“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

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - In­ter­view by NAOMI CHRISOULAKIS

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.

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