Regina Spektor

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Regina Spektor
Regina Spektor 2012-02-24 001.jpg
Spektor in 2012
Background information
Birth name Regina Ilyinichna Spektor
Born (1980-02-18) February 18, 1980 (age 35)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Origin New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres Anti-folk, indie folk, baroque pop, jazz, indie pop
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, record producer
Instruments Vocals, piano, guitar, bass guitar
Years active 2001–present
Labels Sire, Warner Bros.
Associated acts Only Son, Sondre Lerche, Ben Folds, Kill Kenada, The Strokes, Dufus
Notable instruments
Spektor's autograph

Regina Ilyinichna Spektor (Russian: Реги́нa Ильи́нична Спе́ктор, IPA: [rʲɪˈɡʲinə ˈspʲɛktər]; /rɨˈnə ˈspɛktər/; born February 18, 1980)[1] is an American singer-songwriter and pianist. She was born in the Soviet Union where she began classical training on the piano at the age of 6.[2] When she was 9 years old, her family emigrated to the United States where she continued her classical training into her teenage years; she began to write original songs shortly thereafter.

After self-releasing her first three records and gaining popularity in New York City's independent music scenes, particularly the anti-folk scene centered on New York City's East Village, Spektor signed with Sire Records in 2004 where she began achieving greater mainstream notoriety.[3] After giving her third album a major label re-release, Sire released her fourth album, Begin to Hope which would go on to achieve Gold certification. [4] Her following two albums, Far and What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, would both go on to debut at number 3 on the Billboard 200.

Early life and musical beginnings[edit]

Spektor was born in Moscow, Soviet Union, in 1980 to a musical Russian Jewish family. Her father, Ilya Spektor, is a photographer and amateur violinist. Her mother, Bella Spektor, was a music professor in a Soviet college of music and teaches at a public elementary school in Mount Vernon, New York.[5] She has a brother Boruch (Bear), who was featured in track 7, "* * *", or "Whisper", of her 2004 album, Soviet Kitsch. Growing up in Moscow, Regina learned how to play the piano by practicing on a Petrof upright that her grandfather gave her mother.[6] She grew up listening to classical music and famous Russian bards like Vladimir Vysotsky and Bulat Okudzhava.[7] Her father, who obtained recordings in Eastern Europe and traded cassettes with friends in the Soviet Union, also exposed her to rock and roll bands such as the Beatles, Queen, and the Moody Blues.[5]

The family left the Soviet Union in 1989, when Regina was nine and a half, during the period of Perestroika, when Soviet citizens were permitted to emigrate. Regina had to leave her piano behind.[8] The seriousness of her piano studies led her parents to consider not leaving the Soviet Union, but they finally decided to emigrate, due to the ethnic and political discrimination that Jews faced.[9] Traveling first to Austria and then Italy, the Spektor family was admitted to the United States as refugees with the assistance of HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). They settled in the Bronx, where Spektor graduated from the SAR Academy, a Jewish day middle school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Since the family had been unable to bring their piano from Moscow, Spektor practiced on tabletops and other hard surfaces until she found a piano on which to play in the basement of her synagogue. In New York City, Spektor studied classical piano with Sonia Vargas, a professor at the Manhattan School of Music, until she was 17; Spektor's father had met Vargas through her husband, violinist Samuel Marder.[10] Spektor attended high school for two years at the Frisch School, a yeshiva in Paramus, New Jersey, but transferred to a public school, Fair Lawn High School, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, where she finished the last two years of her high school education.

Spektor was originally interested in classical music only, but later became interested in hip hop, rock, and punk as well.[5] Although she had always made up songs around the house, she first became interested in more formal songwriting during a visit to Israel with the Nesiya Institute in her teenage years when she attracted attention from the other children on the trip for the songs she made up while hiking.[9]

Following this trip, she was exposed to the work of Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, and other singer-songwriters, who encouraged her belief that she could create her own songs.[9] She wrote her first a cappella songs around the age of 16 and her first songs for voice and piano when she was nearly 18.[5]

Spektor completed the four-year studio composition program of the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College within three years, graduating with honors in 2001. Around this time, she also worked briefly at a butterfly farm in Luck, Wisconsin,[11] and studied in Tottenham (a suburb of London) for one term.[12]


2001–2006: Career beginnings[edit]

Spektor gradually achieved recognition through performances in the anti-folk scene in downtown New York City, most prominently at the East Village's SideWalk Cafe. She also performed at local colleges (such as Sarah Lawrence College) with other musicians, including the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. She sold self-published CDs at her performances during this period: 11:11 (2001) and Songs (2002). Spektor's first nationwide tour was accompanying The Strokes as the opening act on their 2003–2004 Room on Fire tour which included performances at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. While on the tour, she and the band performed and recorded "Modern Girls & Old Fashion Men". After the tour, Kings of Leon who were the second opening act on the tour, invited Spektor to open for them on their own European tour. In 2004, Spektor signed a contract with Warner Brothers' record label Sire Records to publish and distribute her third album Soviet Kitsch, originally self-released in 2003. In 2005, she began making her first TV appearances including guest spots on various late-night talk shows.[13]

