Photo credit: Adria Petty
Regina Spektor is giddy and relieved: she’s finally finished her latest album. We called the Soviet-born songstress in New York, hours after she’d flown home at 5.30am from Los Angeles, where the 29-year-old put the finishing touches to Far, her fifth album and follow-up to the breakthrough Begin to Hope.
The wide-ranging record features the playful pianist’s thoughts on the cosmos, the tuba and one of The Strokes. Four superproducers lent their hands, including Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra – despite the fact Spektor had never heard of him…
Why four producers for one album?
It had been three years since Begin to Hope. I never expected that album to become so big and for it to take so long to get to a follow-up. I always thought I’d make an album every year. I figured if I was only going to get to do this once every few years, I wanted to get the most out of it and learn as much as possible.
So this was like a masterclass on how to make a pop record?
Yeah, pretty much!
From now on, you can just do it yourself.
I’ll steal their secrets and go after their jobs!
How did you connect with Jeff Lynne?
Funnily enough, I had no idea who he was. My label asked me to start thinking about producers I’d want to work with. I’m not the kind of person who pays attention to who produces what. But a friend was playing the new Tom Petty album and I thought, ‘Hey, I like this.’ So I flipped it over and wrote down his name.
So you had never heard ELO?
No! I just thought Tom Petty sounded nice. When I met with my label, they asked me who I wanted to produce the record. So I pulled out my note and said ‘Jeff Lynne’. They all just silently looked at each other and, and I was like, ‘What?’
Is this because Xanadu never made it across the Iron Curtain?
Wow, how to explain? It’s a movie about, um, roller-skating angels? ELO did the music.
That sounds pretty late ’70s! But, no, I know people who grew up in foreign countries and know all sorts of pop culture. It’s like how I’m a terrible speller.
But you can’t spell in Russian either, is that what you’re saying?
No, not at all.
Is that why your album title is so short?
I was originally calling it Far, Far Away, and I kept chopping it down.
Sounds a little fantasy sci-fi. What’s the thought behind the name?
One day it hit me, that I was standing on a planet, rotating in space. I could feel the Earth spinning beneath my feet; I could feel that we are just shooting through space, and everything else is so far away. And if you travel far, you leave something far behind. It was one of those deep moments, like when you realise you’re going to die.
Yeah, that’s a big one.
But lately I’ve been calling the album Fart.
Hey, it’s not set in stone!
I’m going to call up my label and yell, ‘Stop the presses!’ I’d love to see their faces then.
This story first appeared as ‘Russian doll’ (Jul 2009).