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  • 3:44:26 am
  • Saturday
  • 20 July 2024

Regina Spektor: Soviet Kitsch

Regina rocked New York’s Bowery Ballroom for over two hours last March while supporting her record Soviet Kitsch. In between TV spots and overseas junkets she had some things to say to Tweed.

I should start off by stating Regina’s show in March was absolutely amazing. I had first seen her perform at the Bowery last January while interviewing Mates of State. She played an opening set and it was ‘nice.’ But two months, a few shows in Europe, and some TV spots later... Regina’s skills have exploded! Her set in March easily trumped that previous performance. She rocked for two straight hours. It was incredible. Her backing band on “Your Honor” was loud and raucous. Softer solo songs, like “The Flowers” were solemn reflections that left the audience motionless in contemplation. My current favorite Regina-chorus: “What’s a pound a flesh between friends like me and you.”

TWEED: Your celebrity status seems to be exploding. You’ve had some recent spots on national television. I saw you on Conan and Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. There’s this cute spark of nervousness and refusal... Like you won’t play along with those TV queues of “look this way, hold this pose” etc. Is it scary playing the TV game?

REGINA: Haha... Yes. I am absolutely terrified of it. I get really sad when I’m done because it goes so fast, and I wish I could do it over again, without the fear and badness... Oh well...

TWEED: How did you feel about being followed by Tori Amos on the next episode of the Tonight Show?

REGINA: I didn’t know until after the taping, when we did the little pre-show stand around Jay while he tells about tomorrows show—and at that point I was so flustered having just played, during the commercial brake Ashton Kutcher said “That was great!” and I looked at him and said “I think I’m going to pass out.” Then Jay Leno, who is so sweet, turned to me and gave me a hug around the shoulder and said “Don’t worry kid, you did fine, the nightmare is over.” It helps that everyone is so nice at TV land.

TWEED: Do you feel like you’re unfairly compared to Tori because you’re a redheaded female behind a piano? Is that a sore point? Or is she an inspiration that you enjoy being likened to?

REGINA: I respect her as a musician, but no, I don’t enjoy being compared to her. Funny thing, is I get asked that question more often, than I actually get compared to her, so I think people assume I get compared to her a lot more often than I do. Wow, that was a fuckin mouthful...

Anyhow—I think that people should spend more time being in the music and in the moment, rather than trying to associate it with things they already know or assume common threads. I have listened to way more Dylan and Nirvana and the Beatles, but they are not women playing the piano, so their contribution to my music just goes right on by.

TWEED: Excellent point. So what are some of your favorite musicians besides Dylan, Nirvana, Beatles, etc? Do you draw inspiration for your music from other genres like visual art or books?

REGINA: Well, in addition to the above—the list is too great to type out—but there is also tremendous amounts of classical music, pop, jazz, blues, hip hop. I might as well take you to a record shop and start walking through the isles, hand in hand, looking alphabetically. We are so blessed with the amount of music available to us. Good music. Definitely a lot comes from movies, photos, paintings, books... All art is an equal opportunity inspiration.

TWEED: You went to SUNY Purchase. How was your experience there? (My sister is currently studying there.) Do you keep up with your peers from SUNY?

REGINA: I have some amazing friends from there—life long friends. It still shocks me, the amount of talent that was so concentrated there, between the bricks and the nothing campus. Just tons of film makers, dancers/choreographers, and musicians, artists, everything... I learned the most from the students who were there... She’ll have a good time.

TWEED: The signature red piano... When did you get it? How do you transport it?

REGINA: It belongs to Baldwin. They are kind enough to lend it to me for some of the shows and for TV. It is an amazingly beautiful instrument inside and out—I wish I could just have it, live under it, and dream red dreams.

TWEED: How do you typically write your songs? Do you start with a melody? The lyrics? Do you hear complete songs in your head or do you just sit at the piano and experiment for a while until something catches your ear?

REGINA: Don’t really know how to answer that one...

TWEED: Could you describe your childhood? As I understand it you were born in Russia, played the piano from an early age, and ended up in New York City... I want to know more!

REGINA: Yeah, it was an amazing childhood, full of good times—a lot of music, a lot of classics—ballet, opera, books, interesting people, and in NYC too, it just continued, somehow. And it’s amazing how little of it had to do with money. There was never any money around, but I think the main gift was education.

Both my parents are extraordinary and educated people, and I got the chance to love learning. It changes things, I was a very lucky child, always good people around. The more I live, the more I realize that’s not the norm, and it should be. Certain things should just be a human right—reading, writing, going to a museum... They should just be available, and people should be taught to love them and understand them. It can really improve the quality of life.

TWEED: Do you keep up with Russia’s current issues? Despite Russian President Vladamir Putin’s opposition to America’s voluntary war in Iraq he’s a strong supporter of George W. Bush’s administration. What’s your reaction to this?

REGINA: I feel a lot towards Russia, it is a country that has been in pain and abused for hundreds of years. The Russian soul—the thing that we hear in the music and read in the poetry—is one of the most amazing things to behold. But I am very weary of the “new” government. I think Russia may be new on paper, but it still hasn’t broken out of it’s abusive relationship pattern with its leaders. I don’t own a TV, don’t watch the news, and don’t read the papers... I’m not advertising ignorance, (and I’m not in complete isolation—I talk to friends and get pieces from media, here and there), but it’s what I’ve had to do, personally, so as not to be depressed and overwhelmed by the world...

TWEED: What was your reaction to the US election last fall? Do you have a public position on George W. Bush or John Kerry? Did you protest for or against the re-election of the Bush administration?

REGINA: I stayed up all night, dreading what I knew would happen... then it happened. and I wasn’t surprised.

I’d rather create positive art, or do something good—rather than protest. I think more energy goes into being mean to cops, than towards the actual cause... and I think the same type of people who run governments, lead protests. I don’t like masses, or mobs. Often, people who want protests are the type to become the oppressor as soon as they get their way.

Now, before you think I’m a total pacifist, I’m not, I’ve protested quite a bit in my life—and I know there are exceptions, like great world leaders and great protest leaders—but right now there’s not much for the pickin’ and this election did not feel right. This election nothing felt right, unfortunately...

TWEED: How does your experience growing up affect your current political views?

REGINA: I think in some ways I am more idealistic politically than many of my American friends, who were born here. I have an immigrant’s America—and so I’m lucky—it’s a different kind of love. You can still be critical, but you have more perspective than someone who is born here. So you just smile and listen to your people talk about how they are not free at some party. While they blast whatever music they want, smoke pot, watch any documentary, read any book, write any article, wear any statement, take any class, travel to any country—and don’t get shipped to Siberia, or a labor camp, or taken out back and shot the next day... Yeah, everything is relative.

TWEED: Back to the music—When can we expect another record? Is there a lot of pressure to produce a quick follow up? Do you think what you’re writing now differs from the sounds on Soviet Kitsch?

REGINA: Not sure when it will come out, but plans to make one are there, and I will start soon. No pressure for a follow up except from my fans and from myself, and yes—new songs, new record.

TWEED: What else do you want Tweed readers to know about you? Favorite ice cream? Most embarrassing tour moment? Anything!

REGINA: Don’t like ice cream—will pick olives or pickles over ice cream, any day!

Stewart Smith
Thursday, 26 May 2005

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