Regina Spektor is a Russian-born, New York-based singer/songwriter whose off-beat lyrics, amazing voice and impeccable piano-playing skills have won over critics and audiences worldwide. Her latest album, Begin to Hope, hits stores June 2006, and she is currently touring the US and Europe. TM: So are your parents both musicians? RS: My mom was a conservatory professor of musicology and theory and she played piano. And my dad was a violinist way into his 20s. He played in an orchestra but he wasn't a professional musician. TM: What role did music play for you growing up? RS: It was everything. Like even before I can remember, my mom told me that when she was grading university papers she'd put on a record and I would stop screaming and when the record would end I'd start screaming again so she'd run and flip the record over and I'd listen and just lay there. And so, I guess (music) was my first babysitter...And that house was full of classical music, the Beatles and some Russian bards who were really great poets. TM: Any favorite composers? RS: There's so much. I've always loved Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev and Mozart and Bach. Then I discovered Chopin. There's so much... And then of course there was pop music and hip-hop...I'm discovering new stuff all the time. Like I just got into metal and it's actually really cool...Like that band Pantera...Anthrax, Guns N Roses...stuff I've never really listened to that's so amazing. TM: So is there a possibility of hearing some metal influence in your music? RS: I'm sure. It's just like with everything. Like when I discovered jazz or gospel or hip hop or country. There's so much great stuff. You sit there in the morning and you're like "Oh God, what am I going to listen to?" Johnny Cash or Marilyn Manson? You can't decide. Or Mozart or Joni Mitchell or Dylan or Nirvana. TM: How do you feel your Russian heritage plays a part in your music? RS: Russians, I feel, in a lot of ways are much more in touch with their melancholic side. They're comfortable with it. I feel like, in some ways, America tries to stifle melancholy. And people are sort of putting on a happy face and trying to be cheery and polite ...but it think (Russians) always were very open about being melancholy...It's in the literature and in the art. People spill over with emotion. So I think I have that bitter-sweetness of the Russian way. But there's also a lot of humor and self deprecation. TM: Do you have a typical songwriting process? RS: There's really not...I guess the only unifying thing that happens is that I need to....write at home in New York. And I'm on the road so much that sometimes I'm just like "ARGH! I just want to go home and write my songs!"... And if I'm not home for a long time I'm like "OK, I'm so inspired. I want to go home now and write" and then it's like "Oh no you have another month. Hold it in." You know? Like you've been holding in peeing for a while and then you pee and it's so good and you're like "Ahhh. This is the best!" (laughs) TM: That's a great analogy! So I noticed that a lot of your songs are character sketches. Where do you draw inspiration for them? RS: Observing people all around. I just love humans...and the (songs) come out of the fact that I find people endearing...You know, mannerisms, accents, complexes...it's all constant entertainment. All around us there are plays going on, movies, actors, characters, it's beautiful. TM: Are there any artists out there that you'd love to collaborate with? RS: There are so many cool musicians. You hear them and you say "wow, it would be cool to work with them." But anybody who's a great musician--you enjoy playing with them. On the new record, Nick (Valensi) played on the song "Better"--he's the guitarist for the Strokes, and that was really amazing...on (another) one of the songs, Paul McCartney's guitarist Rusty came in and played...and it was beautiful. And I also have two musicians from Central Park who played on it. One is Ralphie Williams and he's a saxophone player...And then we had another who played the erhu. It's this stringed Chinese instrument. I don't know how to describe it. It's kinda got a sound like (*she emulates the erhu with her voice*). Well, he had a really complicated name, but he just said to call him Joe. And I feel really bad because I don't know how to pronounce it! TM: So what excites you the most about the new album, Begin to Hope? RS: It's awesome! I love it so much. I love listening to it which is crazy. I've never made anything that I liked listening to. I would make stuff and then I'd never listen to it again... I had time and I had a chance to work like I'd always wanted to--to arrange and produce and have (more) instruments...I don't know if was just me, but any time I would finish stuff I would panic and hate it and try to take songs off of the record that ended up being people's favorite songs. TM: So what songs did you want to take off Soviet Kitsch? RS: The only reason I didn't take "Us" off of Soviet Kitsch was because I was gonna only have nine songs on it...and I'm really grateful to Gordon (Raphael, the producer) that he talked me into keeping it. For some reason in my mind, when we finished it, I felt "It's too long. It's too boring. Everything is wrong." And got really crazy about it. TM: Well you're nuts cause that's a great song! RS: Thanks...Remember that movie The Conversation? It's about paranoia...There's this scene where this person is destroying a room because they're convinced that it's bugged. And you have to be really careful with your record that you don't turn into that movie. (laughs) TM: You're your worst critic. RS: But sometimes you're right! Like for this new record, I had probably done 70 takes of "Samson."