(SOUNDBITE OF REGINA SPEKTOR SONG, "RAINDROPS")
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
That lyrical piano gives you the hint that musician Regina Spektor is back after a break of six years between albums - this one titled "Home, Before And After."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAINDROPS")
REGINA SPEKTOR: (Singing) You don't know, but that's OK. You might find me anyway. Don't you know that I belong arm-in-arm with you, baby?
BLOCK: Regina Spektor was born in Moscow in the then-Soviet Union and was trained on classical piano from the age of 6. Her family, Soviet Jews, immigrated to the U.S. as refugees when she was 9, and she grew up in the Bronx. I spoke with her about her new album filled with songs about loneliness, love and a longing for home.
(SOUNDBITE OF REGINA SPEKTOR SONG, "SPACETIME FAIRYTALE")
BLOCK: You have an image in one of your songs, in "Spacetime Fairytale," that I keep coming back to, when you're comparing melodies in your mind to begging, pleading refugees.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SPACETIME FAIRYTALE")
SPEKTOR: (Singing) My mind is full of melodies. They search for homes inside of me like begging, pleading refugees. But I can't find the time.
BLOCK: Tell me about that, how that feels.
SPEKTOR: I guess, you know, that's probably less a grand narrator and more something that I actually feel. I really struggle with this, and I always have. You walk through the world, and you get these ideas. And then, you start - you know, even if the ideas are, oh, you know what would be cool? And then, you start phrasing it a certain way, or you start pulling on a string. And then, instead of just being with people, all of a sudden, I'm just drifting. I'm thinking about a story. I'm thinking about how to best phrase it. And that happens to me all the time. And all this art is trying to kind of come through, and it's knocking at the door. And I guess that's sort of what that was trying to describe maybe, that kind of balance where you want to be, really, a good home for art.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPACETIME FAIRYTALE")
SPEKTOR: (Singing) Breath and feel the beat of time.
BLOCK: There are a lot of mentions of time in these songs. And there are also a lot of points in the songs - and this is true of your music - where you're playing a lot of - with time and tempo and letting phrases expand, letting pauses breathe. How important is that? What does that do for a song, do you think?
SPEKTOR: For me, time moving and sort of opening and closing and kind of shifting and breathing, that's a song being alive. And I think it's how I feel time. And sometimes, I need to open up time a certain way to say a word or to allow a certain feeling to float in.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVEOLOGY")
SPEKTOR: (Singing) Loveology. Kiss-ology (ph). Stay-ology (ph). Please-ology (ph). Let's study class. Let's study class. Sit down.
BLOCK: I'm thinking about the title of this album, "Home, Before And After," and I wonder if you have a new conception of home. You're 42 now. You have two children at this point in your life - what home signifies for you.
SPEKTOR: I think that all the titles of my records sort of come - they come very gently knocking but, like, years before the record is ever there. And so that's always happened to me. And I always kind of - they're always in the back of my mind. And I'm always wondering, is this actually going to fit? So it kind of came to me before I knew what was going to be on it, what it was going to sound like - really nothing. It was just a little - this little umbrella of a gentle sort of concept. And I had no idea that it was going to get that, you know, sort of almost, like, too on the nose when COVID happened.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THROUGH A DOOR")
SPEKTOR: (Singing) Hearts can travel through closed doors. They can wander empty halls. If you let your heart go free, it'll always come back full home.
And then, I sort of started thinking all the way back to immigration. And we're meant to wander. You know, we're humans. All our myths are about us leaving a place and going off on a huge hero's journey or adventure and learning something and then coming back. So it's really part of our story to always be reinventing home even if we return to the same home we came from.
BLOCK: Hmm. You know, I mentioned that you and your family came to the United States as Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union. And we're talking to you, of course, as Russia's war in Ukraine is grinding on after months. There must be just layers of history for you that you're thinking of at this time.
SPEKTOR: Yeah, I am devastated. I can't believe that this is happening just because, you know, my grandparents are from Ukraine and everybody fought in World War II together. And it - to me, like, growing up in Soviet Russia, like, there was no difference between our relatives from Moscow versus our relatives from Odessa, which is in Ukraine. Or - it was this collective place where everybody had suffered horrors. You know, everybody had fought Nazis in World War II, and everybody had experienced the nightmare of invaders coming to your soil. Every single person was touched by that. I mean, I was born in 1980, and I showed up to America thinking World War II had just happened.
BLOCK: 'Cause it was so fresh and so present.
SPEKTOR: It was so, so present. It was so present. And there are so many layers of insanity to this. These are vibrant cities full of human families. And to do this nightmare is - it's surreal to me. I can't watch any of the footage anymore because I've just - I've cried too much. I've been angry too much. And I'm - now, I'm just - I just want it to de-escalate.
BLOCK: Regina Spektor, her new album is "Home, Before And After." Regina, thank you so much.
SPEKTOR: Well, thank you, Melissa. Thanks for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN")
SPEKTOR: (Singing) Everyone loves a story about long, long ago and what, what might've been.
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