The Greatest View

30 May 2012 | 8:30 am | Robert Townsend

“It was the fucking Sydney Opera House! It’s a crazy experience. I didn’t know which way to turn so that nobody felt shunned.” Regina Spektor talks about her last Australian tour, and her new album.

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It was David Letterman,” Regina Spektor mentions when explaining that our telephone conversation is taking place directly after having finished playing a song on a TV show. “I'm always pretty nervous to be on TV and I'm very happy and relieved now that it's done. It was really fun. Conan O'Brien was the guest and then, as I was walking out, Sacha Baron Cohen walked in.”

From humble beginnings (she self-recorded 2002 album, Songs, in one day) the Russian-born, New York-based songstress is clearly mixing in high circles these days and is certainly in demand. With her sixth long-player, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, hitting the stores, life is pretty hectic for Spektor right now. “Tomorrow, really early in the morning, I am playing VH1, then I'm doing National Public Radio in the afternoon. Then I'm flying to the UK to do some promotion there, then I'm coming back. Honestly, leading up to this [album release], I'm crazed with promotion!”

While her conversations with this publication over the years have proven the classically-trained musician to be enrapturing company with a sweet New York accent that could melt hearts at 20 paces, the process of talking about herself is not something that sits easily. “For the most part I don't mind interviews, except for when people are really aggressive. Sometimes interviewers say a bunch of stuff that sound like accusations and you have to defend your life, basically. Those ones I really don't like. For the most part though, it's not that I mind talking to people, it's just unnatural to be answering that many questions about yourself. You really shouldn't be talking about yourself that much!”

And as she chats down the phone in a stolen moment between engagements, it's clear that there are a lot more interviews on the horizon once ours is over. “The sheer quantity of it is surreal,” she laughs. “Sometimes I don't even know what I'm saying anymore. If I have a press day, the way that I am in the morning and the way that I am in the evening are like two different people. I don't take it for granted, though. I'm very grateful to have the record and my shows written about. It helps so much to get my music heard.”

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Spektor's new record is certainly worth hearing. A natural progression, it is a delightful mix of piano balladry, indie sensibilities with an occasionally poppy edge and her trademark experimentalism. At various points, she sings in an Italian accent, in French, gasps for air and makes drum beats with her mouth. Suffice to say, this is an artist that thinks outside the box. “It's not so organised where I'll, like, plot it out or something. It just kinda happens however it happens,” she says when talk turns to how she comes up with the ideas that make her music so edgy and interesting. “It's giving yourself permission to do whatever you want.”

What We Saw From The Cheap Seats was recorded over the course of a few weeks last year, yet Spektor, who has always been an incredibly prolific writer, actually came up with some of the tracks seven or eight years ago. “I just write songs when I write them. Then, when I'm making the record, I just naturally pick what is going to be on it. Let's say I have dozens and dozens of songs, right? But I only make a record every few years. The record will only fit a certain amount of songs, and you don't necessarily want to put on every single song that will fit, because that might not be the experience that you want for somebody: to listen to 75 minutes of music.”

So, a few tunes, such as All The Rowboats, Patron Saint and Don't Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas) have had to patiently wait their turn before finally being recorded and released alongside compositions that were dreamt up more recently. “It's just stream of consciousness, whatever feels right in that moment.” And there are still others that have been around for a while that didn't make the cut this time round. “There were a bunch of older songs that wanted to be on it but, whenever I tried to play them, they didn't feel exactly right.”

With a career spanning over a decade, and with Spektor still delivering vibrant and challenging material, one wonders if this creative soul has aspirations to take on any differing projects in the future, or if the albums will keep on coming. “I think that people should do what they are inspired to do, you know? If I want to, I'll write a story or an instrumental piece of music. If someone ever asks me to score their films, I'll do something fun like that. I'm not just a 'songs only' kind of person, but I also don't think about plan B.”

For now, it's understandably all about plan A. With the release of the new record comes a busy schedule of touring across Europe and the UK, including a plethora of festival appearances. “I'm just excited to bring this music around the place and to play to people,” she says with an audible sense of joy in her voice. This begs the question, will she be returning to Australian shores anytime soon? “I really, really want to. I don't know exactly when, because the world is so fucking big. It's big and small at the same time.”

The way in which she speaks of her previous trips to Australia suggests that she is indeed keen to return. Alongside last year's Splendour In The Grass performance, she has fond memories of playing two nights at Sydney Opera House. On stage, she seemed slightly bewildered that someone had afforded her the opportunity to perform in such a grand venue. “It was the fucking Sydney Opera House,” she laughs. “It was kind of a big deal in my head. And it was also my very first time to play in the round. It's a crazy experience. You want to play to everybody. I didn't know which way to turn so that nobody felt shunned.”

Describing her three visits to Australia as “magical”, she once again promises that she will tour this record over here at some point. “My desire to go back to Australia is giant, but it's the most recent country outside of America where I played. I played Splendour In The Grass and I left in the middle of making this record. I have a European tour. I have an American tour. I haven't played America properly for, like, three years.” She stops and then, as if feeling she needs to justify the fact that she is touring her own country before returning to ours, adds with an apologetic chuckle, “I was just there! I'm definitely coming but you'll have to wait a little while.”