...And then we had (the album) done and I flew to Portland, Maine to master it... and I flew back to New York that same day and I got home and I was like "this is the wrong Samson." And I called my label and I said "the record's not done." And I went back into the studio and recorded it again. And they all thought that I was crazy...that I was destroying my record... But it ended up being exactly the take that I wanted. And I was right, my instinct was right. It takes a balance between trying to trust other people and knowing that sometimes you're going to want to erase the best track on the record, but also knowing that just because everybody says "this is great" and your instinct says "no, this is not the one" that you can do it because it is your record. I'm so opinionated and so stubborn--it's been really funny with this new record because some of the fans who have heard some of the new tracks were like "...Warner brothers made you put drums and guitars on stuff. They're trying to turn you mainstream!" I think it's so funny because if they only knew how no one in the world can make me do anything...they would never think that. TM: Do you ever get stage fright? RS: Oh my god, yeah. You know, your reasons for stage fright change but your body doesn't know...it just knows that it's freaked out. So you just get stomach pains and nervous sweats. TM: Does this happen before every gig? RS: You know sometimes I will not even know that I'm playing a show and I'll wake up with a stomach ache and I think "why do I feel so crappy?" and then I'll go "oh, it's for tonight." TM: So do you like recording and writing more than playing live? RS: No. I love performing live...it's like being on a roller coaster...when they close the thing you get really freaked out, but you know it's gonna be ok and you still want to do it. TM: One last question. If you could arrange to have a dinner party with any three people, living or dead, who would they be? RS: Hmm. I'd say Charlie Chaplin. Mozart and somebody who'd be really witty (pauses to think)...Oscar Wilde.
In-depth Biography A veteran of New York's anti-folk scene, songwriter Regina Spektor makes quirky, highly eclectic, but always personal music. Born and raised in Moscow until age nine, Spektor listened to her father's bootleg tapes of Western pop and rock as a young child and also learned to play piano. She and her family moved from Russia to the Bronx, where she was immersed in American culture (at the time, hers was the first Russian family in the borough in 20 years). Eventually, Spektor and her family became part of a community that balanced her Russian Jewish roots with her new home's culture. Meanwhile, she continued to practice piano anywhere she could, including at her synagogue, until her family got a piano of its own.
Spektor further developed her classical piano training by attending the SUNY Purchase Music Conservatory. During her studies, she was exposed to blues and jazz artists, including Billie Holiday. These sounds made such an impact on Spektor that they became a big part of her self-released 2001 debut album, 11:11. At the same time, she was also playing gigs anywhere she could in the city, in venues ranging from basements to parties to comedy clubs. On the strength of her frequent performances and another self-released album, 2002's Songs, Spektor developed a following that included Alan Bezozi, They Might Be Giants' drummer. He introduced Spektor to the Strokes' producer, Gordon Raphael, and both worked with Spektor on her third album, Soviet Kitsch, in both New York and London (where she collaborated with the band Kill Kenada). Soviet Kitsch was initially self-released like her other work, but it eventually found a wider release with Sire Records.
Tours with the Strokes, Kings of Leon, Mates of State, and the Moldy Peaches' Kimya Dawson further raised Spektor's profile. She also toured the U.K., where the success of "Us" as a European single led to the release of the CD/DVD retrospective Mary Ann Meets the Gravediggers and Other Short Stories early in 2006. That summer, Begin to Hope, her first album of original material for Sire, arrived. Begin to Hope enjoyed popularity on both sides of the Atlantic and went gold in America, where it also cracked the Top 20. After taking several years to tour and compose new material, Spektor returned in 2009 with Far, which featured a bevy of star producers, including Jeff Lynne, David Kahne, Mike Elizondo, and Garret "Jacknife" Lee. Spektor’s first-ever live release, Live in London, was recorded and filmed at London's legendary Hammersmith Apollo, and released in 2010. In summer 2011, Spektor reunited with Elizondo in Los Angeles to begin recording her next album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats. The dark, driving single "All the Rowboats" arrived the following February, and the album itself was released in May 2012. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi