5 Questions With Susan Vega
By Dylan Miller
What can people expect from your show at the Ridgefield Playhouse?
It will be me and my Musical Director Gerry Leonard, who was David Bowie’s musical director for the last few years of his touring life. He’s an amazing guitarist and great to play with because he can play almost any genre; it will be a varied show.
The show will be a combination of old songs, new songs, acoustic songs, and not-so-acoustic songs. We’ll do a few songs from my most recent live album (An Evening of New York Songs and Stories), but it will be a mix of a little bit of everything.
You released your latest album on September 11, 2020, after NY had just gone through yet another difficult time. Was this significant release date planned?
I didn’t pick the date; it was a complete coincidence. The release date had been bounced from the spring to the fall. My manager told me it would be coming out on September 11, and I said “seriously?” I also asked him if it was intentional, and he said it wasn’t. In fact, he asked if I wanted to change it, but it just seemed so weirdly, karmically appropriate.
How did you cope with the pandemic when it hit the city, and how has it changed you?
I had family members that left, but I knew my neighborhood and I didn’t want to flee. I went into survival mode, and a lot of my time was spent figuring out how to keep my standards of living to what I wanted them to be. Like everyone else, I spent a lot of time figuring out food and how to safely go out and get basic amenities. I was also watching a lot of news and television, and it just felt like we were under siege. The atmosphere of what the pandemic felt like in those early weeks—when it was so quiet and all you could hear were ambulances—was so intense. Every day we would see that the death toll that was climbing and climbing; hundreds of people dying. It was terrifying; I’ll never forget it and I was taking little notes about what the atmosphere was like in the city. To write a song, though, you need a sense of play, and I just wasn’t playing throughout the pandemic. It’s recently come back, however, and I’ve started writing again. I wish the best for NY, we were hit really hard and I
think we will come back again and I hope to be part of that process.
How do songs come to you? What inspires you?
Songs come in all different ways. Sometimes it starts as a melody, a title, or a phrase. Sometimes I’ll see some situation and think “oh, here’s how to explain that.” When that phrasing comes to me in a rhyme or starts to have alliteration then I start to write it down, because I realize it’s the seed of a song. It can come from anything as well, such as what we saw on television on January 6th. There are a few verses that are now dancing through my mind in response to that day, but it’s still in pieces. I write everything down that I can when I think of it, and it’s nice to feel that flowing within me again.
What advice would you give to aspiring songwriters?
It helps to listen to other people so you can figure out what your part in the conversation is. Listen to what you like, but also listen to other artists you haven’t heard yet. Learn what you can from all the other songwriters, then figure out what you have to offer that’s unique; what you need to say. You can try to mimic so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but it really is better to find your own way to make sure your work is original.