Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Trump and me

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Music -

‘Iam not un­der­stand­ing things,” says Regina Spek­tor. “I am not mak­ing sense. I am drop­ping things and bump­ing into walls.” Spek­tor pauses and, as it does so of­ten dur­ing our in­ter­view in a Santa Mon­ica ho­tel, her mouth widens into a room-bright­en­ing smile. “I re­ally feel the cog­ni­tive ef­fects of sleep de­pri­va­tion.”

Spek­tor is a 36-year-old singer-song­writer whose bril­liant new al­bum proves she can find her way around a key­board with her eyes closed and write lyrics that fizz with a Cole Porter-ish wit. She is also the mother of a two-year-old boy who doesn’t spend a lot of time sleep­ing.

When she and her hus­band, for­mer Moldy Peaches gui­tarist Jack Dishel, first de­cided to have chil­dren, she wor­ried how hav­ing a baby would in­ter­fere with her work. “I just knew I wasn’t go­ing to be ‘art first, kid sec­ond’,” she says. “I come from very, very Rus­sian-Jewish par­ents, where it’s ev­ery­thing for the child and my­self last. ‘ You need to go 300,000 miles away? Let me drive you there! Let me sit in traf­fic all the way back!’,” she laughs.

On the other hand, she con­tin­ues, “this whole other Gor­bachev-era Soviet Union for New York, she talks like Frenchie from Grease, with per­haps a shade of Larry The Lamb. The re­sult is both cap­ti­vat­ing and like noth­ing you’ve quite heard be­fore. The same could be said for her new al­bum, Remember Us to Life, which swerves from piano-and­cello melo­drama to rip­pling cham­ber-pop, be­tray­ing both her clas­si­cal piano train­ing and her weak­ness for Eight­ies pop.

“The thing is, I didn’t ac­tu­ally ever ex­pe­ri­ence your Eight­ies be­cause I was in Soviet Rus­sia,” she says. “Then in the begin­ning of the Nineties in New York, I was just in a broke im­mi­grant bub­ble. So we didn’t have MTV, I didn’t know Boy Ge­orge, I’d no clue about Cyndi Lau­per.

“Then once it did hit my con­scious­ness,” she beams, eyes like saucers, “ev­ery­thing from The Break­fast Club to all those bands, it gave me this end­less, bot­tom­less hunger for all things Eight­ies! Pat Be­natar? Per­fect! And so is [Cul­ture Club’s] Karma Chameleon, and [A-Ha’s] Take On Me. That mu­sic makes you think ev­ery­thing is OK in the world.”

Singer-song­writer Regina Spek­tor tells Craig McLean what links the US with the USSR

Made in Los Angeles, where she has lived since re­lo­cat­ing from Brook­lyn 18 months ago, the new al­bum might be her first since the birth of her child, but don’t go to it ex­pect­ing med­i­ta­tions on moth­er­hood.

“It’s so hard for me to write di­rectly about things,” Spek­tor says. “I feel it’s one of my joys in mak­ing art that you don’t have an agenda. It’s a nat­u­ral ex­pres­sion that wants to come out, and you just fa­cil­i­tate it.”

Her songs tend to come to her when she’s walk­ing or cook­ing. With both ac­tiv­i­ties, she says, “there’s part of you that’s just present enough to not do some­thing bad – burn your­self or get knocked over, God for­bid! – and there’s some part of you that can med­i­tate out. It’s so con­ducive to writ­ing.”

Af­ter liv­ing in New York, it’s taken her time to ad­just to “a very chill place like LA. In LA peo­ple do one thing a day! Lon­don is like New York – you never do one thing a day. But it’s nice to be here and some­times just koalaout and go ‘palm trees, mmmm’.”

One man still guar­an­teed to shake her tree is Don­ald Trump. Did his po­lit­i­cal rise fil­ter, di­rectly or oth­er­wise, into Remember Us to Life? “Well, I feel like he got to the scene af­ter this record got recorded. But I was like, eu­r­rgh, what a creepy mo­ment we’re all ex­pe­ri­enc­ing po­lit­i­cally.” The idea of Brexit also un­set­tled her from afar, with all the as­so­ci­ated dis­course about bor­der checks and se­cu­rity vet­ting and sep­a­ra­tion. “It’s toxic. It leads to very bad things. I come from a place that put up walls and iron cur­tains,” she says, and again the smile fades. “Iso­la­tion is not good. It breeds fear, and it’s what they do – di­vide and con­quer, pit those peo­ple against th­ese peo­ple…

“The sad thing about it is, Trump is a type. Stalin is a type. Hitler is a type. Lenin is a type. They’re all a type, and they’re all f------ dark,” she says, frown­ing, an émi­gré who knows of what she speaks. “They mis­un­der­stand the point of ev­ery­thing.

“I’d never say that I get the point of ev­ery­thing!” she clar­i­fies, bright­en­ing. “But I know 100 per cent that the point can’t be that dark. Peo­ple make very bad de­ci­sions through anx­i­ety and fear.”

‘Eight­ies pop mu­sic makes you think that ev­ery­thing is OK in the world’

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