Arts, Culture & Media

Regina Spektor's new album has old roots


Regina's official album cover for What We Saw From The Cheap Seats.

Regina Spektor this week released a new album that is entwined firmly with her Russian roots.

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"What We Saw From the Cheap Seats" is Spektor's first studio album in three years. 

The album includes new tracks, but also reaches back into Spektor's musical and personal history. Tracks including "Don’t Leave Me (Ne me quitte pas)" have seen several renditions across Spektor's discography, and the deluxe edition of the album contains covers of two old songs by the Russian poet and folksinger Bulat Okudzhava.

"I didn't grow up in Russia enough to be influenced by popular music, I don't even know really what the popular music there is or was," Spektor said. "I was much more influenced by singer-songwriters and bards like Bulat Okudzhava and Vladimir Vysotsky."

The final bonus track on Spektor's album, a cover of Okudzhava's "Old Jacket (Stariy Pidjak)" tells the story of an old man who hopes he can change his fate in love by fixing up an old tattered jacket. 

"But that's not how things work, what a silly old man," Spektor said. "It's a heartbreaking song. He writes these melodies that just hurt, he is a national hero."

Spektor's family left Moscow in 1989 during the period of Perestroika, the first time Russians were able to emigrate from the Soviet Union. Spektor said she has not returned to Russia since, but the language of her childhood has influenced her work.

"It's my first language, I spent the first nine years of my life being a little Russian girl," Spektor said. "Then I moved to the Bronx and at nine and a half my life as a little American girl began. There are things, especially in the words of Okudzhava and Pushkin when I read Russian literature, when I listen to songs of that time, I love going into the world of Russian books and poems. It feels like a different part of me." 

Spektor's outlook on file sharing has been shaped by her upbringing in Russia when music produced outside the Soviet state was hard to come by. 

In an interview with NPR's "All Things Considered," Spektor said she feels grateful her music is accessible. 

"I grew up poor, and there are a lot of people that grew up a lot poorer than I am," Spektor said. "Though, to me, I think that if somebody doesn't have an easy life, they should at least have access to free books and film and music. I feel very lucky to live in this time where people can go online and get everything I've ever made, whether they have a lot of money or not."

Growing up, Spektor learned to play piano on a Czech-made Petrov. The piano stayed in Moscow when her family left the country.

"I'm going to go back for the first time since I've left, this summer, to play a couple of shows," Spektor said. "It's going to be a big emotional thing for be to go back there after all these years, especially to play music. But I wouldn't even know where to look for [my piano]."