Preview: Suzanne Vega to play the Barbican to celebrate 25th anniversary of Solitude Standing album
The singer-songwriter talks about the record that changed her life – and her role in changing the music industry
There’s no doubt that American singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega has made an indelible mark on the world of pop music.
That would be the case even if she’d hung up her guitar after penning the irresistibly catchy melody of late 1980s hit Tom’s Diner.
But in a time when teenagers probably need reminding that songs used to come on circular discs, it’s fair to say she’s had a still more far-reaching impact.
That’s because Vega, who next week comes to the Barbican, had a role in the development of the technology that transformed the recording industry, one which has led to her being dubbed the mother of the MP3.
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It was her original a cappella recording of Tom’s Diner that audio engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg used to develop the audio compression method that has transformed the music industry.
For a 53-year-old who has made her living as a musician, that must be quite some thought.
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“It’s a mixed blessing,” she says. “They say I’m the mother of the MP3 and I joke that it’s hard to control your children. Some are nice and well behaved, but some run wild.
“They used my voice to refine the MP3, so every one is the result of Karlheinz Brandenburg listening to Tom’s Diner.
“I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I’m happy to be part of a moment in history. I like the ease of the MP3 and the fact that it’s made it easy to carry music around, but on the other hand, it’s undeniable that it has kind of ruined the music industry. But then, maybe it was ripe for ruining anyway.”
Vega is coming to London to perform in the main hall at the Barbican Centre in Silk Street, EC2, on Tuesday. The gig is a celebration of her award-winning second long player, 1987’s Solitude Standing, which is still her signature record a quarter of a century later. It is this album that features her two best-known international hits, Tom’s Diner and Luka.
“We’re doing the whole album from beginning to end, and a few other songs from my career to round it out – otherwise it would only be 35 minutes long.
“We’re doing three of these gigs to celebrate the 25th anniversary, with ones in Boston and New York as well. Some of the songs I haven’t really performed in 25 years and one or two, it feels a little weird.”
Although her first album had already sold about a million copies, Vega’s life changed dramatically when Solitude Standing was released.
She says: “It was almost overnight. The thing that pushed it over the edge was Luka being a big radio hit. Literally from Sunday to Monday, one day I was playing to half-full venues, the next day every single place was packed for the whole year.
“It changed everything for a while. As an artist, you hope that anything you do will last over time, and I think the things I wrote about back then are still with us.
“It’s an album of little portraits of different characters and I think people still resonate with that. I’m happy for it to be remembered and celebrated in this way.”
* Suzanne Vega plays the Barbican Hall on Tuesday.