No one is immune to the melancholy feelings that crop up in a badly sagging economy.
Not even Suzanne Vega, the critically acclaimed, commercially successful and award-winning songwriter who'll perform Sunday in Bend (see “If you go”).
On the phone from a hotel room in Santa Barbara, Calif., she cautioned that she doesn't want to be “too dramatic” about getting dropped from her record label, Blue Note, in 2008. She understands there are people out there struggling more than her.
Still, no one is immune.
“When you're in a situation like (that), like a lot of people, I felt like I'd lost my job in this economy,” Vega said in an interview last week. “And when you are in that position, you start to ... want to know what (your work is) worth. You want to feel that it's worth something.”
Vega's body of work is, without question, worth something.
She's best known for her hit song “Luka,” an upbeat but uneasy song about domestic violence that took over the pop charts and MTV in 1987. But she's also released seven albums over the past 25 years, and if you dig a little deeper into them, you'll find a supremely skilled songwriter whose ambition and experimental bent has kept her on the leading edge of folk music for a quarter of a century.
So perhaps it's time for some reflection. Over the past year, Vega re-recorded dozens of her songs in a stripped-down manner, mostly just the artist and an acoustic guitar, with an eye toward re-organizing her canon by subject and self-releasing four themed collections over the next two years. The first installment, “Close-Up Vol. 1, Love Songs,” has just come out in Barnes & Noble stores and on www .suzannevega.com.
The idea came up years ago when Vega recorded for A&M Records, which at first showed enthusiasm for the project, but soon turned its attention to something else, as record labels will do.
“I remember thinking ... there are some songs that have a certain thread that runs through them and if (A&M was) looking to re-release them or re-package them ... they could group the songs in a different way than album by album,” Vega said. “They switched their attention, but I didn't switch mine, so after Blue Note decided not to renew their option, I found myself trying to figure out what to do.”
Vega's choices: Go after another major-label deal, or start her own company and release her music on her own. With the music industry evolving rapidly and an idea that might appeal to longtime fans swirling around her head, Vega decided to go independent.
Re-recording the songs acoustically was in part an economic decision. But Vega also liked the idea of reinventing them.
“I had no interest in doing a cover version of ‘Luka.' It was like, ‘No. No thank you,'” she said. “Nor did I want to do a sort of Suzanne Vega-lite version. So I thought, ‘Let's just do stark recordings of the absolute minimum.'”
Putting bare-bones versions of her songs out also gives Vega the ingredients for another idea: to place the tracks on a Web site where people can grab them and remix them. It's an idea that's not particularly surprising coming from a woman whose a cappella song “Tom's Diner” was remixed into a worldwide dance-club smash in 1990 by the British production duo DNA.
The Web site is on hold for now, but Vega hopes to get it up and running this year, she said.
“I like the remixes, and it's not as though I'm trying to go back to some pure aesthetic and say, ‘This is what I meant all along.' That's not how I feel at all,” she said. “I love the remixes. I love the productions, so this would be a way of saying ... to my audience, ‘If you can come up with a better idea, let's see what you've got.'”
Until then, though, Vega will show exactly what she's got by focusing on her new independence (“It's thrilling and very anxiety provoking,” she says) and continuing to work on the “Close-Up” series, from which she and her trio will pull for Sunday night's show in Bend. (They'll be joined by the Crown City String Quartet.)
“There's an element of legacy (to it), but also an element of saying, ‘I'm 50 years old. This is what I've accomplished so far. I feel that it's worth something,'” she said. “It's a way of saying, ‘This is what I've done. If you're not going to make the box set, I'm going to do it myself. If A&M and Blue Note are not interested in my body of work and keeping it integral and putting it out for people to buy, then I'm going to do it, because I believe in my work.'”