Regina Spektor speaks to Skinnyfest down the phone line from New York, where her family moved from Russia when she was a child due to the oppressive regime of the former Soviet Union. “It was almost government policy anti-Semitism. It’s on your passport that you’re a Jew and you have your opportunities accordingly. Practicing any kind of religion was illegal”.
I ask her if her adoptive home is really the glamorous place I have always imagined it to be. “It’s not at all glamorous when you’re broke and you’re going through the couch cushions to look for change to see if you can even get downtown to play at an open mic, then you wake up to do your day job that you hate. And everyone’s been there – you won’t meet a single musician who’s not had their head smashed by New York City.
But at the same time, it’s a very generous place- you can spend the day walking round the city, which is free, and no matter how broke you are you can see a million movies happening right before your eyes. You have to be really open and let the city take you where it wants you, it’s almost like some sort of a weird pill, you just follow it”.
Her description of New York as an inspirational wonderland makes sense as Spektor’s songs are known for their inventive array of characters and stories such as those on the first collection of her songs officially available in the UK, Mary Ann Meets the Gravediggers. That record was culled from her early self-produced records and 2004’s Soviet Kitsch, recorded with Strokes producer Gordon Raphael. “We made Soviet Kitsch in about 10-14 days, in New York and London. With Gordon it was a very different experience to the new album because I was in a totally different headspace but it was still better than my previous record which was all recorded in one day!”
I suggest that new album Begin to Hope is a more commercial direction for her but she disagrees – “that’s kind of a gross thought! I’d never had any money or time or any of the fun stuff that makes studio recording exciting for musicians so I worked really, really hard for a couple of months. I really had the chance to fulfil my ideas and arrangements- things that I heard in my mind for a long time that I never had the chance to work on before.”
Indeed, once you become accustomed to the higher production values the album reveals itself abundant with classic avant-garde pop songs – but then what else would you expect from a Russian born, Bronx raised classically trained pianist with a Beatles/Billie Holiday/Ella Fitzgerald/Bjork fixation who counts the anti-folk movement as her friends? Those attending Regina’s sold out T on the Fringe gig can expect a stunning, theatrical performance perfectly suited to August’s festivities, when Edinburgh comes closest to the vibrancy of the Big Apple. [Milo McLaughlin]
Published by (Skinny) Fest in August 2006