Tales From Suzanne Vega

GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter discusses the making of her new album, Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles, and being years ahead of "Game Of Thrones"
  • Photo: George Holz
    Suzanne Vega
February 21, 2014 -- 1:24 pm PST
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After garnering her first three GRAMMY nominations in 1987, including Record and Song Of The Year for her Top 5 hit about child abuse, "Luka," Vega earned the first GRAMMY of her career in 1990 for Best Album Package for Days Of Open Hand. Four albums and more than 20 years later, on Feb. 18 Vega returned with her first album in seven years, Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles.

The album, produced by guitarist Gerry Leonard, features Vega mixing an array of styles from acoustic to pop with literate lyrics that cover dense subject matter with Vega's typically pointed and detailed word play.

Vega, who understands the world of sampling with her a capella classic "Tom's Diner" having been a hit after a dance remix by UK production team DNA, even turns the tables this time, sampling 50 Cent's GRAMMY-nominated "Candy Shop" on "Don't Uncork What You Can't Contain."  

Currently in the midst of a worldwide tour, Vega spoke to GRAMMY.com about her new album, some of her surprise musical admirers, her favorite GRAMMY moment, and how she was years ahead of HBO's hit series "Game Of Thrones," among other topics.

Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles is your first album of new material in seven years. Have you written a lot during that time or did one song trigger the new album?
One song. It was "Song Of The Stoic." All the others followed, except for "Jacob And The Angel," which I started back in '06.

When did you know the songs would form an album?
I knew it would be an album when Gerry Leonard started asking if he could produce it.

You are touring the album right now. How does it feel to have new songs to play and how is the tour going?
It feels great. [It's] very exciting! People love the new stuff live and the tour is going really well. It's just beginning, actually.

Are there songs off the new album that have emerged as favorites to play live?
"I Never Wear White" and "Jacob And The Angel."

What are your plans to tour the United States?
I'll be touring the U.S. in May.

The new album feels like an encapsulation of your previous work, showing off the acoustic side on "Portrait On The Knight Of Wands" and the more infectious pop beats of Songs In Red And Gray on songs such as "Don't Uncork What You Can't Contain." How did your Close-Up collections influence this album, if at all?
Only in that we had to be super careful with the budget and schedule with both projects. Not a penny to spare. The new album has more production than the Close-Up series. Otherwise, we just chose from a wide circle of influences.

Are there any artists you never would have expected to be fans of your work?
Prince wrote me a gorgeous letter after "Luka." Run-D.M.C. told me they liked my records. When I met David Bowie he said, "Suzanne Vega! Finally we meet after all these years!" [That] knocked me out.

If you could be a featured vocalist for any artist, who would it be and why?
Maybe Radiohead, on one of their acoustic tracks. They have such gorgeous atmosphere in their music. 

I have always loved the song "The Queen And The Solider." That song and the imagery seem way ahead of its time now, as, to me, it feels like it could be the theme for "Game Of Thrones." Are you a fan of the show and as the fantasy motif gets more popular have you noticed others come back to the song?
I haven't watched much of ["Game Of Thrones"] but my husband is a fan. Yes, I've seen a few comments on Twitter linking the two. It is archetypical imagery and has been around a long time. Fantasy now but at one time [it] was reality.

You have been nominated in the past for five GRAMMYs. Is there one nomination that meant the most to you?
The one for "Luka" for [Song and Record Of The Year], though I was happy to win one for [Best Album Package] for Days Of Open Hand.

What was your most memorable GRAMMY moment as both a fan and nominee?
Singing "Luka" on the [30th GRAMMY Awards] by myself without a band and seeing Prince jump to his feet in the audience when I finished. That was a great moment for me.

The GRAMMY telecast is renowned for its once-in-a-lifetime musical pairings. Who would be your dream GRAMMY collaborators?
I would love to do something with Taylor Swift. I like her. Backup vocals with Sean Paul, he's really fun and funky. Duet with Bob Dylan, for obvious reasons. Same with Paul Simon. Maybe Frank Ocean, his lyrics are sensitive.

(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling StoneLos Angeles TimesMOJOChicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia WeeklyThe Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)

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