Russian-born singer-songwriter Regina Spektor has come a long way since the Strokes helped introduce her to a wide audience with their 2004 Room on Fire tour. At 30, she headlines large venues on her own and has released a pair of hit albums, 2006’s Begin to Hope and last year’s Far. With her new Regina Spektor: Live in London — directed by Adria Petty and recorded at London’s Hammersmith Apollo last December — Spektor notches another career milestone: the concert film. We caught up with her recently after a long night out, and she explained how the movie came to be.
How are you?
I am making myself a cup of tea, ‘cause I went to sleep at five in the morning.
Steep that tea for an extra-long time.
It’s going to be a very strong cup of tea.
What do you love about concert movies? Why’d you want to do one?
That’s a lot of questions. I was up very late. But I can do this.
Take a sip of the tea.
I’ve had a really hard time getting used to being filmed while playing live. I get horrendous freeze-up — “Oh, the camera is on. Do it for real now.” It makes you mess up every song you know. I used to be just so nervous that my leg would be, like, shaking on the pedal and it would slide off, because the stylist gave me tall shoes and I don’t know how to walk in heels. And my voice — I would go for a note I can sing in my sleep and I’d be off key. I always wanted people to have something of good quality [on film], and when I’m old and I’ve forgotten how to play piano it’d be nice for me to have. And since Adria is such a good friend of mine, I trusted her completely and it wasn’t like there was a film crew with me. Instead it was like a beautiful friend was traveling with me for the entire U.K. tour. I wasn’t self-conscious because it was her.
The idea of making a concert film says something about the state of your career. You don’t do that until you’ve kind of been doing this a while. Is there a sense you’ve reached a landmark? Sort of like with the Kings of Leon playing Madison Square Garden.
I was there with them and I just spent the whole time being proud. They’ve gotten so ginormous. Like, I played with them when we played to like 500 people in Norway.
With a new Strokes album coming out and everyone anticipating that, do you feel like the class of 2001 has reached a certain moment? Are you guys adults now?
You’re talking to a person who went to sleep at six in the morning. It’s really amazing, but in my own brain I’m such a fan that I don’t lump myself in with them. I don’t feel like, “I have a concert film, so yup, I made it.” It’s more like, “Oh cool, I allowed my friend to help me make some cool shit and I didn’t fuck it up that bad.”
In the movie, the faces of your fans are so radiant. They all look like models, they’re so well lit …
They’re my favorite part to the whole movie. It’s my favorite part of playing shows, because I have this ginormous piano and I’m turned sideways so I don’t get to see much. But in the middle of the movie, I have an a cappella song and I get to stand up and see who’s there. And I get really happy because they’re so beautiful. I look around and it’s like, “These people look so sweet and smart.”
You’re currently co-writing a musical about Sleeping Beauty?
It’s kind of based on Sleeping Beauty, yes. But it’s really very trippy, too. It’s very fun. I work on that every day now. That’s like my job.
What do you do to psych yourself up?
Well, it depends. The story goes all over the place. I really have to go song by song. Yesterday I was writing this really creepy song, sort of a nightmare song. I got to be like Nine Inch Nails–y.
You have this amazing collection of red lipstick. What’s your favorite color and brand?
It’s not a collection. It’s the same lipstick — it’s a MAC line and it’s really brick red. The only thing with really red lipsticks like that is, I put it on before a show and I wipe it off right after the show otherwise your lips will fall off. It’s really drying. If you wear that stuff, wear a lot of lip balm.