good. My daughter is singing opera.
Suzanne Vega: It is amazing, really.
WCT: Natalie Merchant was just telling me that her daughter sings, too. I wonder if Madonna's daughter is going to sing as well?
Suzanne Vega: Well, interestingly, Madonna's daughter is going to that school. She just entered as a freshman in the drama department.
WCT: What a small world!
Suzanne Vega: I know.
WCT: We are doing our 25th-anniversary issue next week. Do you remember what you were doing in 1985?
Suzanne Vega: I will tell you exactly what I was doing. I was doing exactly what I am doing right now. The reason that I remember it so clearly is because it was the year my first album came out. I have been celebrating my own 25th anniversary.
WCT: We both have come a long way.
Suzanne Vega: That was the year my first record, Suzanne Vega, came out so I was on tour and I was doing press. I had just quit my day job as a receptionist, so that was fun. I was touring around the country in an RV because we couldn't afford a real tour bus. It was a great year. We have been doing a little set of songs within the set to mark our 25th anniversary.
WCT: I remember listening to your track "Left of Center" on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack in high school, and my friend told me to go back and listen to your first album.
Suzanne Vega: Cool. Pretty in Pink was pretty exciting when it came out, and that movie has really had legs.
WCT: I have talked to so many artists from that soundtrack recently: Echo & the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs and, now, OMD this week. Everyone is still active. I am looking forward to seeing you again at the show. It has been too long.
Suzanne Vega: Great! See you there.
Suzanne Vega's Close-Up Vol. 2, People & Places will be out Oct. 12 with more volumes next year; visit www.suzannevega.com for more information. Look for her show at the Old Town School of Music Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.; for tickets, visit www.oldtownschool.org .