Page last updated at 07:29 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 08:29 UK

'I get my anger out on stage': Regina Spektor

By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Regina Spektor
Spektor's concerts are full of personality... when the fans keep quiet

If you look on YouTube, you can see a video of Regina Spektor losing her temper.

It's October 2007, and the Russian-born singer-songwriter is playing for students at Brandeis University, just outside Boston. A few bars into a new song, One More Time With Feeling, she stops and turns to face the audience from her piano stool.

"Hey you guys... The ones talking," she scolds. "There are other ones that are quiet. They're trying to listen. So shut up, or go hang out somewhere else."

Okay, it's hardly a Christian Bale-style rant. Spektor is softly-spoken and about as threatening as a puppy. The expletive count is zero.

But, she confesses, confronting disobedient fans gives her a guilty thrill.

"I enjoy it a little bit more than I should," she giggles.

"It's a way to get my New York, 'you talkin' to me', anger out."

However, the 29-year-old rarely has to shush her audience.

Regina Spektor
I think that music shouldn't be shoved down people's throats
Regina Spektor

Her gigs are more commonly greeted with a reverential silence, as fans peer down the rabbit hole into Spektor's whimsical world - where biblical characters rub shoulders with rusty statues by the banks of enchanted lakes, and it is perfectly acceptable for a singer to impersonate a dolphin.

She toured her last album, Begin To Hope, for an exhausting three years, building up a fan base by stealth and, eventually, clocking up more than a million sales.

The singer says it was a deliberate decision to let people discover her music in their own time.

"I think that music shouldn't be shoved down people's throats. I believe in hard work and things that take time.

"I don't want to have some random song that people get bombarded with and never want to hear again."

Thanksgiving treat

Spektor's new album, Far, is more contemplative than its predecessor. On it, the singer ponders the big questions (environmental catastrophe, the nature of God) alongside some smaller ones (how to track down the owner of a lost wallet).

It perhaps lacks the big, radio-friendly melodies of her breakthrough, but its sumptuous, fluent songs are hugely rewarding after repeat listens.

Four A-list producers helped put the record together - Jeff Lynne (ELO, The Beatles), Mike Elizondo (Eminem, Fiona Apple), Garrett "Jacknife" Lee (U2, REM), and Begin To Hope's David Kahne.

Regina Spektor
The singer's fifth album has been three years in the making

But the singer confesses she had very little idea about her collaborators' pedigree before she went into the studio.

"I really didn't know how big they were," she says sheepishly.

"With Jeff Lynne, I memorised his name off a Tom Petty record that I really liked called Highway Companion because I just loved how it sounded.

"It was only later that I found out he'd done all this other stuff."

During sessions, she found herself absorbed into her producers' lives, sharing Thanksgiving dinner with Lynne, and bonding with Elizondo's newborn son.

It is easy to see how this petite New Yorker could become a permanent fixture in the lives of her friends and colleagues. Even at the tail end of a gruelling day of press interviews, she is vivacious, funny and charming.

Her breathy "Noo Yoik" accent is showing a few signs of strain (she politely declines to recreate the dolphin impression) but those aqua blue Disney eyes sparkle with inquisitive energy.


Spektor is notoriously reluctant to discuss the meanings of her songs - it is "not fair" to dissect the lyrics, she says - but no other topic is off-limits.

We discuss her shortcomings at ragtime piano ("doing two things at the same time with the left hand is really hard") and the pressure of recording at Abbey Road ("you can't get away with anything semi-crappy".)

As befits someone who insists on her name being printed in lower case, she is disarmingly modest - even when discussing the fans who turned their back on her when Begin To Hope hit the top 40.

Regina Spektor
Spektor plays the Serpentine Sessions and Latitude festival this summer

"It's certain people's jobs to be purists," Spektor says matter-of-factly.

"They champion new music and, when the rocket takes off, they're like the booster stage that naturally falls off - because its their job to help the next musician who comes along."

"It's a bittersweet thing, but there are always people who are coming along with you and some who are dropping away."

Ironically, the fans who accuse Spektor of selling out have failed to realise that much of her new material is as old as the records they profess to love.

Many of the songs on Far have been with the singer for "five or six" years, she says.

"I always feel some sort of relief when I record one of the older songs because I'm like, 'oh, you've been patiently waiting your turn.'"

And there are plenty of Spektor songs yet to be committed to tape - including the sublime country pastiche Love, You're A Whore and an untitled live favourite about a "statue of the baby Jesus" that comes to life.

So how big is the backlog of unreleased material?

"I might not have enough songs to keep filling records 'til I'm 80," she jokes, "but maybe, like, 'til I'm 50!"

Far is out now on Warner Records.

Print Sponsor

Spektor collapses before concert
16 Nov 07 |  Entertainment
Spektor's word-of-mouth success
19 Mar 07 |  Entertainment


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific