December 8, 2010
Regina Spektor goes live
Last week, Regina Spektor, the Russian-born, Jewish singer-songwriter, released her first live album, “Live in London,” a double-disc CD and DVD, which captures her performance at that city’s Hammersmith Apollo Theatre. On it, Spektor performs 23 songs, exploring her five-album-deep discography and unveiling a few new tunes, including the religiously introspective “Laughing With,” a single off her 2009 album, “Far”; the new, more lighthearted meta number, “Bobbing for Apples”; and “Après Moi,” in which Spektor uses lyrics from poems by the Russian-Jewish writer Boris Pasternak.
During a recent phone interview, Spektor, a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, admitted that releasing a live album scares her in ways that working in the comfort of the recording studio doesn’t. “I tour so much, but we’ve never captured any live shows,” she said. “Any time I try to have a show filmed, I kind of freeze up and make all kinds of mistakes I don’t usually make.”
The interview started with a similar freeze-up. Asked where she currently lives, Spektor declined to answer. The shakiness smoothed out quickly, however; when asked about her music, she offered monologues, at times poetic: “So much of it is imagination and flights of fancy and mental trips,” she said. “A lot of what I [like about music] is how physical it is for me and for most people. The very basic thing about [it] is that its vibration and intervals feel a certain way. There’s constant tension and release,” she said, adding, “Music happens before you can think about it; I’m not the kind of person who writes music with any agenda. I don’t sit there and think I’m going to write about this.”
Spektor’s sound blends jazzy piano and guitar with soft vocals that convey rage, humor and attitude — despite a softness — and she draws from a wide range of influences, including classical, Yiddish and pop music, particularly the Beatles. “Having grown up with Jewishness in a big way,” she said, Yiddish music “plays a big role.”
Born Regina Ilyinichna Spektor in 1980 in Moscow, she comes from a musical family. Her father, Ilya, is an amateur violinist and photographer, and her mother, Bella, was a music professor in Russia who now teaches elementary school in Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Regina studied piano as a child, and, in the late 1980s, when her family had the opportunity to immigrate to the United States to escape the discrimination against Jews in Russia, they almost chose not to so that Spektor could continue her piano studies in her native country.
In the United States, as she expanded her listening palette to genres like rock and folk, she began writing her own songs and performing them around New York City, eventually landing a recording contract with Warner Bros.
Despite her connection with her Jewish heritage, Spektor said she identifies with the immigrant experience more so than with the Jewish experience. “In a lot of ways, if you sat me down with some kid who came from Mexico City, I might have more to talk to him about than [with] some third-generation American Jew,” she said.
She said her Russian-Jewish heritage, along with her formative years spent in America, informs the versatility in her work and her taste in other artists.
“I’ve been kind of overexposed to Russian Jews who are making art,” she said, but she still enjoys Russian Jewish writers such as Gary Shteyngart, whose fiction blends playfulness, seriousness and a surreal imagination — as does her music.