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Last Updated: Monday, 19 March 2007, 09:04 GMT
Spektor's word-of-mouth success
By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Regina Spektor
Spektor's music has been used on Grey's Anatomy and CSI
Despite suffering from bronchitis, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor has been dragged down to the studios of the BBC's Culture Show first thing in the morning to perform two songs.

If she's feeling under the weather, it doesn't show in her voice, which soars through the high notes of her current single Fidelity, with no signs of faltering.

Spektor's determination to keep the show on the road is typical of her desire to bring her sparkling, piano-led music to the widest possible audience - something which hasn't always been an easy task.

The Russian-born New York-based singer-songwriter spent several years living on the bread line, having quit her day job to pursue a musical career.

She begged promoters to let her play in local venues, and called in favours to secure time in recording studios.

'Warm and unexpected'

After releasing two self-financed albums, she scored a support slot on tour with influential indie group The Strokes, but had to pay for her flights and hotel rooms.

But the constant touring began to yield results. Fans attending gigs would take home two CDs - one for themselves and another to send to a friend.

"It was amazing," says Spektor, "overwhelming, even, because the reception was just so warm and unexpected."

Record label Sire soon took note and signed her in 2004. At Spektor's suggestion, she continued to build a reputation by word-of-mouth.

The tactic worked. Her first album for the label Soviet Kitsch may not have troubled the charts, but it made several critics' end-of-year lists.

Last year's Begin To Hope finally broke the mainstream, selling 160,000 copies in the US and hitting number one on the iTunes alternative chart, where Spektor was the only female artist in the top 50.

Regina Spektor
I'm influenced by fiction and fairytales and myths
Regina Spektor
"It feels really good because it feels very real," says Spektor. "People listened to it and they told their friends or their family about it.

"That's the most that anybody could ever want."

Spektor is hoping to recreate her US success in Europe, with a lengthy tour and a re-release of Begin To Hope.

The album, full of airborne melodies and deviously catchy hooks, has attracted comparisons with Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Bjork.

But Spektor baulks at attempts to categorise her music.

"People are always asking what I sound like - even my dentist asked me that question - and I don't know how to answer it.

'Anti-confessional'

"It's like Steve Martin said: 'Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.' A lot of it is so ambiguous and so elusive that trying to pin it down with words just makes it smaller and narrower."

Part of the problem is that Spektor's music often shifts style several times in one song, in one case incorporating lines from Russian poet Boris Pasternak.

Her own lyrics paint vignettes of Orca whales, assorted biblical characters and the prevalence of cleavage in summertime New York.

"I'm influenced by fiction and fairytales and myths," says Spektor. "That's what I grew up on.

"I like fantasy. I like allegory. I think that people are built to be poetic from an ancient time.

"Our whole world is meant to be poetic. The sheer beauty of it inspires us to be introspective and grateful and poetic.

Regina Spektor
Spektor's family left Russia for the Bronx when she was nine
"It may not be part of the mainstream these days, but it has always happened."

Indeed, Spektor shuns the "confessional" lyrics of her contemporaries, preferring to write miniature works of fiction.

"It's like people who act," she says. "It's not fake, but it doesn't necessarily stem out of your own personal life."

"I don't take myself or my songs that seriously. I try to have fun with it."

On stage later that week, she certainly seems to be having fun - previewing a new, country-tinged song called Love (You're A Whore) and drumming on a school chair.

Later, after halting the show to sort out sound problems, she turns to the crowd and apologises.

"Pianos don't even get feedback," she laughs. "That's how Rock and Roll I am."

Regina Spektor's album, Begin To Hope, is out now.


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