Regina Spektor on ‘Live in London’ & Life in New York
Regina Spektor has been a New Yorker since she emigrated from Russia to the U.S. as a girl. So much so, in fact, that despite her own protests, her music is now associated directly with the East Village and its “anti-folk” scene. Sure, Spektor did recently release a live concert album and an accompanying film, both called Live in London, chronicling a performance in London from her Far Tour, but the Big Apple is home for the quirky songstress. Here, she answers the questions that any New York artist must answer, and tells us why reading Time Out New York can sometimes be excruciating.
Does living in New York inform how you write or approach music? Yeah, I think definitely. So many things happen before your eyes. If you write the way I write then a lot of it is stories and just thinking from lots of different perspectives. And living in New York, you just see that in front of your eyes all the time. It’s not the most peaceful way of living, so there’s a type of speed at which people here live, and it definitely gets reflected in whatever art they make.
It’s definitely easier to get by elsewhere, but if you’re living in New York, that means “elsewhere” just wasn’t good enough for you, don’t you think? I think that a lot of people come here and they’re searching for something, and for a lot of them it’s extremely hard to live here. For people who grow up here, though, like I did, it’s hard to adjust to slower paces. You get spoiled by the concentration of so many cultures and backgrounds, and there’s amazing art that you could see every day if you wanted to. Sometimes looking at Time Out New York is a painful experience, seeing how many things are going on that you won’t have time to see.
Do you think that people care about art here in a way that they don’t elsewhere? I do. Based on what I’ve seen on tours, I think that in general there’s a sort of cultural anemia in this country, and people are starved for culture. It’s really sad because in certain cities, the big thing that happens there is that they have a football team, you know? And their downtown is like two blocks long. It’s like, wow, we’re really spoiled in New York, because down the street there’s five amazing art things happening each day.
Your music has been identified as anti-folk. Do you identify with that scene, or is that just the title that’s gotten associated with you over time? I think the latter. It got attributed to me, so everybody started asking me about it, and then everybody started writing it, but I generally don’t really identify with any genre. In general I don’t really like labels in music; it doesn’t do anybody any favors to get labeled because sometimes it makes people feel like they can’t do things that are outside the label, as if they won’t be recognized any more. I’m of the mindset that if I want to write a country song I will, and if I want to write a punk song I will, and if I want to write a hip-hop song, I will. I love so many different kinds of things that I don’t want to just do one of them, and I don’t just want to write folk songs, but I do love folk music and I will write a folk song if that’s what I’m inspired to do.
Is this reflected on your live record? Yeah, this live record is all over the place. There’s piano songs; there’ s crazy futuristic songs that have electronics in them; there are jazz songs and country songs. But I like the idea of being all over the place—I’m really jumping from song to song, not being stuck in one kind of mood or mindset. I just can’t deal with choosing one type of thing and then doing it. It would feel like a punishment. I think I wanted to put out this live CD because making records is one thing—it’s really internal, and you experiment in the studio with one or two other people, and it’s very closed-off and private. Then shows are really all over the place; it’s just you playing up there, without all the fun toys. They’re very different, you know? I think some people I work with thought I was kind of crazy. See, the DVD is its own thing, and it has a lot of filmed narrative and behind-the-scenes. It’s not really like the live record at all; they’re two separate things. Then the live record is 22 songs, and people thought that was insane. But that’s them. If I could do every song live, I would.