In 2004, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor was a staple of the so-called anti-folk scene when she sat down for one of her first public-radio interviews with the now-defunct WNYC program The Next Big Thing. In the interview, she joked that she stayed up until 3:30 a.m. writing a song, trying not to wake the neighbors, but never wrote anything down.
She still doesn't.
"I try to be better now, at least about recording little things, because sometimes I still have things just disappear," Spektor says in an interview with All Things Considered host Audie Cornish. "You always think, 'Oh, I'll never forget that. That's so obvious.' And then, of course, you forget it."
For a Regina Spektor fan, the fact that there are "lost" Spektor songs is scary. But there is hope.
"I am so lucky, because almost from the beginning, people would record the shows," Spektor says. "I am just so thankful to them, first of all, for taking the time and putting it up online and sharing it with other listeners, but also mainly [for] myself, because there are so many songs I would not know how to play. It gives me so much relief to know that they're somewhere."
Popping The Immigrant 'Pop' Bubble
The songs on What We Saw From the Cheap Seats don't come just from the past year but from a span of years.
"There are songs on this record that must be 10 years old or more," Spektor says. One is "Don't Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)."
"I met this really awesome guy who became a really good friend of mine," Spektor says. "He would introduce me to music and he played me — for the first time I heard Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel or a full Elton John record was all through him. You know what it is with me? I'm so backwards that a lot of the time I'll know someone's music, but I won't connect the name of the person to the music. I sort of felt kind of in that immigrant bubble, where it was hard for me to connect the dots."
Spektor's family moved to the Bronx from Russia when she was 9, which would have been the late 1980s.
"I feel like such a music late bloomer," Spektor says. "The thing is, I listened to tons of music; it just wasn't pop music. I listened to tons of classical music. I feel so lucky to have learned classical piano and to have my amazing teacher in Russia, and have my amazing teacher in America."
'A Little Kid Learning How To Play The Piano'
Perhaps one song that reflects Spektor's classical background is "Firewood." To Cornish, it sounds like a "classical breakdown," for lack of a better phrase.
"I picture it as a little kid learning how to play piano," Spektor says. "It's cool that to you it seemed classical and to me it seemed totally amateurish. But that's the awesomeness of — I don't know, just letting things out of your hands and into other people's worlds and having it completed by them."
Spektor's attitude toward fans' uploading recordings seems at odds with a significant portion of the music industry.
"I grew up poor, and there are a lot of people that grew up a lot poorer than I am," Spektor says. "Though, to me, I think that if somebody doesn't have an easy life, they should at least have access to free books and film and music. I think that I feel very lucky to live in this time where people can go online and get everything I've ever made, whether they have a lot of money or not.
"So much of the music that I found out about — whether it was late, it's better than never — was through people burning CDs for me and people making cassette mixes for me and people giving it to me for free. I feel really grateful that people can just type in my name and listen to things that I made. I feel so lucky for that."