"You just sound very, very far away which I know you are but..." says REGINA SPEKTOR, giggling in her adorably affable way.
Coup De Main caught up with the singer-songwriter while she was back in New York recently, to discuss her upcoming return to New Zealand with ONLY SON...
"...it definitely is going to be a very long time until I catch up and get to produce and arrange all of the songs that I want to, in the way that I want to. It’s such a giant amount of stuff - which is really, really great, I’m really happy about that, because I have friends and they tell me the other thing. They tell me of the feeling of pressure when they have to write new songs to put out a new record, and I experience the other kind of pressure, which is feeling a duty to a tremendous amount of songs that have never been produced in that way, and they’re just kind of living on piano and voice and I really want to work on them. I still prefer this to that, because it’s much less pressure I think."
COUP DE MAIN: The first time that you toured New Zealand you had to use a cane to walk, and the last time you were here you were quite sick... so, please, pretty please try and look after your health in the next few months before your next NZ tour!
REGINA SPEKTOR: I know! <laughs> I know, it has been such a strange thing. Well, hopefully this time because even though I will be coming there after doing two months in America which is a long tour, it’s still going to be the first show of that part of the world, so hopefully I will be rested and the opposite of run-down and in perfect health, and sprinting onto the stage and not coughing.
CDM: Will you be playing solo, or accompanied by a band again?
REGINA: I’m playing with a band - I have a keyboardist, a cellist and a drummer, and me.
CDM: And you’re bringing back Only Son too!
CDM: Do you think that you two will perform ‘Call Them Brothers’ together live in NZ?
REGINA: Yeah for sure, we’ve been doing it in all the tours, so it’s been really fun. Actually we wanna see if we could write another song - although it’s not easy to write songs - but it’s so much easier for me to to write songs myself than to collaborate, but it’s so fun to collaborate. But who knows, December is so far away - maybe I’ll get to write another song and we could do another duet.
CDM: And it must be nice for you, being able to tour with your husband!
REGINA: Yeah, it is. It’s really, really fun.
CDM: Still to this day, one of my favourite performances that I’ve ever seen live [out of anyone], was yourself and Jack [Dishel] performing a beat-box version of 'Hotel Song'.
REGINA: Oh, that’s cool! That must have been part of the cane tour?
CDM: Yup, that was the first time you ever came here.
REGINA: Yeah <laughs> there was The Cane Tour and The Sick Tour.
CDM: What can fans expect of your set-list for your upcoming New Zealand show this December?
REGINA: Well, there are a lot of songs from 'What We Saw From The Cheap Seats', because it’s their first time being performed in the way that they’ve been arranged, so I’ve been playing a lot of those songs. And then just kind of whatever feels right from the other records, and then a few possible mysteries, just thrown in-songs. But it really is mainly the new songs and then some of the maybe more known songs from the other records.
CDM: When you were starting to work on your new album 'What We Saw From The Cheap Seats', why did you feel it was time to revisit old songs that you’d performed and look up fan-uploaded live videos on YouTube?
REGINA: I’ve talked about this for every record, but for some reason people don’t realise it, I have so many songs that every record has songs that are older on it, like a lot. There are songs on 'Soviet Kitsch' and 'Begin To Hope' that are older than songs from 'What We Saw From The Cheap Seats', and then there are songs on those records that are younger than songs on 'What We Saw From The Cheap Seats'. I don’t really make records chronologically... like I’ve written a bunch of new songs now for the new record, but I don’t ever really do that, like I’ve never done that. So I guess it’s more interesting for me - songs kind of live in a timeless place for me, and since I make records I dunno, about every two-and-a-half to three years or something like that, it’s just not enough to put all the songs that I have, no matter how much I put. And I also don’t like to make really big records, because I feel then that the songs don’t get enough space to be themselves, so I would never want to make a record that’s like seventeen songs - I even felt like a record with fourteen songs felt too long. I’m always trying to catch up you know, I have so many songs that I’m always catching up to make when I make a new record, and because I’m so shit about writing songs down <laughs> I have to go online and find them. And luckily, there’s enough people who have recorded songs that I can just go online and kind of figure out how to play them.