In June 2005, Spektor was the opening act for the English piano rock band Keane on their North American tour, during which she performed at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2005.[14]

2006–2009: Begin to Hope[edit]

Spektor went on to release the album Begin to Hope on June 13, 2006. The album debuted at number 70 on the Billboard 200, but due to the popularity of the single "Fidelity", it went on to peak at number 20, and was certified Gold by the RIAA. Spektor received increased attention when her video for "Fidelity" was viewed over 200,000 times in two days on YouTube.

Spektor's 2006 headlining tour in support of the Begin to Hope album included two back-to-back hometown shows at Town Hall Theater in New York City on September 27 and September 28, 2006.[15] This tour was Spektor's first to feature a full backing band.

Spektor performing in Brighton on October 26, 2006

Listeners of Sirius Radio's Left of Center channel voted her single "Fidelity" as the No. 1 song of 2006. Towards the end of 2006, VH1 showcased her as part of their "You Oughta Know: Artists on the Rise" featurettes, playing clips from the "Fidelity" music video and showing parts of an interview with Spektor during commercial breaks on the channel.[16] Spektor's video for "Fidelity" reached No. 3 on VH1's Top 20 Countdown.[citation needed] Spektor reached No. 33 on Blender magazine's top 100 of 2006 and was also listed as one of the "Hottest Women of...Rock!".[17] On January 21, 2007, she was given an extensive feature on CBS News Sunday Morning which showcased her musical beginnings and growing popularity.[18]

In 2007, Spektor began performing at several major music festivals including Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Bonnaroo Music Festival, Lollapalooza, Virgin Festival and Austin City Limits Music Festival. She performed acoustic at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit at Shoreline Amphitheatre on October 27, 2007.

On October 1, 2007, Spektor's video for "Better" was released on VH1 and YouTube, where it was viewed more than 100,000 times within the first 24 hours.

On November 14, 2007, at her concert at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Spektor collapsed during the sound check and was taken to a local emergency room. According to the statement given to the audience, Spektor was fine, but doctors said that she could not perform that night. It was later reported that the cause of the collapse was an inner ear infection which caused intense vertigo. The show was initially rescheduled for December 6, 2007,[19] but the date was once again rescheduled, and the concert finally occurred on February 29, 2008.[20] After her initial collapse in Nashville, she was able to perform in concerts at Mountain Stage on November 18, 2007,[21] and at Duke University on November 19, 2007.[22]

Spektor wrote the song "The Call" for the 2008 film The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,[23] which appeared prominently in the film's finale sequence.

Spektor appeared as a guest vocalist on "You Don't Know Me", a single from Ben Folds' 2008 album, "Way to Normal". In promotion of for the single, the duo performed the song together on several late-night talk shows.

2009–2012: Far[edit]

Spektor's fifth album Far was released June 22, 2009. For the record she worked with four producers: David Kahne (who had previously worked with Spektor on Begin to Hope), Mike Elizondo, Jacknife Lee and Jeff Lynne. The record sold 50,000 copies in its first week, entering the US Billboard 200 at number three; the record remained on the chart for 19 weeks. The album peaked at number 30 and 16 in the UK and Canada, respectively.

In conjunction with the release of Far, Spektor headlined at Serpentine Sessions, a series of concerts at London's Hyde Park on June 29, 2009. Other European performances in 2009 include Glastonbury Festival, Hultsfred Festival, Oxegen 2009, T in the Park, Paradiso, Latitude Festival, and Rock Werchter. Spektor invited Brooklyn-based rock band Jupiter One to open concerts on her 2009 North American tour. As a part of that tour, on October 14, 2009, Spektor headlined a concert at the Radio City Music Hall in NYC.

On September 16, 2009, it was announced that Spektor would write the music for the musical Beauty, a modern adaptation of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, which was initially set to open during the 2011–12 Broadway season.[24]

Regina made her Saturday Night Live debut on October 10, 2009, performing "Eet" and "The Calculation" off of Far.

In May 2010, Spektor performed for President Obama and his wife Michelle along with hundreds of other guests at the White House reception in honor of Jewish Heritage Month. She performed "Us" and "The Sword & the Pen".

