“Human nature is a beast”
Regina Spektor has enjoyed success both commercially and critically. But, she tells Stellar, she might end up writing fortune cookies one day
Ahead of her return to Australia for a whirlwind solo tour, singer Regina Spektor talks about her rise to the top and the danger of “black-and-white thinking”.
For most, the prospect of sitting next to a stranger on a long-haul flight isn’t something to look forward to. But for Regina Spektor, it’s an opportunity to light a creative spark. “I love dipping into human interactions and, in some ways, travel is like the most concentrated of those experiences,” she tells Stellar. “Airports are full of people going towards their hopes and dreams, or running away from things. And when you’re flying, it is so simultaneously unnatural to be up there in this big metal machine and, at the same time it’s such a miraculous gift of our time. I’ve had some really great chats.
“I really love getting a chance to talk to people that are either really, really close to my world – like other artists or musicians because that experience is so unique – or really, really different from my world. Both are so valuable, and both are kind of hard to come by.”
She hopes for an interesting seat buddy when she boards her flight from
Los Angeles to Australia in a couple of weeks; Spektor, 38, is heading here for a whirlwind solo tour of Melbourne and Sydney. “In and out, boom, boom,” she says. It’s not the first time she’s journeyed to our shores during her 17-year career, and not the furthest-flung country that has fallen for her charms.
Spektor burst onto the mainstream with her infectious single ‘Fidelity’ in 2006, but she’d been honing her unique sound for years before that. Born in Moscow, she and her Jewish parents fled religious persecution in the Soviet Union and arrived in the Bronx, new York, when she was nine. Already a gifted classical pianist, she had to leave the family piano behind, practising by tapping out pieces on windowsills until she found an actual instrument she could play for real. It wasn’t until an overseas holiday – and the positive reaction of some fellow teens to her made-up tunes – that she considered writing songs. From there, nothing could hold her back: she self-released two albums, toured with The Strokes and Kings of Leon, and turned down all offers from record labels for seven years until she was given the creative freedom she craved.
That was then, this is now: as Spektor packs for her tour, she’s doing so as a bona fide star who’s enjoyed both critical and commercial success, received a Grammy nomination for ‘ You’ve Got Time’, the theme song she wrote for the hit show Orange Is The New Black, performed at the White House, released seven studio albums, married musician Jack Dishel and gave birth to a son, now four, whose name she keeps private. That last one, she says, affected her significantly as an artist. “motherhood changes everything of your entire experience because it’s so aweinspiring and daunting. It’s like you get access to all this stuff you didn’t know you had in you. You thought you were pretty figured out up to a point and then it’s almost like somebody’s like, ‘ Wait a minute! This isn’t a studio apartment, it’s a seven-room mansion and it’s full of all this stuff so you have to figure it out now!’ And try to figure it out without f*cking up your kid,” she says, laughing.
Spektor had imagined that becoming a mum would mean hitting pause on making music, but instead she was “super inspired” and made more art than she had in many years. Getting to know her son as an individual also brought on an epiphany of sorts about the world around her. “He is not mini me and mini Jack, he is his own human being – how amazing that that is what we all are? We’re raised,but we come preloaded with so many things that are so ourselves. And that’s really inspiring. Because it’s just so interesting to be in a world full of people that are so themselves, and hopefully to try and nurture that, whether it’s other kids or communities. We are these very mysterious individuals.”
It’s perhaps why, while she’s happy to speak out about politics and social injustice, she’s hesitant to say that she sees it as her duty.coming from the former Soviet Union has made her suspicious of “totalitarian, black-and-white thinking” that relies on what one “should” be doing. “All people on all political spectrums have human nature to contend with, which is a f*cking beast. It is a beast full of shadow and chaos and the desire to make yourself feel vindicated and righteous and on the correct side of things. And it’s a very dangerous place to be.
“When you get really, really involved in the politics of it all in that way you can probably lose perspective. I get pulled into it even if I’m trying to stay out of it.”
Instead, she tries to focus on writing music and raising her son – and daydreaming about trying her hand at other forms of writing; perhaps a novel, or maybe for TV. “Just in the last little while I’ve been pondering it. Songs are tiny compared to other things and yet sometimes I’ll listen to a song that’s maybe three or five minutes long and feel like I’ve gone to another plane. It feels like all this space got created and all this time went by and I had all my own associations and thoughts and I love that. I love the tininess of songs and that you just create these worlds and they’re really little. It’s almost like someone who’s dealing in miniatures, versus carving into the side of a mountain or making a pyramid. I might have to go smaller; I might have to start writing fortune cookies.” Regina Spektor will play the Arts Centre Melbourne on July 8 and Sydney Opera House on July 9.
STRIKING A CHORD (clockwise from top) Regina Spektor, here in 2012, has made a name for herself with her quirky brand of pop; playing the White House in 2010; she learnt classical piano as a child; onstage in Berlin last year; performing with her husband Jack Dishel in 2017; (opposite) Spektor, pictured earlier this year, will visit Australia on her world tour.