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. Her music is associated with the anti-folk scene centered on New York City's East Village.

Early life[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.[2] 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.[3] She grew up listening to classical music and famous Russian bards like Vladimir Vysotsky and Bulat Okudzhava.[4] 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.[2]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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."[7]

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. She then 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.


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.[8] Although the family had been unable to bring their piano from Moscow, Spektor found a piano on which to play in the basement of her synagogue, and also practiced on tabletops and other hard surfaces.

Spektor was originally interested in classical music only, but later became interested in hip hop, rock, and punk as well.[2] 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 and realized she had an aptitude for songwriting.[6]

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.[6] 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.[2]

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,[9] and studied in Tottenham (a suburb of London) for one semester.[10]

2001–2006: Career beginnings[edit]

She gradually achieved recognition through performances in the anti-folk scene in downtown New York City, often as a duo with drummer Anders Griffen, and most importantly at the East Village's SideWalk Cafe, but also at the Living Room, Tonic, Fez, the Knitting Factory, and CB's Gallery.[citation needed] 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). In 2004, she signed a contract with Warner Brothers' record label Sire Records to publish and distribute her third album Soviet Kitsch, originally self-released in 2003.

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.

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.[11] 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!".[12] On January 21, 2007, she was featured on CBS News Sunday Morning.[13]

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.

Spektor wrote the song "The Call" for the 2008 film The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,[14] which appeared prominently in the film's finale sequence.

2009–2012: Far[edit]

Spektor's fifth album Far (released June 22, 2009) sold 50,000 copies in its first week, entering the US Billboard 200 at number three. The album spent 19 weeks on the Billboard 200 as well as debuted at number 30 and 16 in the UK and Canada, respectively.

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.[15]

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 sang "Us" and "The Sword & the Pen", receiving a standing ovation begun by Michelle Obama.[citation needed]

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

To promote her sixth studio album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats (released May 29, 2012), Spektor appeared on the June 7, 2012 episode of The Colbert Report and performed "Small Town Moon".[citation needed]

Spektor 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.[16] It was nominated in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards.[citation needed]


Spektor in concert, February 2006

Spektor has said that she has created a great number of songs[17] but rarely writes any of them down. She has also stated that she never aspired to write songs herself, but songs seem to just flow to her.[13] Spektor's songs are not usually autobiographical but are based on scenarios and characters drawn from her imagination.[6][18] Her songs show influences from folk,[19][20] punk, rock, Jewish,[18][21] Russian,[18] hip hop,[4][19] jazz,[19] and classical music.[18] 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:[13]

"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."[22]

Spektor has a broad vocal range and uses the full extent of it. She also 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 the piano or chair.[6][23] 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.[2]

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.[2][23] 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,[6] 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"; Shakespeare's Hamlet in "The Virgin Queen"; Boris Pasternak in "Après Moi"; Samson and Delilah in "Samson"; Oedipus the King in "Oedipus"; Billie Holiday in "Lady"; Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome in "2.99-cent blues"; and the Beatles and Paul McCartney in the song "Edit". She also used a line from Joni Mitchell's "California" in her song "The Devil Came to Bethlehem". 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.

In Spektor's early albums, many of her tracks had a very dry vocal production, with very little reverb or delay added. However, Spektor's more recent albums, particularly Begin to Hope, have put more emphasis into song production and have relied more on traditional pop and rock instruments.[5] Spektor says the records that most impact her are those of "bands whose music is really involved",[24] specifically naming the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Radiohead, Tom Waits, and Frédéric Chopin as primary influences.[24][25]


Spektor at her first performance in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 3, 2007

Spektor's first nationwide tour was accompanying the Strokes as the opening act on their 2003–2004 Room on Fire tour, during which she and the band performed and recorded "Modern Girls & Old Fashion Men". Kings of Leon were the second opening act on that tour and invited Spektor to open for them on their own European tour right after the Strokes' tour. 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.[26] During her 2006 headlining tour in support of the Begin to Hope album, Spektor sold out a performance at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, and two shows at Town Hall Theater in New York City on September 27 and September 28, 2006.[27]

Spektor has appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (once), Late Night with Conan O'Brien (three times), The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (twice), Jimmy Kimmel Live! (twice), Last Call with Carson Daly (five times), Late Show with David Letterman (twice), Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (twice), CBS News Sunday Morning, Good Morning America (twice), Australia's Rove Live, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (twice), and "The Colbert Report" (once).[28] On October 10, 2009, she performed on Saturday Night Live.

