Josh and I had the privilege of interviewing Regina Spektor over the phone last Saturday. I have to tell you, it was probably one of the greatest highlights of my life so far. We’ve adored her work and music since the beginning. And interviewing her on the phone was like a dream. She was so sweet, candid and fun to talk with.
We discussed the experience of performing, her feelings on college, her favorite places in New York City, her upcoming appearance on SNL, the process of creating music, how fans make her feel, her motivations, her new projects, and her goals for life.
Here are excerpts from our conversation that we’ve edited and shortened slightly:
JOSH: It was just amazing seeing how the fans loved seeing you up on stage (we were at her DC concert last Wednesday)…what does that feel like? What does that feel like to have so many people yelling your name and yelling “I love you?”
REGINA: It’s really really really good. [laughs] I don’t know – it feels kind of like a shower or something. Cause it just kind of pours over you in this way, it feels so positive and just, really great.
Shows feel like everybody’s going through something together. And then there is this atmosphere that happens or this world that happens and only the people that are there really understand it…
The amazing thing to me about live shows is that anybody could write about it or try to explain it to someone, but really it’s just this very personal experience shared between the people that are there in the same room. You can’t get any kind of a film or recording or description or a review…and that’s what I love about it, because it’s just between those people.
But then sometimes it gets to be too much, like when some people just yell out something because they just want to be heard or something. It kind of breaks the fourth wall all the time… and then that becomes kind of hard. But I’d say that happens .001% [of the time] and the rest of it is just loving and really cool.
JOSH: We actually saw you perform at SUNY Purchase a few years ago. It was kind of the same thing – more of a connection for you since it was your old school.
REGINA: I remember that show, I loved that show. That kind of a thing is very emotional. First of all, I guess it wouldn’t be so if I hadn’t loved my school. But I loved SUNY purchase so much.
Even today, I get to play [college shows] and we always put a few in, in every tour because I love schools so much and love college kids.
I think it is that I miss college, and it’s my way to get back on campus and walk around and be like, “I was taking that art history or renaissance class too, you know?”
I just think that universities to me are awesome. It’s such an amazing privilege that for a few years of your life that your job is just to be a student. And you’re a grown up, but your job is just to get smarter, you know? It’s very nice.
JOSH: Speaking of NYC, we loved living there. Since you’re from there, have grown up there, are living there now, and talk about NYC in your songs, what are your favorite things about NYC? Do you have a favorite neighborhood or favorite places to eat, maybe a favorite pizza place?
REGINA: You know there are so many places. The really good places – I love.
First of all, I love all the nature in the parks. Central park is one of my most favorite places in the whole world!
I love Union Square Park and the big Barnes & Noble in Union Square.
I love The Strand book store. And there are tons of little places…
I love Twelve Chairs in SoHo. It sort of feels like the most Tel Aviv I’ve found outside of Tel Aviv. It’s this very Israeli-Russian place to eat. You can get really good borsch there, and the best Cappuccino I’ve had outside of Europe is at Twelve Chairs. You’re making me miss it!
NAOMI: When do you get to go back?
REGINA: For Saturday Night Live [on October 10th]! I’m flying in from Atlanta. Next week, I’m playing SNL. I’m really bracing myself! You know, it’s kind of intense! I prefer recording records and playing live shows to doing television things. They feel terrifying to me. But I also feel absolutely amazed that they’ve invited me to play there! It’s like, “What? Me? Ok!”
JOSH: You’ll be there with Drew Barrymore, right?
REGINA: Yeah – which is really cool actually because I’ve known her since my first ever tour when I opened for The Strokes. I’m really excited. It’s going to be so much fun!
I just hope I don’t get too nervous because that takes out the fun. But I’m going to [pretend] to be like all…too cool for school – who cares – another TV thing!’
JOSH: Speaking of performing, one of the things we really wanted to ask you is what motivates you? What makes you want to sit down at the piano and play? Is it the music? Is it the fans and the connection with them like we talked about? Why do you create music?
REGINA: Well, playing shows and writing music to me almost feel like completely different jobs. I know they are connected because you can’t go play shows if you don’t write any music, but they don’t feel interconnected.
When I write a song, I’m completely compelled by just that song. I feel inspired and excited, and I just do that. I don’t think about how can I perform this or how can I translate this into actual reality or something.
Then making the record feels like a completely different job. All of that experimentation feels very exclusive to me and the people I’m making this with. And for better or for worse, [I’m] not really thinking about the people who will be listening to that at all. I know that sometimes I think I should give that more thought, but I can’t really seem to. I can’t seem to care if people will like it or connect with it or not because I feel so strongly about it myself, you know?
And then of course when I’m completely done, then I really care. Then I obviously get the jitters and the nerves and hope it doesn’t suck and somebody or people will find what they’re looking for in it, or some sort of connection or help or happiness. Whatever they need I hope they find in it.
And that’s when the shows start, and I really just do those for the people – to connect with people and bring music to people. It’s a pleasure to play them, and I love playing them. It would probably feel terrible if I didn’t feel that connection or didn’t like the people I was playing for. I know it’s ridiculous, but most of the time when I feel the audience I’m always just like “wow, these people are really good people.” And that always just gives me inspiration to play with them.
NAOMI: Outside of performing and outside of song writing, what other goals do you have for yourself?
REGINA: Like, as a human person? Goals? Oh, a lot.
I guess just all the things that everybody wants:
To feel like they’re actually doing something and not just reenacting the same thing over and over, and not getting stuck.
Just opening your mind and seeing more of the world and trying to understand how people live and what they think.
All that stuff that will sound really fluffy and disgusting if you write it down. Just be part of the world. Really really live. You know?
One of my big goals is to just not do things out of fear but [to] be really open, which is hard I think. It’s a full time job for people to stay really open. It’s like a second job.
But also – I don’t think it’s good to just do one thing. I don’t think if you’re a musician you should not just be immersed in music. I think it’s really important that if you’re a musician [to] try writing a play or something. Things need to complete other things.
I’ve been writing music for a Broadway show…
NAOMI: We heard that! That’s exciting!
REGINA: Oh, it’s amazing. I hope my part is good, but the whole thing is just amazing. It’s like the coolest thing.
It’s interesting – I’ve been learning a lot about things I had no idea about. Like the whole theater world has its own language. It’s just different: so many great ideas and structure and actors and the whole way you connect with actors – I just love it. I’m very interested in it.
NAOMI: We’re excited to see it and hear it!
REGINA: Me too! The thing with that is, I’m such an immediate gratification person – I want it like, now! And it’s in two years which is such a long time to wait for something, especially when you feel it is coming together but then you realize it’s not even close.
I feel like all the people who work in plays or in film or write a novel, they have to have so much patience. They’re in it for the long haul, unlike musicians who go write a 3-minute song and immediately get to go play it. You know?
The longest I’ve had to wait is to have a record released, and it just drives me crazy those few months. So it’s a new experience for me, definitely.
JOSH/NAOMI: Well thanks so much for talking with us!
REGINA: Thank you! It was my pleasure. Thanks for talking with me! Have a great weekend!