Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Trump and me
‘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’