2012–present: What We Saw from the Cheap Seats[edit]

Spektor's sixth album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats was released May 29, 2012. Like her previous album, it debuted at number three on the Billboard 200. Promotional appearances for the record included Spektor appearing on the June 7, 2012 episode of The Colbert Report where she performed "Small Town Moon" as well as "Ballad of a Politician" as online bonus content.[25]

In 2012, Spektor was christened an official "Steinway Artist"; she plays Steinway & Sons pianos almost exclusively.[26]

Her world tour in support of What We Saw from the Cheap Seats included a performance in Moscow; Spektor had not yet returned since fleeing with her family in 1989.[27]

Spektor wrote and recorded the main title theme song, "You've Got Time", for the Netflix Original series Orange Is the New Black, which premiered July 11, 2013.[22] It was nominated in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards.[28]


Spektor in concert, February 2006

Spektor's primary instrument is the piano though she plays the guitar as a secondary instrument, primarily playing on a seafoam Epiphone Wildkat archtop hollow-body electric guitar for live performances.[29] Spektor has said that she has created a great number of songs[30] but rarely writes any of them down. Spektor's songs are not usually autobiographical but are based on scenarios and characters drawn from her imagination.[9][31] Her songs show influences from folk,[32][33] punk, rock, Jewish,[31][34] Russian,[31] hip hop,[7][32] jazz,[32] and classical music.[31] Spektor has said that she works hard to ensure that each of her songs has its own musical style, rather than trying to develop a distinctive style for her music as a whole:[18]

"It doesn't feel natural for me to write some diary type song. I want to write a classic like Yesterday but weird songs about meatballs in refrigerators come into my head – I can't help it."[35]

Spektor performs using a broad vocal range. She explores a variety of different and somewhat unorthodox vocal techniques, such as verses composed entirely of buzzing noises made with the lips and beatbox-style flourishes in the middle of ballads, and also makes use of such unusual musical techniques as using a drum stick to tap rhythms on the body of a chair.[9][36] Part of her style also results from the exaggeration of certain aspects of vocalization, most notably the glottal stop, prominent in the single "Fidelity". She also uses a strong New York accent on some words, which she has said is due to her love of New York and its culture.[5]

Her lyrics are equally eclectic, often taking the form of abstract narratives or first-person character studies, similar to short stories or vignettes put to song.[5][36] Spektor usually sings in English, though she sometimes includes a few words or verses of Latin, Russian, French, and other languages in her songs. She also plays with pronunciations, which she said on a NPR interview to be a remnant of her early years when she listened to pop in English without understanding the lyrics. Some of Spektor's lyrics include literary allusions,[9] such as: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway in "Poor Little Rich Boy"; The Little Prince in "Baobabs"; Virginia Woolf and Margaret Atwood in "Paris"; Ezra Pound and William Shakespeare in "Pound of Flesh" Boris Pasternak in "Après Moi"; Samson and Delilah in "Samson"; Oedipus the King in "Oedipus"; Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome in "2.99¢ Blues". Recurring themes and topics in Spektor's lyrics include love, death, religion (particularly Biblical and Jewish references), city life (particularly New York references), and certain key phrases which recur in different songs, such as references to gravediggers, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the name "Mary Ann". Spektor's use of satire is evident in "Wasteside", which refers to The Twelve Chairs, the classic satirical novel by the Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov, and describes the town in which people are born, get their hair cut, and then are sent to the cemetery.

Spektor's first, self-released album, 11:11, was recorded and self-released while she was still in college. The album differs from Spektor's later releases as she was heavily influenced by blues and jazz at the time of its recording. Her second album, Songs, was recorded on Christmas Day, 2001. Each song was recorded with just one take and is entirely acoustic. The session from which the album was derived was not originally intended as an album recording session.[37] Her third album, Soviet Kitsch, featured strings on several songs and was her first to feature a full rock band. Upon signing with a major label which in turn provided a bigger budget for production and studio time, Spektor's albums began to put more emphasis into song production and feature more prominent use of traditional pop and rock instruments.[8]

Spektor says the records that most impact her are those of "bands whose music is really involved",[38] specifically naming the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Radiohead, Tom Waits, and Frédéric Chopin as primary influences.[38][39]

Appearances in the media[edit]

Spektor performing at the Hammerstein Ballroom on October 16, 2007
Spektor performing in the West London Synagogue, February 2007

Since 2005, Spektor's music has been used in various television programs and commercials. In late 2005, "Us" (from Soviet Kitsch) was used in a commercial as part of the What Do You Want To Watch? series for the United Kingdom's British Sky Broadcasting, and in the summer of 2006, a clip from the same song was used for the teaser website for Microsoft's Zune project at, as well as for a promotional campaign for MtvU, and by Dutch telecom company KPN in a commercial.

"Somedays" was used in a 2005 episode of CSI: NY and "Samson" was used in a 2006 episode of the same series. "On the Radio" was used in an episode of ABC's Grey's Anatomy. "Field Below" was used in a 2006 episode (titled "The Last Word") of CBS's Criminal Minds, and "Music Box" has been used in a commercial for JC Penney.