CDM: What do you think the ratio of unheard, to released and recorded Regina Spektor songs, is like?
REGINA: I don’t know... I don’t know! I’m really terrible at math, so I won’t even attempt to do ratios and percentages, but all I know is that there’s a lot of new songs that no-one has heard yet, and that there’s a lot of old songs that some very, very super hardcore fans have heard for sure - there are people that have been coming and seeing me play in bars in like 2002, and there are songs that those people heard. And they’re definitely a giant welcome; if somebody wanted to go and find songs of mine to fill an iPod, that aren’t on any records. They could probably find dozens of songs besides the ones that are on records, but at this point I feel like there’s just so much of everything that I don’t know what people have heard and what they haven’t heard. I think with the fact that there’s the Internet and that people can share home-made recordings, I think a lot of the songs do get to be heard, even if it’s not the best quality, or there’s clinking glasses or it’s just piano and voice, people can at least hear the song. But it definitely is going to be a very long time until I catch up and get to produce and arrange all of the songs that I want to, in the way that I want to. It’s such a giant amount of stuff - which is really, really great, I’m really happy about that, because I have friends and they tell me the other thing. They tell me of the feeling of pressure when they have to write new songs to put out a new record, and I experience the other kind of pressure, which is feeling a duty to a tremendous amount of songs that have never been produced in that way, and they’re just kind of living on piano and voice and I really want to work on them. I still prefer this to that, because it’s much less pressure I think.
CDM: How important, or unimportant, do you think it is to convey a story through song-writing?
REGINA: I think to me, all songs are stories. I think that everything in this life is a story you know; our own narrative, our own history, it’s all a story. Is that what you meant? Okay, that’s good. I couldn’t tell, it seemed more specific than that, but I couldn’t understand it.
CDM: Lyrically, what’s your favourite song that you’ve ever written?
REGINA: I don’t have a favourite song.
CDM: If you could write yourself into a Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen type fairytale, what sort of storyline would you give yourself?
REGINA: I dunno... <laughs> These questions are getting harder by the minute!
CDM: Okay, here's an easy one... what’s it like working with Adria Petty?
REGINA: Oh it’s great - she’s one of my best friends, so it’s really wonderful working with her. I love her; she’s like family at this point. It’s a privilege to work with an artist that you really care for. As far as their visions, but also that you just love spending time with them and hanging out. It’s really great.
CDM: What’s currently on your reading list?
REGINA: I just began this book by this... I guess he’s a Yiddish writer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and it’s called 'A Crown Of Feathers'. It’s pretty interesting. But I always have kind of a few books going at the same time, but that was the newest one I just started reading and it’s really good.
CDM: And I know you’re a big fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, do you have a favourite book of his?
REGINA: Yeah, I mean... I hate picking favourite books, man. I usually tend to stay away from all the ‘top record’ and ‘favourite song’ and ‘favourite book’, and I just think it doesn’t do any good for anybody, you know.
CDM: Lastly, in your personal opinion, what’s the difference between a good song and a great song?
REGINA: I think it’s not anything that anyone can put into words... you just feel it. It’s a feeling you know, that you have. And honestly, I used to think it was obvious because you know, I have my own tastes and I have my my own... like, I dunno. I think it’s really subjective; something that I think is a great song, is unlistenable to somebody else, which I’ve come to realise. So, I don’t really have an answer to that, but I have been thinking about the Fitzgerald question, and even though it’s really hard to answer and I hate to do it, I’ll probably have to go with 'The Last Tycoon'.
REGINA SPEKTOR and ONLY SON will play the Auckland Town Hall on Monday, December 3rd, 2012. Click HERE for further details about the show.