Regina Spektor: a unique talent to cherish
Regina Spektor was still little-known in Australia when I last spoke to her at the end of 2006 about the release of her fourth long-player, Begin To Hope. While music lovers in the U.S. and the U.K. have long-since been mesmerised by her diverse, piano-led tales, word took longer to spread to these shores. However, such was the record’s charm that it was easy to envisage this country quickly falling head-over-heels in love with the Russian-born New Yorker.
Predictably, the album has been so well-received that the clamber for tickets to see Spektor’s first ever Sydney show at The Enmore Theatre meant another date had to be added. This leads me to ask the delightful songstress if it feels somewhat strange to be selling out sizeable venues in a country that she has never previously visited. “Absolutely,” she confirms in her delicate New York accent. “It’s very, very strange and I’m feeling a lot of pressure. In other places it’s a little bit more natural because I started out in small clubs and little bars and worked my way up. It’s a strange feeling just to show up in a place and to have something that in other places you have to put in the time and the work for. I feel like I’m getting handed something and I’m like: ‘Wait. Don’t give it to me. You need to see if I’m worth it first’.”
To see Regina Spektor perform live is an experience so captivating and intimate that it feels like she is singing to you and you only, and proves that she is indeed well worth the fanfare that she arrives to. Pleasingly, the anticipation is reciprocated, even though she has to overcome a massive fear of flying to make it here at all. “I can’t wait. I’m terrified of the flight and the jetlag – I’m a very nervous flyer, but I’m excited about everything else. I really hope I won’t just be doing promotion and playing. I want to see some real places and get a feel for the country.”
In spite of her keenness to take in some of Sydney’s attractions, you’re unlikely to spot this particular tourist embarking on the Harbour Bridge climb during her time in the city. Being a consummate professional, her need to put on a great show takes precedence. “I put so much energy into my shows and I need to have lots of physical and mental strength, which means I can’t go sightseeing all day and then just pop in to sound-check. I feel the desire to come through every time and give people the most that I can. So I can’t spend the day running around the city getting tired and then be like: ‘Oh whatever. The show will be fine’.”
The way that the genuine and friendly Regina patiently and thoughtfully answers my questions as I stumble through our conversation with the bumbling awkwardness of a schoolboy with a crush suggests that she is a better interviewee than she gives herself credit for. In her a sugar-sweet tone, she continues: “I hope that it’s one of those things where I am still in the transitional state, and either the interviews will die down because I’ll have eventually talked to everybody in the whole world, or I’ll learn how to write music in these conditions. I feel like something’s got to give though because, although it’s been an exciting year, it’s also been a bit frustrating to not be able to make as much music as I’d like. I’m the least prolific that I’ve ever been,” she
Even though Regina may not be as productive as she’d like, she is still incredibly fruitful in her songwriting and has “tons and tons of songs waiting to see the light of day.” While this is an exciting prospect for those of us who have played her latest album to death, her next record is still very much in the pre-production stage, and she is keeping a typically open mind about how it will sound, as things can easily change once she gets in the studio. “It’s all theory at the moment. It’s like baking a cake in theory, but then all of a sudden you have to handle stuff with your own hands and you accidentally spill half of the milk so you’ve only got half of it in the cake. Everything changes, you know? Man plans and God laughs. I might meet someone tomorrow who plays the best banjo I’ve ever heard and I might end up with banjo on my record.”
While banjos have so far failed to permeate Regina’s output, it is true that she has no fear of pushing the musical envelope in her vividly-imagined stories. On one song she plays piano with one hand and uses the other to hit a chair with a drumstick. Elsewhere, she sings Russian couplets, applies differing accents, or uses her voice as an additional musical instrument. These nuances make Regina Spektor’s music as interesting as it is charming and, as she is set to prove with her debut live dates in this country, she one of the most talented and intriguing songwriters of our generation. Hers is a unique talent which should be cherished.
Interview by Bobby Townsend.