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.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.