Since January 2005, Spektor has performed on a bright red Baldwin baby grand piano.[29] At the present time she uses exclusively Steinway & Sons pianos.[when?] She plays a seafoam Epiphone Wildkat archtop hollow-body electric guitar.[30]

Although she generally performs only original material, Spektor occasionally performs covers. Most famous of these covers were her performances of songs by Leonard Cohen and Madonna, for the 2nd Annual Jewish Music & Heritage Festival at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.[6] In 2006 and 2007, Spektor embarked on a headlining tour of the U.S. and Europe, selling out numerous clubs and theaters. She covered John Lennon's "Real Love" at the performance arts center of her alma mater, State University of New York at Purchase, on March 28, 2007, at a benefit concert for the Conservatory of Music.[31] In 2007, Spektor recorded "Real Love" for the Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur CD, which was released in June of that year. She recorded a version of the song for Triple J's Like a Version radio segment which was shown on jTV.

Spektor performing in Brighton on October 26, 2006

On March 8, 2007, Spektor appeared on the British ITV network's Loose Women, promoting and performing "Fidelity" live, and on April 20, 2007, she performed on the Late Show with David Letterman. On Saturday, April 28, 2007, she appeared at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. On Friday, May 18, 2007. On June 16, 2007, she performed at the Bonnaroo Music Festival and later performed at the 2007 Lollapalooza on August 4, 2007, and Virgin Festival on August 5, 2007, in Baltimore, Maryland. On September 16, 2007, she performed at the Austin City Limits Music Festival and recorded a set for the Austin City Limits TV show the following day. She performed acoustic at the Bridge School Benefit at Shoreline Amphitheatre on October 27 and October 28, 2007.

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,[32] but the date was once again rescheduled, and the concert finally occurred on February 29, 2008.[33] After her initial collapse in Nashville, she was able to perform in concerts at Mountain Stage on November 18, 2007,[34] and at Duke University on November 19, 2007.[16]

In conjunction with the release of her 2009 album Far, Spektor was headlining 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.

Media coverage[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,[35] 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.[36] 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.

Spektor 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.

Personal life[edit]

Spektor married singer-songwriter Jack Dishel in 2011. Formerly a guitarist with the band the Moldy Peaches,[10] Dishel is a member of the band Only Son and duets with Spektor in the song "Call Them Brothers".[37] On January 23, 2014, Spektor announced her pregnancy on Facebook.[38] They announced the birth of a son in March 2014.[39]


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.[40] 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.[41] 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.[42] 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.[43][44]


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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  12. ^ "Hottest Women of... Rock!". Blender. 
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  14. ^ "Pandora". 
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  16. ^ a b "Regina Spektor - Official Website". Regina Spektor Official Website. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
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  18. ^ a b c d Alonzo, Rod. "Making Stuff Up: An Interview With Regina Spektor". 
  19. ^ a b c Murphy, John. "Regina Spektor – Mary Ann Meets The Gravediggers (review)". musicOMH. 
  20. ^ Bridge, Colette (July 2006). "Nottingham Music: Paolo Nutini / Peaches / Regina Spektor: Tis the period of the singer / songwriter". BBC – Nottingham. 
  21. ^ Holub, Annie (2006-11-02). "Spectral Musings: Six lines that will make you fall in love with Regina Spektor". Tucson Weekly. 
  22. ^ Rolling Stone magazine issue 694, September 2009. "New York Screwball Pop Queen" by Jenny Eliscu, page18.
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  25. ^ [2][dead link]
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  28. ^ ABC News. "Regina Spektor Rocks 'GMA'". ABC News. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  29. ^ "Regina Spektor in a Piano Shop". WNYC – New York Public Radio. 2005-01-28. 
  30. ^ "Imagine-A-Female-Singer-Songwriter-For-The-Strokes-Generation". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  31. ^ "The Journal News - - Westchester, Rockland, Putnam news, community, entertainment, yellow pages and classifieds. Serving Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, New York -". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  32. ^ Friskics-Warren, Bill (2007-11-14). "Spektor rushed to the hospital before Ryman show". The Tennessean. 
  33. ^ "Home -". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  34. ^ [3][dead link]
  35. ^ "27 Dresses Movie Trailer". Slash Film]. 2007-10-03. 
  36. ^ "Music from the hit series, Weeds". Showtime. 
  37. ^ Caspar Llewellyn Smith. "Regina Spektor: 'Art comes from a different place'". the Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  38. ^ "Regina Spektor". Facebook. 
  39. ^ Michaud, Sarah (April 1, 2014). "Regina Spektor welcomes a son". People. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  40. ^ E-Online (July 22, 2008) Sting, Matthews, Mayer Gamer for Tibet Than Beijing
  41. ^ [4][dead link]
  42. ^ "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. 
  43. ^ Helping a Toddler Grieve. The New York Times, August 19, 2010 by Lisa Belkin.
  44. ^ Regina Spektor breaks down on stage. YouTube. 10 July 2010. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 

External links[edit]