Stories in Song: Regina Spektor's 'Begin to Hope' Singer, songwriter and pianist Regina Spektor's new CD is Begin to Hope. The Russian emigre, who came to the United States when she was 9, says her songs aren't about herself and likens writing songs to writing fiction.

Stories in Song: Regina Spektor's 'Begin to Hope'

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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And, I'm Melissa Block.

The music, the keyboards and the voice with a smidgen of an accent are from Regina Spektor.

(Soundbite of Regina Spektor)

BLOCK: Regina Spektor is 26, a Russian Jew. She and her family fled the anti-Semitism of the Soviet Union and immigrated to the Bronx when she was nine.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. REGINA SPEKTOR (Musician): (Singing) I hear in mind all these voices. I hear in my mind all these words. I hear in my mind all this music, and it breaks my heart. And it breaks my heart. And it breaks my heart. When it breaks my heart.

BLOCK: Regina Spektor has a new CD called Begin to Hope. Many of the songs are piano ballads. She started playing piano when she was six. And when the family left Russia, the family piano had to stay behind. It was a small brown upright, a Petra.

MS. SPEKTOR: Yes, so I'm so sad, it's still - it never and never ever stops being less sad. But it's sad on so many levels. My mom, she entered a conservatory when she was 16. Her dad, my grandfather, he gave her that piano as a present for entering the conservatory and she'd had it all through her piano life. I had that piano near me as long as, you know, my memory extends, like it was always there.

BLOCK: What did you do when you came to the Bronx? You didn't have a piano. How did you replace that, sort of, in your mind?

MS. SPEKTOR: Well, I had a really amazing teacher in Russia. And she gave me all these pieces and kind of encouraged me to practice on hard surfaces, you know.

BLOCK: On hard surfaces?

MS. SPEKTOR: Yes, because you need to have certain resistance. And so, I'd sit down by a window sill and I'd just be staring out a window. And I'd just be playing.

(Soundbite of Regina Spektor)

MS. SPEKTOR: (Singing) I must go on standing. You can't break that which isn't yours. I must go on standing. I'm not my own. It's not a charm.

BLOCK: I want to ask you about one of the songs on your new CD. Starts with these big classical sounding piano cords, this is the song Apres Moi.

MS. SPEKTOR: I definitely love the fact that I was able to put a little bit of Russian into it. I never sing in Russian. I didn't write the words. I used a couplet from the Russian poet Boris Pasternak.

(Soundbite of Apres Moi)

Ms. SPEKTOR: (Singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: What do the words mean in Russian?

MS. SPEKTOR: Well it's such a particular poem. It's like translating, I don't know, Shakespeare. Like you need just - at least I can't capture all the colors. But it starts out, February to take out the ink into me. One must always write about February while weeping. It feels very good to sing in Russian, you just feel so good inside my body.

BLOCK: You do something vocally in this song. It is sort of a kind of hiccup with your voice.

MS. SPEKTOR: Well, yes I make a lot of noises, definitely. I think it started out by the fact that I - it was so hard to start writing songs after having played such beautiful music my whole life. Classical music by, like, great composers. And then to go from that and start kind of doing these very crude rhythms and simple chords and try to develop even some sort of a semblance of a dexterity of, in between the voice and piano.

When I was writing my own songs, I think a lot of the times, like hiccups or, you know all these like - were almost trying to imply machines or, it's like suddenly discovering that you also have a tambourine inside your throat. And if you do a certain thing just so, you could get that tambourine sound, you know. And so then you start putting more tambourine into your music or something.

There's a lot of songs that have like, ta-ta-ta or ha-ha-ha, even like a song like Edit, you know, it's got this part where it's Edit-s, Edit-s.

(Soundbite of Edit)

MS. SPEKTOR: (Singing) Edit-s, edit-s, edit-s, edit-s, edit-s. You don't have no, talk to Robert. You don't have no Uncle Albert. You don't even have good credit. You can write, but you can't edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit.

BLOCK: There is something really chameleon like about your singing. You'll go from being very giddy on one song to being sort of pure balladeer. Which you know, a lot of musicians and a lot of singers do anyway. But, I just wonder whether if you see in it someway as if you're an actor playing different parts in these songs?

MS. SPEKTOR: Yeah. My songs, they're not really personal. They're not like about me. You know, I'm not writing about, you know, this is my relationship. You know how a lot of singer/songwriters do it. I think songwriters are more related to fiction writers. There is so much fun and there's so much privilege in being able to create stories in song.

The Odyssey was a story in song. To me that's so beautiful, all those painted characters, all those travels and adventures. You know, it's like why does Dumas get to do that with The Count of Monte Cristo, but a songwriter has to sing in their own voice and be, it's almost like putting this ball and chain around your foot. Being, I don't know, sentenced to being yourself. Who in the hell wants to be themselves all the time? It's so boring.

BLOCK: Regina Spektor, thanks very much. Good to talk with you.

MS. SPEKTOR: Thank you.

BLOCK: Regina Spektor's new CD is titled Begin to Hope. You can hear more songs at our website

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