Spektor opens up about sonic exploration, her love affair with audiences and what to expect on her latest tour before heading to Wolf Trap on August 3.
Regina Spektor speaks like she sings, with equal parts whimsy and introspection, and an occasional infectious giggle that adds to her subtle charm. When we hop on a call in late July, I find myself slipping into a certain cadence usually reserved for an old friend even though I’m interviewing the indie darling of my generation. The prolific singer-songwriter makes it easy to feel connected to her as she gushes about the constant support of her audience and shares personal anecdotes about performing in D.C. Spektor and her baby grand will take the stage at Wolf Trap on August 3, one of many stops on her solo tour in promotion of the 2022 album “Home, Before and After,” her first release in six years. While she’s excited to share newer songs, the Moscow-born, New York-based artist says to expect favorites from her other seven records and some audience-requested hidden gems spanning her 25-year career. Read our interview with Spektor to learn why she describes her live show as a love fest, the importance of remaining open to the creative process and the power of rediscovery within her own oeuvre.
District Fray: Can you call to mind a memorable D.C. experience?
Regina Spektor: I have a lot of amazing memories here. I’ve had all kinds of magical, special things happen. I got to play at the White House for the Obamas and bring my parents. I got to play at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra, and they played my songs. The last show I played [at Warner Theatre in March] was really beautiful. [Warner] knew my audience. I had been raising money for this charity that helps Ukraine called the Ukraine TrustChain, so they donated a sizable check to the charity in honor of the show, which is special and kind of rare. That was very touching. And then this amazing friend of mine, [former Acting Solicitor General] Neal Katyal, invited me to see a case at the Supreme Court last November, which I had never had the chance to witness before.
I vividly remember hearing you play songs from “Soviet Kitsch” on Merriweather’s side stage in June 2005 and “Begin to Hope” at the Avalon (RIP) in Boston in fall 2006, and both shows are ingrained in my memory. Do any of your live performances in particular stand out to you?
That’s the amazing thing about getting to play live shows. It’s such a privilege because each time is like this moment [where] everything goes into the making of that feeling — what the venue is like, what you ate that day, what the audience does. You have no idea what it’s going to be like, and you can’t control it. It’s just that moment, and you’re never going to have that time again. I love the surprise of it. You never get bored. It’s never déjà vu. It’s always new every time. I think having these moments of surprise is so good for all of us.
Tell me about your current tour and what the audience can expect from your upcoming Wolf Trap show.
This is a solo tour. It’s going to be me mostly playing the grand piano — we’re actually bringing it from New York — and there’s a little bit of me dabbling around the stage. I was doing some math, and I’ve been writing songs for 26 years. There’s a lot of songs. I’m very excited about the new songs [from “Home, Before and After”]. It feels good as a performer when your new songs are accepted and people are excited about them. I have only experienced that from my audience, so I want to knock on wood because they’re so amazing. What I’ve experienced more than anything is how incredible the people who come to my shows are. They have been inspiring me because they’re such good people. They’re kind to each other and they’re kind to me, and there’s so much love. It’s just a love fest.
How do you find balance between performing songs your fans have loved for 20+ years and trying out new material?
I reach out before I go on tour and ask people what they want to hear. Sometimes, [their selections] are really surprising to me and I just relearn them even though I’m at the hotel on the day of the show. Because I do have so many songs, a lot of them are not on any record. It’s the audiences who have kept them alive, either by sharing bootlegs or putting them up online or talking about them. So many of those songs just live as little blurry clips from the Internet.
I’m sure the audience flips when you play a deep track.
I really try. A couple of the songs I recorded on this last record were probably 20 years old. The audience started requesting them a few years earlier. I revisited the songs and all of a sudden, I fell in love with them. I love that relationship because it feels like a dialogue where [the audience] reframes something for me.
What sonic shifts have you made in recent years?
I’m always deepening my exploration of orchestral music because I come from classical music. My mom was a professor and that was the music I listened to the most as a child and went to hear the most with my family. After coming to New York, any spare money was always spent on going to Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center. It’s very precious to me. On [“Home, Before and After”], we recorded the orchestra remotely; the orchestra was in Macedonia, my producer and arranger were in LA and I was in New York. Actually, the day we began recording the orchestra, there was an earthquake in Macedonia and the power went out and the orchestra went quiet for three hours. They rewired some microphones and then got going [again] because they’re very used to earthquakes. That was a huge learning experience to shift things remotely and had a lot to do with the sonic exploration of this record: allowing myself to have more time with new sounds and keeping my ears really open.
How do you remain true to your roots while also embracing these elements of exploration and openness in your creative process?
There’s a reason why people see bands they loved when they were 20 and sometimes get closed off to new types of music. It takes a certain kind of energy to stay open to new things. That little corner of society that has to force themselves to stay as open as possible to new sounds and colors and textures — it’s in the arts. You can’t just be one of those people that’s like, “Everything was great when I was 17 and now it sucks.” You’re constantly supposed to be somewhere between denying what your actual aesthetic taste is and not succumbing to this kind of, “I’ve done this a million times, and this is how I like it” thing. Because I had to work in such a new way, it was a gift that forced me to be more open. I’m going to try and carry that forward.
Catch Spektor and opener Aimee Mann at Wolf Trap on Thursday, August 3. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35. Learn more about the singer-songwriter at reginaspektor.com and follow her on Instagram @reginaspektor.
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