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Five questions for singer-pianist Regina Spektor

Ben Edmonds
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

Before we're told that some people can make music and some can't, everybody makes music in their heads. You can hear this primal level of music-making at work in the songs of Regina Spektor.

At the same time, the extensive classical training she received -- first in Moscow, where she was born, and then in New York, where her family eventually settled -- informs her music as well.

This delightful blend of pure wonder and acquired skill has set Spektor apart from the gaggle of quirky piano girls trying to claim the corner of the modern rock territory first colonized by Tori Amos back in the early `90s. Spektor's fourth and breakthrough album, "Begin To Hope," is her first fully produced effort, but when she performs on her latest tour it will be just Regina and her piano. To her ever-expanding legion of fans, that's enough.

Some feel classical training can be an impediment to self-expression. Do you?

No, not at all. I think my training has given me an advantage. The more skills you have, the easier it becomes to access things within yourself. With my teachers, technique was just a stepping-stone. Ballet, for example, is difficult physically, and they have to do what seem to be mindless exercises. But when it's all combined and the dancers have the power of the music behind them, they're not thinking about that. All that work was done so that they can really let go in the moment.

How was your first experience with full studio production?

Wonderful! It was fun to use the technology to play around with sounds and arrangements. It's like building a virtual reality. You can see all the different ways you could dress your music up. Like what it might sound like with an orchestra from half the planet away, just to see how it walks in those shoes.

Are there sounds in your mind you can't yet replicate in the concrete world?

Sure. As soon as you try to go outside your mind, you're forced to come to terms with the physical world. A painter can have a vision, but he's still got to start with the same primary colors and go from there.

Whose music offered inspiration as you searched for your own identity?

Wow, there were so many. Sometimes I feel it's really not me at all, that I'm just a composite or collage of all the things I love. Definitely a lot of classical music, but also the Beatles and Queen and Billie Holiday. And all sorts of modern things like Radiohead and Bjork and Tom Waits. Nirvana. Eminem! (Laughs) I'm a long list.

Who has the kind of career you'd like for yourself?

I love the people who were always changing, always looking for a new way forward. People like Madonna and Dylan, who've lasted for a long time because they make their own space and then bring us into it. People who can grow and change and take us with them. I want to be doing this when I'm a little old lady, and still finding new things to get excited about.

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