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New York-based singer-songwriter Regina Spektor is in the middle of answering a question, cell phone to her ear, when she suddenly unleashes a squeal. "Ooooh!" she exclaims. "I'm walking near my house in the Bronx, because I went to my grandparents' house, and there's a little black cat! What a cute little kitty!" That's followed by random rustling sounds, after which Spektor admits, "Oh, it got really scared of me..."
In truth, felines have nothing to fear from Spektor, and neither do music lovers -- although it's understandable that members of both groups might need some convincing. In a pop-music scene overstuffed with generic warblers, she's a genuine non-conformist with a taste for off-kilter arrangements, lyrics that leap over logic in a single bound, and a vocal style that encompasses everything from dulcet tones to the odd chirrups that decorate "Fidelity," from 2006's Begin to Hope. Nevertheless, "Fidelity" became an MTV staple, magically transforming Spektor from a little-known cult figure to the sort of performer who turns up frequently on network television. Not that such appearances are always easy for her. She acknowledges that she was "pretty terrified" during a recent taping of David Letterman's late-night program, "but it was okay, because I know how to play music terrified, and when you're live on TV, it's a good, special kind of terrified."
Her background is equally unusual. She was born in Moscow and began studying classical piano at age six, three years before her family immigrated to the States. Her musical training continued in her new homeland, and she self-released her first album, 11:11, in 2001, the same year she graduated from the music school at New York's Purchase College. Songs, her second DIY disc, came along the next year, helping her to cement a reputation as an eccentric on the rise -- something that eventually brought her to the attention of Sire Records, which issued Soviet Kitsch in 2004. This last disc was an interesting oddity, but not nearly as strong as Hope, on which producer David Kahne helps Spektor shape her musical idiosyncrasies into worthy songs such as "On the Radio" and "Après Moi."
Spektor doesn't seem jaded by her success. She remains open to the little surprises that await around every corner, and when she stumbles upon one, she takes the time to enjoy it. "It's such a simple way to be happier and more connected. And it's not even difficult," she enthuses. "There are so many things that I think can make life easier and more fun and better, and they're absolutely free."
Unless that black cat has an owner...
For more of our conversation with Regina Spektor, visit www.westword.com/blogs.