Home Free: A conversation with singer and songwriter Regina Spektor, even one within the confines of a professional interview experience, is very likely to leave you with the “warm and fuzzies.” Her gift for conveying warmth, honesty, humor and heartbreak in her lyrics carries over into her back-and-forth, so even a 20-minute phone call left us with the impression (at least) that we’d really gotten to know her a little. Obviously, you can’t get to know anyone, let alone a celebrated musician, during a 20-minute phone call, but such is her gift.
Russian-born American artist Spektor released her Home, Before and After album about a year ago, six years after the Remember Us to Life album. Spektor says that it was warmly received – fans were singing along to the new songs very early in the touring process – which was a bit of a relief because, for obvious reasons, this one was recorded a little differently.
“That one was made super-duper pandemic style,” Spektor says. “It’s my first ever experience working remotely in that way. I was assured by John Congleton, who produced it, that people have been doing it forever. But I’m just so used to being in the studio and so hands-on, so just there for hours and hours in real time. It’s quite a learning curve, but in the end I was grateful to have this new experience. It turned out really fun.”
Spektor, pregnant during the COVID peak, was understandably extra careful. So she ran away to a converted church and recorded under conditions that allowed her to breathe her own air.
“I was the only person in there,” she says. “It was the ideal pandemic thing, where you’re in a place that could fit an entire congregation, and you’re the only person in there. You’re definitely not going to share air with anyone. So I actually was very careful and I didn’t ever set foot into the control room even. It was such an interesting, super-wild experience. But it was also kinda, I would do the tracking and the takes very much in my own world and then have this back-and-forth with John, who’s a very good communicator. He really put up with all my tediousness. He was patient and kind. Then we had all this amazing orchestration done with Jherek Bischoff and he was patient and kind. It was a very good exercise for me to be able to open it up and allow myself some time to not just have knee jerk reactions, which I reluctantly admit that I do. I’m an accidental tyrant sometimes, when it comes to music.”
The approach did lead to some challenges; while recording an orchestra in Macedonia, an earthquake in that nation resulted in a four-hour blackout. Thankfully everyone was OK, and the show went on. You might think that all of the chaos would find its way onto the album, at least lyrically. But that’s not how Spektor works.
“I don’t write specific songs for specific records,” she says. “I just write songs as I live my life, and they accumulate. It’s almost like, every time it’s time to start making a record, through whatever strange process, I lay out everything from the newest things I’ve written to the oldest things that maybe have never been on a record, and some are always asking their turn from their Island of Forgotten Toys, and a lot of that has to do with people who come to the shows and start requesting certain songs that maybe live only in live versions online. They come back into my consciousness for whatever reason. I really put everything out there and see what feels right in that moment. I’m more of a fiction writer, so I really love fairy tales and stories and made-up things. Different characters and perspectives.”
When looking back over the year since the album’s release, Spektor concedes that she doesn’t have a good sense of time. That said, this year was particularly difficult, as she lost her dad.
“I think I’m still attempting to just make it through to grasp that,” she says. “I’m so happy to be with my family, to be emerging and be with people again, and having this joyous post-COVID time where you can play shows again and be together again, and at the same time it has all been combined with growing through this grief over and over again. From what I understand, that just goes on. I don’t really think that you emerge from it ever, it just shifts into something else over and over again.”
Spektor is playing two very different venues in SoCal – the Greek Theatre in L.A. and House of Blues in Anaheim. The artist says that she likes to mix it up to avoid Groundhog Day.
“I realized years ago, I like to have a mix of venues,” she says. “I did a tour once where it was all beautiful, pristine theaters which I love, but it starts to feel crazy-making. I think my ideal tour is, you get an incredible theater and you feel like you’re royal, and then you play a less-frills club. Basically different sizes and vibes. That helps me when I’m out on the road. It’s important not to have a de ja vu experience. That keeps it alive and surprising.”
If you are planning on attending both, be prepared for a different set each night. For Spektor, the whole thing is fluid.
“My crew laughs at the idea of a setlist,” she says. “I do write them out each night, and they’re always slightly different, but in the end I never follow them. I use them as a jump-off point, but then I follow my own instincts about what feels good. It’s like a Make Your Own Adventure story. A lot of the time, I’ll ask people online what songs they want to hear in what cities. The special thing about playing live with people is that you’re all there in that moment, and that’s the only moment you’re going to have. In a world where there are many things that are on rails, it’s really wonderful to be together and just say fuck it. There’s an element of danger, but at the same time, compared to brain surgery or open heart surgery, what’s the worst that can happen? I’m not endangering anybody’s life.”
As for the next record, Spektor is doing her usual thing and accumulating songs as she goes through life.
“One of the things that I’ve accepted about myself is that the byproduct of me being in the world is that I make songs,” she says. “So at certain moments, I’ll just write one here and there. That’s always happening. But I did promise myself after this last record, when I realized that it had been six years since the previous record, that that’s way too long and whatever I do next is not going to take that long. I’ll try to take that snail’s pace to maybe a turtle’s pace.”
Home Free: Regina Spektor’s Home, Before and After album is out now. She performs at the Greek Theatre on Aug. 10 with Aimee Mann.
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