Regina Spektor on Living in the Space Between Pain and Hope

Regina Specktor has been busy the past few years. She wrote and recorded the theme song for Orange Is the New Black. She played an elaborate weeklong residency in a Broadway theater, with guest stars including Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Palmer. Oh, and she gave birth to her second child.

Yet somehow it has been six years since the release of Spektor’s previous studio album, Remember Us to Life, a gap that ends June 24 with the arrival of the magnificent Home, before and after. She will then head out on a tour that includes eight dates with Norah Jones and one night at Carnegie Hall. First, though, Spektor spoke with Vanity Fair about why she writes about love and loss, “the little things in life.”

Vanity Fair: You’ve made a terrific album.

Regina Specktor: Well, thank you for listening to it. You work on something and you’re so inside of it, and then afterwards, I usually tend to have this kind of plummeting feeling, like, are these even songs?

Your songs are always sonically rich, but on the new album your use of an orchestra adds a new dimension, a lushness that’s sometimes dark, sometimes danceable. Was that the goal?

There are toys you can play with in a studio to make things sound very atmospheric, very vibey. And I love to listen to it. But the words that I’m trying to say, they’re so important to me. Whenever I feel like I’m peering at the words through a veil I’m, like, suffering. The thing I was really trying to do is not have the orchestra sound like movie music, but still be lush.

Artists have all sorts of methods to generate inspiration or heighten the emotional level of their material. But getting pregnant in order to record, that’s a remarkable level of commitment.

Could you imagine? I would never have any records, if that’s what it took. The songs were all written before, most of them. But I had never experienced recording while pregnant. And that was really a trip. Usually, ideally, when I play you’re just in a state of getting lost, of just being. Now you go to draw a breath and there’s somebody sitting on your lungs. But it was also kind of nice, because I work as a loner in a lot of ways. It’s been a real learning experience for me to even work with producers because I like to do everything myself. And here I was never alone. It was really wonderful because there were always surprises, especially in the later months: Oh, you’re hiccupping for three hours straight!

It’s just like this hilarious double life. You’re glueing yourself together with Wite-Out and Scotch tape behind the scenes and you’re supposed to appear all put together and make sense. Nobody really cares that the baby was awake at 11 pm and 12 pm and 1 am and 4 am That’s where I’m at. I’m talking to you, but my kid just doesn’t sleep. I ask people for advice and they’re like, “Well, I didn’t sleep for eight years.” That’s not a good solution!

Adding to the degree of difficulty, you made the record during the pandemic, with the players scattered across multiple time zones and you recording the piano and vocals by yourself in a former church in Woodstock, New York.

It’s funny. I was the most alone and the least alone at the same time, because I had this other little person inside me.

Later, after I had given birth, we were recording an orchestra remotely, and they were in Macedonia. I was in New York and John Congleton, the producer, and Jherek Bischoff, the arranger, were in California. On the very first day of this remote recording there was an earthquake in Macedonia, and the entire place shook and went dark. They called us back and were like, “We’re used to this. It’s okay.” I had a very, very long cord to my headphones and I would turn off my camera and breastfeed. Because you can’t stop an orchestral session.

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