"We stopped at this truck stop in Colorado, and I'm in the fucking Subway, and there was a girl there getting a sandwich," Regina Spektor recounts a few weeks ago, using the f-word in the most excited, innocent way possible. "I saw her staring and she saw me and I thought about going up to her, but I thought maybe she was just staring, you know, didn't know who I was. Well. I got on MySpace today and someone wrote ‘I love your music and I smiled at you in the Subway.' I mean, wow."
Regina Spektor is running into fans in the strangest places; she's playing sell-out shows in the English countryside; she's getting written about on a hundred message boards and websites; she's on the phone from a hotel room at her latest tour stop, San Francisco. She also has a new album on a major label, Begin to Hope, a follow-up to 2004's Soviet Kitsch. It was a rough version of the latter that first pricked up the ears of the Strokes, who invited her on tour with them, and their producer, who recorded Kitsch. Almost three years later, and 17 years after fleeing Moscow, wow is still very much the theme. When on stage, perched on the edge of her stool, playing with her hands, chatting, the 26-year-old SUNY Purchase graduate still seems amazed, impressed, perplexed by it all, as if she's still learning something big from the crowds fawning over her.
"I can't imagine that kind of devotion, it's really beautiful," she says of the dedication which pushed fans across multiple states to see her play in Colorado in early May. "I played a show in Scotland where kids said they flew from Australia. In Bristol, people had come from Berlin," she says. The curly-haired Russian Jew from the Bronx with real estate on MySpace is trying to figure out where she is, and why people would bother coming that far. "I don't even know how to drive."
When she gets behind the keyboard however, Spektor could hardly sound more in control. From her measured debut, 11:11 through the more fanciful Songs and through the rich Kitsch, Spektor's fingers have learned to dance in jazz and pop and blues rhythms — occasionally parting ways to handle a drumstick on the nearest chair — with a precision matched by a voice that soars and halts aspirated, speaks in tongues and Russian and French and New Yawk accents, raps and, when a chair isn't available, carries the percussion too, beatbox style. On "Twenty Years of Snow," a new song that imitates a Polish mazurka, Spektor's plaintive minor chord progressions twinkle rapidly beneath a voice that ranges from fragile to breathy to speak-y before rolling into a rap that beckons a bop interlude before the recapitulation, where she stutters it all to a close. Such idiosyncratic stylings have earned her the fad label "anti-folk," along with comparisons to Tori, Bjork, Norah, Fiona, Ani and Joni. While perhaps flattering, these names don't do much more justice to Spektor's style than, say, likening her to Ronnie Spector. "Associations are associations," she shrugs, "but I definitely feel like my songs are my songs."