Regina Spektor sticks to her guns

SARAH WHYTE
Last updated 05:00 13/11/2012
Regina Spektor

SYMPHONIC: Regina Spektor is awed by the giants of classical.

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Regina Spektor's outlook on celebrities who try their hand at acting, singing and even marketing their own perfume is somewhat old-fashioned: stick to what you're good at.

Speaking over the phone from her home in New York, the Russian-born songstress says she has been approached to join the ''slashie'' brigade - to act, write a book and even compose for an orchestra.

''One of my pet peeves in general in the modern world,'' she begins in a sweet, high-pitched voice, ''is that if you get known for doing one thing, then people start offering you other things, you know, and so often people just expand because they know they can.

''If someone says, 'Oh, you made a few records, [now] write a book, or [act] in a movie', it's wonderful to get those opportunities, but only something you should do if you have a gift for it or you're really good at writing books, or you tried and you're getting better.''

Sticking to what she's good at has worked for Spektor, who, at 32, has just released her sixth studio album, the flamboyant What We Saw from the Cheap Seats. As with every album she has released, including her 2001 debut, 11:11, her latest has received rave reviews. The US Rolling Stone even described her as this generation's Joni Mitchell.

Spektor migrated with her Russian parents, Ilya and Bella, to New York at a young age. ''I'm very influenced by them as people. They are really amazing, creative, wise people, and they really cherish art. I am really lucky I grew up surrounded by cool books and art.''

Her lush, rich vocals, accompanied by ferocious piano playing, were, she says, influenced by her Russian upbringing.

''It's one of those things that anyone who emigrates has found; there is this understanding of a whole different culture,'' Spektor says.

''There are these wonderful things that are different, that are unique to different countries, like certain sounds and smells, and it's a certain kind of vibe, and I definitely feel like I am very influenced by the fact I am not just from one country.''

Other influences in Spektor's music are the composing greats Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev.

''One of the greatest things about Tchaikovsky that blows my mind is his way of orchestration,'' she says. ''The way that the orchestra sounds is like nothing else ... The way that he 'paints' with it, and I couldn't begin to know how to orchestrate like that; it's a whole other universe that I am unfortunately not tapped into. [And] I love Mozart so, so much.''

Has she ever considered composing a score for an orchestra?

''It's on my long list of things that I want to do,'' Spektor says. ''I would love to [compose for an orchestra], but not just because I am picturing myself in a pretty gown at the end of the night.''

She admits also to wanting to try her hand at carpentry.

Although the singer dislikes unsuccessful slashies, Spektor admits she has dabbled too. Her latest venture has been composing for musical theatre.

''It's a little bit new to me,'' she says, quietly. ''I never had any experience in the theatre or musical theatre or writing, and I felt like I connected with the storyline. I really felt like ... I have enough skills to do it.''

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Spektor has experimented with acting, too. ''I did this one thing when I was asked to act for the people who do Saturday Night Live, and they did a little short comedy,'' she says. ''I really had to practise not to overact, but I felt I totally overacted,'' she says, laughing.

''As far as acting, I think I would have to study it before I could do it.''

Studying is not foreign to Spektor, who completed a four-year composition course in New York.

On the topic of her new album - which is as rich as ever, with sharp satire and emotional maturity - Spektor refuses to explain how the ideas for her songs, such as All the Rowboats, originated.

''I appreciate the question, but it's always much easier for me to talk about sound or production, or just kind of things in abstract concepts,'' she says.

''I don't really like to talk about songs or lyrics and specifics because I feel mainly that it limits the art and I really loved the idea of it being something personal to you or other people and not so much weighed down with heavy explanation. I really love it being what it is.''

When pushed, she eventually replies: ''It's probably a little bit of both from my imagination and a hybrid of hearing something or doing something and ... everything goes in and eventually cooks up to something or other.

- Regina Spektor will play in Auckland's Town Hall on December 3.

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