Turn off the conscious brain, bring no agenda: Regina Spektor on songwriting
Singer-songwriter and pianist Regina Spektor’s latest album “Home, before and after” is her first in six years. Born in Moscow in 1980, Spektor is known for telling stories in her songs, using thoughtful, curious and compelling lyrics.
She started her career performing in small nightclubs in lower Manhattan 20 years ago, and she never imagined she would find fame. She says it’s surreal.
“I had these tiny little concrete goals and I worked very, very hard on them,” Spektor says.
At first, she says, the New York crowd didn’t show up to hear her play.
“I would play in this den of people who just weren’t interested in [my music]. I think my goal was just to be so inside the music that I still had fun,” she says.
Even though she thought no one was listening, Spektor says she pushed herself to keep making music, performing and diving into her songs. Eventually people started to listen.
“I really never took that for granted, because I think if you go through that and really try to reach people from that beginning where no one is listening, you never really take it for granted. . It’s always so special when someone takes that moment and listens to your songs,” she says.
But when she writes songs, Spektor says she tries not to worry about the listener’s response. Instead, she focuses on writing music that makes sense to her.
“You don’t really have to have an agenda. …If I have the chance to write [a song]I just try to think about it as little as possible and get by,” she says.
Spektor says she’s careful not to come to songwriting with an agenda or a “conscious brain.” She doesn’t want to impose ideas on her songs, because then her music becomes “more like propaganda”.
“I feel like the things that are pure without that conscious agenda…tend to hit me the hardest,” she says.
Spektor says she believes every person should express themselves in life and art because they are all unique people with valuable experiences. She says it’s impossible not to be influenced by the politics of her time, and the music often reflects that.
“Whether we try or not, all of these things that are inside of us, they kind of come through art if you let them,” she says.
In “One Man’s Prayer” from his latest album, Spektor says the song is about a man who thinks he’s a decent guy, but actually feels entitled to whatever he wants.
“That kind of look at the world, when you think you’re good, but your actions [show] how you think about people and what you impose on people, actually show what you are. He is led down a path of true horror. He’s a terrible person in the end,” she said.
Spektor considers herself a “collector of fairy tales or folk tales” and she draws inspiration from all aspects of her life. She often wants to erase the boundaries between non-fiction and fiction. While she enjoys writing confessional songs, Spektor tends to write music based on her love for myths and fairy tales.
“I love the made up world because sometimes I feel like you just have that little bit of extra space to sort through the craziness that is our world. It just gives you that little bit of extra time to transform something into a vision that maybe actually helps you experience something,” she says.
Songwriting is Spektor’s way of making sense of the world – a world she often struggles to make sense of.
“I think a lot of my songs come from so many different perspectives, and so many different places because I’m trying to go to different areas, and different personalities, and different places because I’m just trying to understand this place, because sometimes I find reality shattering, devastating. … Other times I find it absolutely euphoric, magical and believable. … I really find a lot of comfort in fictional worlds,” she says.
But Spektor says she doesn’t read fairy tales to her two young children because she realized they were terrifying. She says she will wait a few years and spare her children scary bedtime stories.
The war in Ukraine
Spektor immigrated from Moscow in 1989, and on the current war in Ukraine, she says she is so grateful that her family left long ago.
“It’s really hard to be so grateful to have been spared this nightmare,” she says.
She has spoken to friends in Russia who are “horrified and wished they were gone”, and she describes those stuck as living a nightmare.
“There’s a part of me that’s in absolute disbelief that this is happening, because when I was little we were all together all the time, and there was no real separation,” he says. she.
Spektor remembers a Soviet life where everything was connected. She had one set of grandparents in Zhytomyr, just outside Kyiv, and the other in Belarus. Eventually, they had all moved to Moscow, but she says “these places were all mixed up.” His family lived a very Soviet experience side by side.
“It was very even – you had the same food, we had the same movies, we had the same music. Everyone lived through World War II, and everyone had fought side by side and shoulder to shoulder, and everyone had loved ones who died on different fronts,” she says.
The war in Ukraine, she says, is “really crazy”.
“It just shows what propaganda can do. The fact that even with the internet, and even with the acquaintances that we have – that can travel, and the connection that we have with each other – I’m really horrified by how it’s been weaponized, and how people seem to have, in such a short time, separated from each other,” she said.
Spektor fears that this division is not only in Russia and Ukraine, but that the United States is also threatened.
“It could turn neighbor against neighbor, and people can be so close together and so misinformed about each other,” she says.
Although Spektor thinks there are “good people in the world, an overwhelming amount of wonderful, caring, loving, generous and thoughtful people”, she worries that those in power may not be the same.
Still, Spektor says she’s a big believer in happy endings.