On September 3, Suzanne Vega brings her distinctive songs of city life and ordinary people to Guild Hall in East Hampton. The artist, known as one of the leading figures of the ’80s folk revival, continues to reinvent the folk genre with an upcoming album due out in October titled Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers. Vega took some time to speak with us about her songwriting inspiration, upcoming album and the praise she received from the late Prince.
What is it about the folk genre that you enjoy and find unique?
The acoustic guitar—I love the sound. The acoustic guitar is relatively cheap, which was important to me because I grew up in New York City, where you don’t have garages where you can go and rehearse, so having this guitar was a wonderful way of expressing myself as a teenager. I could just go into my room and write songs all by myself, and then go out and sing them. I think that’s sort of its great strength—you can do it as one person. I think for that reason folk music will always be alive.
Where does the inspiration for your songs come from?
I’m inspired mostly just by people’s faces in the city, walking around and thinking about people in their daily life and what they’re experiencing. It’s a combination of things I see, things I already know and then a fantasy component.
What are some of your favorite songs to perform?
I love “Caramel,” which to me is a very sensual song. “Luka” is a song that has a lot of meaning for a lot of people, and it still connects with audiences, and “Tom’s Diner” has become this great celebration. It brings back memories of rave parties in the ’90s, which is a very happy memory for a lot of people, so everyone kind of joins in on that, which I love.
Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers comes out on October 14. What can you tell us about the album?
This is a collection of songs about the life and work of Carson McCullers—the great southern author. She was such an unusual character, who was so far ahead of her time that she was both celebrated and ostracized in her day. I think she wrote in a very tough and compassionate way. These songs are to illuminate her world.
You once received a letter from Prince reading, “Dear Suzanne, ‘Luka’ is the most compelling piece of music I’ve heard in a long time.” What has this letter meant to you?
This letter was a high point of my career in some ways, not just his letter, but his love of that song. I’d never actually met him, but I know that when I performed on the Grammys he jumped to his feet at the end of my performance and cheered louder than anyone. It was such a shock when he died because he was so beautiful, and just always really rocked, like you never felt the passing of time with him.
You will be performing at Guild Hall on September 3—What do you most enjoy about Long Island’s East End?
The ocean. I have quite a few water songs, and one of them, “Widow’s Walk” was inspired by a couple of summers in Sag Harbor. Also seeing the architectural detail on some of the old houses there. And I love Dan’s Papers. Whenever I’m on the Jitney heading out there, that’s what I’m reading.
Suzanne Vega performs at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street in East Hampton on Saturday, September 3 at 8 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets visit guildhall.org or call 631-324-0806.