"Fidelity" has been used in an episode of Grey's Anatomy (titled "Six Days, Part 2"), on Veronica Mars ("Wichita Linebacker"), on Brothers & Sisters, in the trailer for the 2007 film 27 Dresses,[40] in the Brazilian telenovela A Favorita, and during the end credits of Love and Other Drugs (2010). "Fidelity" was also used in a 2007 Yahoo!Xtra television commercial in New Zealand and, also in 2007, the mobile phone company Vodafone used her lyric, "Come into my world..." from the track, "Hotel Song" in an extensive TV advertising campaign in the UK and Ireland.It also was used in ITV's Secret Diary of a Call Girl-Series 1 Episode 4

"Better" was used in a commercial for XM Satellite Radio, an episode of "How I Met Your Mother", and the 2009 film My Sister's Keeper.

Spektor also sang the title song "Little Boxes" of Showtime's television series Weeds in the episode "Mile Deep and a Foot Wide" (2006) and her "Ghost of Corporate Future" was used both at the beginning and end of the episode.[41] A section of "That Time" was featured in the 2008 film In Bruges.

"Us" and "Hero" are both featured on the soundtrack for the 2009 film (500) Days of Summer. In August 2009, the song "Two Birds" was used in the 2009 Fall Campaign of the Polish TV station TVN. "Eet" debuted on the show 90210 in April 2010.

On his 2010 release Scratch My Back, Peter Gabriel recorded a version of the song "Après Moi" from Begin to Hope.

The song "Human of the Year" featured prominently in the trailer and first episode of the 2011 HBO series Enlightened, and "Hotel Song" was featured in the opening of the 2011 movie Friends with Kids.

The title of the song "Don't Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)" and the cover of What We Saw from the Cheap Seats was featured on the display of the 5th generation iPod Touch in promotional content from Apple in late 2012.

"All the Rowboats" was featured on The CW's Ringer in March 2012. The song "Your Honor" was used in the Season 2 premiere of HBO's series Girls on January 13, 2013, and the song "Laughing With" was featured on BBC drama The Crash in March 2013.

Regina wrote and recorded "You've Got Time" to be the theme song for the Netflix Original Series "Orange is the New Black" which premiered in 2013. Spektor was approached by the show's creator, Jenji Kohan, to create the opening number.[42]

Personal life[edit]

Spektor is fluent in Russian and reads Hebrew, and has since paid tribute to her Russian heritage, quoting the poem "February" by the Russian poet Boris Pasternak in her song "Après Moi", and stating, "I'm very connected to the language and the culture."[43]

Spektor and her family did not return home to Moscow until July 2012, when she toured through Russia in support of her sixth album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats.[44]

Spektor married singer-songwriter Jack Dishel in 2011. Formerly a guitarist with the band the Moldy Peaches,[12] Dishel is a member of the band Only Son and duets with Spektor in the song "Call Them Brothers".[45] On January 23, 2014, Spektor announced her pregnancy on Facebook.[46] They announced the birth of a son in March 2014.[47]


In 2007, Spektor covered John Lennon's "Real Love" for Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. The following year, she participated in Songs for Tibet, an initiative in support of human rights in Tibet and the 14th Dalai Lama. The album was issued on August 5, 2008, via iTunes and on August 19 in music stores around the world.[48] On January 22, 2009, Spektor performed at the third annual Roe on the Rocks gig at the Bowery Ballroom to raise money for Planned Parenthood New York City.[49] Also, continuing with her support for Tibet, Regina Spektor played for Tibet House's annual concert at Carnegie Hall on February 26, 2010. Less than one month later, on March 23, 2010, Spektor gave a concert at the Fillmore at Irving Plaza in New York City to raise funds for the work of Médecins Sans Frontières in Haiti. Also, on April 27, she released a cover of Radiohead's song "No Surprises", for which all proceeds went to Médecins Sans Frontières to help earthquake victims in Haiti and Chile. In February 2012, Spektor did a benefit concert at Rose Hall for HIAS, an organization that helped a young Spektor and her family emigrate from the Soviet Union.[50] Spektor also has taken part in several memorial and benefit concerts for the family of Dan Cho, her former cellist who died while on tour with her in 2010.[51][52]


Studio albums

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
2006 Shortlist Music Prize Shortlist Music Prize Begin to Hope Nominated
2012 MTV Video Music Awards Best Art Direction "All the Rowboats" Nominated
2014 Grammy Award Best Song Written for Visual Media "You've Got Time" Nominated
2015 Broadcast Music, Inc. BMI Streaming Media Awards "You've Got Time" Won


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  48. ^ E-Online (July 22, 2008) Sting, Matthews, Mayer Gamer for Tibet Than Beijing
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  50. ^ "Announces Benefit Concert Featuring Regina Spektor at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center". HIAS. 2012-01-06. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
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External links[edit]