Regina Spektor: Facebook, fear, and the feedback loop

We sit down with the seminal singer-songwriter. 

Anti-folk hero Regina Spektor’s love of books is hard to miss. Literary figures cameoing in Spektor’s lyrics include Hemingway, Pasternak, Margaret Atwood and fascist hyperpolyglot Ezra Pound, among others. But, over the past months, Spektor found herself reading less and less.

“When Twitter and Instagram came along, I started reading a lot less books,” Spektor explains. “I would have these experiences where I would have read for 30 or 40 minutes and I would look up and realise that I didn’t know what I’d read. I’ve talked to a lot of my friends who are actors and writers and comedians, and a lot of people are experiencing the same thing. It is sort of panicking.”

For the past few weeks, Spektor has stepped away from her social media accounts, and has found her reading picking up again. She’s currently making her way through A Gentleman in Moscow, Amore Towles’s 2016 elegy to the civility of past ages.

“All the readership of Beat – you guys should go and delete that stuff for a couple of months,” she implores. “It’s amazing. I’m way less stressed, and I’m reading more. I don’t have much time – I’m a mom and I’m preparing for a tour – but I’m still reading a lot.”

Another important antidote to the desolation of social media is to hit the road for some unmediated socialisation with fans.

“The calibre of human being that comes to my shows, the amazing-ness of the audience, is so inspiring to me,” Spektor says. “They’re kind to each other, they’re kind to me. It’s palpable. It’s a pleasure to be in a room full of good people, because it rekindles your connectedness and comfort among people.

“The shitty people are very loud on the internet. You start to lose hope. You think, ‘Oh my God, everybody’s gone crazy. What happened to us?’ But the people that I get to see when I tour are healing to me. Besides the actual pleasure of making music, that’s my favourite part: seeing how good people are, and getting out of the lows.”

Spektor’s current solo tour includes stop-offs in Sydney and Melbourne, her first trip to the Antipodes since 2012. She describes playing the Sydney Opera House’s 10,244-pipe grand organ – the largest of its kind – as a humbling experience.

“For us United States-ers, we don’t easily forget our visits to Australia,” Spektor says. “Everything is a little bit different, the trees, the birds. You really feel like you’re on the opposite side of the planet.”

Spektor – whose speech remains laced with faint Slavic inflections – emigrated to the US from the Soviet Union when she was nine years old. She’s only been back once, and that was to play a packed-out show in Krasnogorsk, near Moscow. Throughout her life, from the end of the Cold War to the current comedy of the Trump-Russia scandal, being identifiably Russian outside Russia has posed its challenges.

“It’s not very pleasant to be ‘the Russian,’ I’ll tell you that,” she says. “The perspective seeps in and all of a sudden, you can’t help but feel like the villain, because that’s the way it’s been presented for a hundred years.”

In 2012, when Spektor returned to Russia, she found her old neighbourhood to be mostly unchanged. While the interior of the city was transformed by the whiplash privatisation of the ‘90s, Moscow’s hinterlands still look much as they did under Gorbachev.

“Some things have changed in a really big way, but, then other things seem frozen in time,” Spektor says. “The buildings where I grew up stayed how they were, there wasn’t that influx of capital to transform it. It was bittersweet, because I saw how some people whom I knew were struggling.”

Returning to the place where she’d learnt piano and made her first acquaintances with Russian folk singers and with US rock music, smuggled on tape from Western Europe, Spektor experienced a powerful feeling of communion with the past.

“It was like travelling back into childhood,” she explains. “All the trees back where I played with my little friends and ran around like a pack of wolves until everybody’s parents screamed, ‘Dinner!’ and we ran inside – those trees were still there. They hadn’t been cut down and replaced with modern boxes and parking lots. I was grateful for that.”


Regina Spektor will play Hamer Hall on Sunday July 8 (sold out).