Women is...: Seasoned Songs

Seasoned Songs

In an industry filled with upstart young women singers, Suzanne Vega is the voice of experience.

She's been on the music scene for almost two decades, starting out as a 16-year-old performer in New York coffeehouses. In 1987, the songs "Luka" and "Tom's Diner" established her as a notable poet and songwriter. After taking a four-year break (she married her producer and had a baby), Vega released her fifth album, "Nine Objects of Desire," in the winter of '97.

When did you know you were going to be a songwriter?

I knew I could write songs by the time I was 14, because I'd already written quite a few. I decided to go out and start singing. You know, there's always a place to play if you have low expectations, which I did. So I went out and played at coffee houses, places like that. ... Maybe there would be five or 10 people. And then I just worked my way up.
Many women experience a change in their voice after having a baby. Did that happen to you?

It did happen, and I wasn't expecting it. It became a lot richer, and I think some of that is because my rib cage changed. I have more space than I did before. My voice is just a lot bigger. It's really wonderful. My husband noticed it right away.

Do you sing to your daughter often?

I sing to her all the time. For a while she would go to sleep and want to hear what she called "Mama" songs, which to her meant the last album. I also sang some of the songs as I was working on them, mostly "Caramel." That's the one she doesn't care for. She walks off when I'm singing it.
ou write more than just songs. Do you have plans for your other writing?

I'm working to get a book of essays and poems together. There was an essay that I wrote for Details magazine called "Fighting with Boys," and one that I wrote for the New York Times about the meat market area in New York. One is based on what it was like in my early 20s, working a day job and also being on the road playing at different colleges. It's some journal entries from that time. There was a recent essay that came out in Musician magazine, about Laura Nyro. I want to write an essay about Leonard Cohen and what he's meant to me in my life. I hope the book will come out in 1998.

What advice would you give to artists starting out?

You just have to be persistent. It took me eight years to get a record contract and a lot of people said, "You know, you're too shy for this kind of thing. You'll do better if you keep working a day job, because your songs are so idiosyncratic." I would get a lot of advice to try and learn to read music and do jingles and that kind of thing. That's how some people make money in the music industry. But it wasn't how I wanted to do things. I have no talent for that particular stuff. So you have to be able to persevere, even when you're being rejected.