Over the past two decades, fans of Regina Spektor have come to depend on the indie pop musician for a few things: a mix of whimsical and devastating lyrics; high, penetrating singing; a beautiful piano; the kind of worldbuilding found in a short story or fable; and sense of humor.
On their latest album Home, before and after, due out on June 24th, Spektor delivers on those hallmarks with some delightfully quirky surprises and an expanded musical palette. It’s the kind of experimentation you’d expect after their last album of 2016 Remember us to lifein which the 42-year-old used a full orchestra to create an epic, melodramatic soundscape.
“I think it was the most complicated arrangement,” Spektor tells The Daily Beast Home, before and after. “A lot of songs have a lot of orchestral arrangements. And there’s also a lot of sound design-y, soundscape-y, structural things.”
Where their last record felt elegant and lush, the variety of sounds kicked in Home, before and after are a bit messy but still compelling. For example, the opening track ‘Becoming All Alone’, in which Spektor relates to God and feels lonely, begins with some somber piano chords reminiscent of earlier ballads like ‘Samson’ and ‘Eet’ before dropping into an abrupt dance beat transforms. Up the Mountain is another odd but amusing adventure that sees Spektor oscillating between rapping and her usual operatic singing. At one point, the song “What Might’ve Been,” in which Spektor lists things that “go together,” sounds like a sci-fi film score.
The lyrics also take unexpected turns, particularly on the song “One Man’s Prayer,” where Spektor recites a pathetically desperate, lonely man’s inner monologue that is equal parts hilarious and unsettling (“‘Cause if I won’t get to meet God and At least I won’t be god then, god let me be approached by a girl.”) But leave it to Spektor, a skilled storyteller, to throw a satirical incel anthem on an album and get it going.
Home, before and after, Spektor’s eighth studio album, will certainly offer some level of reassurance to listeners who worry that the singer-songwriter may be veering in a more palatable, pop-leaning direction given her mainstream success as an indie artist. However, Spektor, who refutes the notion that she even has a signature sound, claims that the record’s punk spirit was not calculated.
“I have the feeling that I’ve gone to very new places sonically with this record, but I’ve always felt that with every record,” says Spektor. “You could probably know better if I just went sonic further in my imagination.”
Home, before and after’s peculiar mood feels appropriate given the unusual – but now perfectly normal – circumstances of its creation. The Russian-born New Yorker says she and her husband, guitarist Jack Dishel, “happened” to be living in Los Angeles for a few years working on their respective projects when she struck up a friendship with Grammy-winning artist John Congleton. The pair first teamed up for the song “One Little Soldier” for the 2019 film bomb– a collaboration that seemed long overdue given the multitude of indie artists Congleton has produced for. When Spektor returned to New York, she realized she wanted Congleton as sole co-producer on her ninth studio album.
Spektor, who is known for switching producers for projects, was excited about the “element of novelty” and what she could learn from Congleton. But like most Americans in the spring of 2020, COVID has thwarted their plans.
“On April 1, 2020, he was due to fly to New York a few days earlier and we were due to start working at Electric Lady [Studios],” she says. “We had time booked. And it was supposed to be like a normal record, you know? Cut it to a few weeks before that, of course – like a full lockdown, and the world changed.
Like everyone else whose jobs could be done through a computer, Spektor and Congleton continued to create the album remotely. In 2022, a bi-coastal or even transnational work situation between artist and producer is widespread in the music industry. But for the more traditional Spektor, the distance was nerve-wracking at first.
“He actually said to me, ‘You know, a tremendous number of people are working from home,'” she recalls.
“I remember talking to him as I was just walking up and down a street upstate and saying, ‘I don’t think I could work like that,'” continues Spektor. “I’ve always been in the studio. I’m so handy. I’m such a control freak. How is this ever supposed to work? And he says, ‘You don’t understand. People literally send me a voice memo. And they just say, make a song out of it.’”
“I was always in the studio. I’m so handy. I’m such a control freak. How is this ever supposed to work?”
Spektor, a mother of two, was also pregnant with her second son early in the pandemic and during the album-making process, prompting her and her family to temporarily relocate out of town to upstate New York.
“COVID security felt very, very good,” she says. “I don’t think I could have made the record without that.”
In addition to the privilege of being isolated, Spektor found it particularly idyllic to work out of Dreamland Recording Studio, a converted church in Ulster County.
The singer jokingly compares the confined environment of a typical studio to working in “the basement of the Capitol building.” However, she says what was particularly inspiring was the openness of the repurposed sanctuary, the people who stopped by to remember things like the weddings they had held there and the nature that surrounded it.
“Just being able to go out and see a bunny hop – that was a really big deal,” she says. “We would record and have to stop because there was a raccoon on the roof or a squirrel. And I loved hearing the thunderstorms. ”
Spektor, who recently completed a Broadway residency, has always had a passion for performing her music in front of audiences. Likewise, she left little time between the release of her new album and the tour as she performed her first show in Napa, California on June 25 with special guest Norah Jones. She’ll also be making a most likely emotional return to Carnegie Hall in July. She was scheduled to do a show in Manhattan last April, which was eventually canceled due to her father’s death.
“So far I’ve practiced all the ones I can play solo,” she says of her upcoming shows. “I love playing ‘Loveology.’ I love playing Becoming Not Alone. I loved playing Spacetime Fairytale just in my room. It feels like walking on a tightrope.”
“Spacetime Fairytale”, the seventh track on Home, before and after, is as playful and fantastic as the title suggests. At nearly nine minutes, the track instantly transports you to a seat in a ballet or an opera with its thundering orchestra.
“Doing that in front of people has a little risk,” she says. “But I kind of like that. That’s one of the benefits of not [being] a classical musician. You know, it’s not a concert. This is fucking rock ‘n’ roll.”