Suzanne Vega‘s new album, Lover, Beloved: Songs From an Evening With Carson McCullers, arrived Oct. 14, just more than two years after her last release, Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles.
While that’s the quickest break between studio albums of new material by the singer-songwriter since 1990 and 1992, her new set was roughly 30 years in the making, dating to Vega’s interest in author McCullers that “started as a class project in college,” she says. “I fell in love with her work, her persona.
“I ended up doing a small, half-hour play for my senior thesis. So, it’s always been my dream to finish it in a way that I felt it should be finished.” In 2011, Vega performed an expanded version in a run of shows in New York; the new album, meanwhile, previews Vega’s ultimate vision of the play, set to debut in 2017.
On the latest Chart Beat Podcast, Vega chats with host and Billboard co-director of charts Gary Trust about the new album (featuring songs co-written with Duncan Sheik), the “symbiotic relationship” she feels with McCullers, due, in large part to the late author’s “empathy of the outsider,” and Vega’s impressive discography, which, while centered in folk/pop, has branched to industrial influences, among others, over the years. “I have a very curious mind, and I like to play,” Vega muses. “What is the point of writing something that everyone else has already written?”
Vega also looks back at her two biggest Billboard Hot 100 hits: her No. 3-peaking 1987 commercial breakthrough “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner,” which, originally released as an a cappella track on her 1987 album Solitude Standing (it and “Luka” open the LP, respectively), soared to No. 5 in 1991, reimagined as a dance track by DNA. In 2015, Fall Out Boy reworked the song as part of its No. 10 Hot 100 hit “Centuries” (returning Vega to the top 10, as a writer, for the first time since DNA’s remix) and Britney Spears released her Giorgio Moroder-produced cover of “Diner,” which hit No. 38 on Billboard‘s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart.
Vega says that she appreciated her chart fortunes from the time that “Luka” was scaling the Hot 100. “Oh, I love the charts,” she says. “When I was a kid, I listened to Casey Kasem every Sunday, religiously. I was thrilled by the success [of “Luka”]. It was something I had never anticipated,” Vega says, adding that she didn’t originally believe that the song would be a hit, due to its socially-conscious lyrics. “I always thought of myself as an album artist, not a singles artist.
“But, it was thrilling to be that successful. I’m still proud of that era.”
A sampling of previous episodes with host Gary Trust:
iHeartMedia’s Bobby Bones (hosted by Jim Asker) / How Daya Broke Through on New Label Artbeatz / Timothy B. Schmit / Chart Historian Joel Whitburn / Fall Preview With ABC Radio’s Andrea Dresdale / Debbie Gibson / Hit Songs Deconstructed on The Chainsmokers & Meghan Trainor / Lionel Richie (hosted by Trevor Anderson)
Enjoy the entire latest Chart Beat Podcast and check back for more upcoming episodes with artists, label executives, radio programmers and personalities, songwriters, producers and more, as we look at why what’s on the charts … is on the charts. And, to receive every episode automatically in your inbox, subscribe to (and rate) the Billboard Chart Beat Podcast on iTunes!