How Regina Spektor Finds Songwriting Inspiration
In 2001, Russian-born singer-songwriter Regina Spektor released the 11:11 debut album, a self-released effort recorded while she was performing in colleges and amid the downtown New York City anti-folk scene (a genre label that Spektor insists to this day is meaningless).
Fifteen years later, last July saw the release of Remember Us to Life, her seventh studio album. While she’s always retained a very distinct sound, blending trad folk sensibilities with a contemporary marketable indie-pop vibe, Spektor has also noticeably evolved, both as a musician and as a songwriter.
“It would be really sad if I haven’t at all, and it’s all in my head,” Spektor says. “I feel that basically the pattern always seems the same with people who decide that they want to make art the focus of their life. At first, they’re sort of really malleable in this way that you take in a lot of influences. Then you overstep, and you become too much of your influences. Then, somewhere in there, you find your voice, and you spend the whole rest of your life trying to catch up to what your voice of the moment is. Because of the way that combination of making art works, and also putting out records works, you’re never actually in step with yourself. It’s a nice Sisyphus existence. It’s excellent, actually, because you never have the pressure of getting there.”
The new album rose to number 23 on the Billboard chart, not a bad result for a record of this type. Spektor is simply pleased that she “feels useful to some people.” She concedes that she’s always been an artist who is difficult to categorize, who won’t stay in her media-approved cubbyhole, all of which is to her immense credit. Because of that and her subconscious methods of songwriting, the work is far more interesting.
“I would say a tremendous amount of what inspires me is not that fully known to me,” she says. “Think of it as an iceberg under the water. Most of everything that we learn is subconscious, so it’s really hard to know what gets into that net, but on the conscious level, I was definitely very, very inspired by becoming a mom, and the feelings that came with that. Also, probably residual growing up and residual dealing with loss. It’s just a nice big mix of things. Nothing too heavy. Bubblegum.”
The lead-off single from the latest album was “Bleeding Heart,” a phrase heard a lot lately, used as a pejorative and usually thrown at liberals by conservatives. However, Spektor says that wasn’t on her mind when she wrote the lyrics.
“I’d never thought of it, which is the cool thing about art,” she says. “Art sort of happens, and I think it can step into a certain moment and be different things in different years. Probably in ten years, it’ll be something else again.”
Still, as a woman musician with Russian roots, the current political turmoil enveloping the United States has inevitably affected Spektor. She’s a new mother, so everything regarding the future matters so much more. That said, she says the events aren’t affecting her songwriting directly.
“The art that I make doesn’t tend to come from such a direct response to agenda,” she says. “I may want to write that perfect protest song about a certain subject that makes me livid, but I probably won’t write it in that way. I might write about a forest and a worm. Who knows? But it’s all in there. As for what's happening, the misogyny is out in the open in a different way now. But it’s always been there, which is the sad, sad part. I think it is better that we can see them. It’s worse in the short term. People are suffering — people feel the pain like an open wound. But the truth is, all that stuff is there anyway. This is the time to face it down and to really fight it.”
The inspiration Spektor is getting from watching her son grow up is far more positive, and honestly more impactful, at least for the immediate future. The singer-songwriter says that it feels like a privilege to have a front-row seat for the origins of life.
“You can never see this, really, even if you have friends with kids or you see kids a lot,” she says. “I never got to see the development this close up. Besides all the love and all the fun and everything, it feels really special to see it up close like that. It’s really cool.”
On March 29, Spektor plays the Fillmore, and she’s excited to get here, though she says that, touring the way it is, she never gets to spend enough time in the Rocky Mountains.
“I love the beautiful mountains and the blue sky,” she says. “I always want to stay a little bit longer, but tours are sneaky like that. You just blow into town and then get right out. The times that I’ve spent there have been really awesome. And I feel I’ve gotten better at singing without that much air. The first time, I was gasping.”
As for the set, she will sit at a grand piano, surrounded by a top-notch band, playing songs from the new album plus some crowd-pleasers. After that, more touring and more recording.
“I never feel like I have time in between — it just kind of keeps going,” Spektor says. “I guess for other people, it feels like I’m popping in and out. I sneak in and out of the public consciousness.”
Regina Spektor plays at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29, at the Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 North Clarkson Street. For more information, call 303-837-0360.
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