Before her tour here, prolific US artist Regina
Spektor tells Lydia Jenkin, of The NZ Herald, how
writer's block has never been a problem.
Photo from Reuters.
It seems that Regina Spektor was almost destined to be a pop
strikingly pale-faced, raven-haired, blue-eyed piano player
characterful voice, she emigrated from Russia to the Bronx
family at the age of 9 as a political refugee.
She studied classical piano at the Manhattan School of Music,
and went on to achieve a degree in composition, but despite
these years of experience she doesn't consider herself a
qualified classical musician.
"I think to call me a classical musician is an insult to
classical musicians," she explains in her whimsical
high-pitched voice, down the phone from New York.
"I don't have at all what it takes to be a classical musician
- I have the utmost respect for their talents. But I think
having listened to a lot of classical music, and having
learned to love it the way that I do, it's definitely a giant
part of me, and probably the biggest part of how I write and
perform. But I also really love rock 'n' roll, and pop, and
there's another side of me that's really connected to that."
Her fifth studio album What We Saw From the Cheap
Seats, released earlier this year, captures that
collision of inspirations beautifully, with many of the
tracks recorded live with Spektor playing piano and singing
simultaneously, with further wide-ranging instrumentation and
experimentation added over the top.
The songs were not all specifically written for this album,
however, as the prolific Spektor has 10 years' worth of songs
waiting in the wings which have not been recorded or
released, just waiting to find a home on an album.
"There's a song I want to put on every album but for whatever
reason it just doesn't feel right, so I'll wait until the
next record and try again, and then wait until the next
record and then try again. There are some songs that have
been waiting for a really long time."
She's also hesitant to try to explain where the inspiration
for her wide-ranging music comes from, or even the album
title - it's not that she's inarticulate on the subject, just
reluctant to colour her music with explanations.
"I always have the hardest time trying to talk about it,
because I like to be conceptual but not necessarily
definitive. I always prefer for as much of the art to stay
free of my own definition as possible, I feel like it weighs
"But I can tell you I was thinking of the title long before I
ever started working on the record, and long before I knew
what songs would be on there.
"It's not necessarily that I had a concept, it just felt
right I guess."
Many have commented on her wonderful observational ability,
and her lovely viewpoint that is somehow both childlike and
wise, whether it's a quirkily barbed political comment, or
during a deep love ballad.
Spektor feels she has no particular goal or agenda when it
comes to writing songs, the ideas simply arrive.
"You're not really trying or thinking; you're just being
really open and doing what feels right. We're always thinking
and shaping our thoughts, and I think you're constantly
making art even when you're not doing it deliberately. You
might think, 'Oh, I came up with that so fast,' but for all
you know you've been working on this for years and you just
"Slowly but surely, little things get stuck to a little idea
and it grows in your subconscious, until suddenly it's just
"In that way I don't really believe in wasted time so much
"Or maybe it's just my convenient way of being lazy, I don't
Lazy is not the right word, but she's certainly an artist
from whom talent seems to simply flow, and she appears
unconcerned about ever having writer's block. For a long time
she would not actually write her songs down as she was
creating them, confident another one would soon arrive.
"I used to forget a lot of songs, but I got really lucky,
because I play all of my songs live, like every song I've
ever written, and there would always be people that would
record my shows and put them online.
"I am so grateful to them because I honestly wouldn't have
had the chance to work on a lot of the songs without those
So if you're there to see her perform at the Auckland Town
Hall (with support from Only Son, aka Jack Dishel, her
husband), feel free to whip out your camera and record a clip
or two - Spektor could be grateful when she wants to jog her
memory for the next album.
See it, hear it
Russian-born American singer-songwriter Regina Spektor plays
the Auckland Town Hall on Monday, December 3. Her new album
What We Saw From the Cheap Seats is out now.