ROLE MODELS: Regina Spektor

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Regina Spektor is a Jack Daniels-swilling Russian immigrant with Mozart-bred chops and enough hooky interludes to make music journalists wet themselves – imagining the resurrection of Tin Pan Alley’s red-letter tunesmiths.

Regina Spektor is a Jack Daniels-swilling Russian immigrant with Mozart-bred chops and enough hooky interludes to make music journalists wet themselves – imagining the resurrection of Tin Pan Alley’s red-letter tunesmiths. After being schooled through the paces of touring, courtesy of garage-rock’s scraggy saviors The Strokes, Spektor garnered the attention of vanguard punk label Sire Records who released 2004’s Soviet Kitsch to wholesale critical acclaim. Her latest release, Begin to Hope, subsidizes her idiosyncratic vocals and off-kilter story songs with a dose of experimentation. The opening track, “Fidelity,” gauzes sonic loops against Spektor’s harmonic riffing. Later on, the ominous “Apres Moi” features a lilting aria and Spektor’s fragile phonetics, which are pressed further with a crackerjack ferocity. The 26-year-old piano prodigy recently sat down with American Songwriter to discuss the prevailing musical influences that can be found on Begin to Hope.

On her earliest childhood musical memories
My main music from my childhood was divided into three parts: classical music, Russian singer/songwriters who played the guitar and sang really intense melodies, and the Beatles. A lot of people traded their [Beatles] tapes back and forth. My dad made tapes of their music and let me listen to it.

A Hard Day’s Night
[My father and I] were very selective. We didn’t pick and choose because it wasn’t available to pick and choose. People would go on a trip to Germany and find German Beatles records and make copies to give to friends. So we compiled pictures of the artists, too. People would have Elvis or Moody Blues, but it was mainly the Beatles.

On music journalists grouping her with fellow piano songstresses Nellie McKay and Fiona Apple
You know, I don’t like to get pissed off. I think people need to struggle and sometimes they need to categorize. It’s very human to name things and put them into boxes. My ego is not so big that I can’t handle their [categorizing]. People categorize beforehand and don’t understand what they’re doing. A lot of [categorizing] is with women. Springsteen plays the guitar, but so do Kurt Cobain and Jeff Buckley. And you don’t see people calling them nothing more than guitar players. But women who play the piano…it’s very easy to box them in.

Up-and-Comers
I find out about a lot of new artists and songs just by being in the music world and on a label where new records will come out. Most of the new bands I find out about if I play a show on the same night as them.

On guilty pleasures and pop music
I don’t like the term guilty pleasure. I really like pop music, though. People are surprised that there’s a lot of pop and hip/hop music that I like, just because some of my songs have been produced a certain way and because there’s a lot of production in them…people assume that I like a certain style. But for the most part, I like the songs that I hear on the radio. When a song comes on, I usually give it a deserved nod, because they’re really fucking good.

On her eccentric vocal phrasing
I really love picking up accents. Whenever I find a record, I mimic styles. It’s just been a mimicking of different things over and over. I listen to the vocal styles of people like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, even artists like Eminem and Tom Waits. I think that artists should define themselves in that world of music and mimic the sounds that they hear.

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