Bring up the subject of super-talented female singer-songwriters who also rock the piano, and your friends will be quick to mention Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Diana Krall and Alicia Keys. It’s time to add another name to the list – Regina Spektor. This Russian-born, New York-raised musician bares her soul through her passionate and quirky sonic works of art (she’s not afraid to break out the occasional beatboxing or even a glottal stop). Catch her dazzling live show Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Fillmore Miami Beach (1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach), where she’ll focus on new tracks from her latest album, “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats.”
What can we expect from your show?
I play grand piano, and it’s really a mix of a lot of songs from many different records. This time, it’s obviously much more of the songs from “The Cheap Seats” – I’ll play almost the entire record, dispersed with other songs from different times and different records. The instrumentation is cello, keyboards, drums and me.
Your vocal range is amazing. Do you feel like you can sing anything?
[Laughs] No. That’s interesting. It’s weird, because I’m a composer and a singer, and I definitely feel like as my voice grows or changes and gets stronger I could write more stuff for myself. But I guess because I write for myself, I don’t really know if I had to sing other people’s songs what my actual abilities and range are.
So did your vocal style just develop as kind of what just comes naturally to you?
Yeah, yeah, for sure. And I also think a lot of it develops because when you hear a lot of stuff in your head and you’re not a multi-instrumentalist and you can’t just go and play everything, you end up implying a lot of stuff with your voice and piano. Because those are the two things that I can really experiment with and put down. And you have a lot of different colors and different feelings that you can do, with just your body, and definitely a lot of it just comes out of experimentation. You know, I get bored easily, so I think a lot of it comes from a natural desire to go further in some ways and discover new things.
What drew you to the piano way back when?
Well, it was always in our house – we had a little upright since before I was born, because my mom was a conservatory professor in Russia and she played piano. And as soon as I could reach it with my hands, I would be trying to play it. I just loved it – I loved when she played, and I loved listening to it, and it just seemed like a great place to sit at [laughs].
How did you feel about leaving Moscow, and how was the transition to American life for you?
Well, I think that when you’re a kid and you have really awesome parents, you’re kind of all good no matter what’s going on – they make it good. So, I think there are plenty of people who didn’t have to leave anything and didn’t have to travel half the world with no money who had a much harder childhood than I did. I mean, I had really fun parents who took a lot of time and shared art and ideas and made everything into an adventure. I think later it hit me that I was really worried about not seeing certain people forever, because we had to leave my grandparents and a lot of relatives and friends. But after a few years in New York, a lot of other people moved, too, so it was a big, big exodus because people didn’t want to be around all the anti-Semitism anymore. When the doors opened, they took the chance, you know? And it turned out really great, for most people.
A lot has been said about your “anti-folk” musical beginnings in New York. What’s that all about – what’s it mean?
You know, I don’t even fully know myself. It’s a really bizarre title, and it’s always been really hard for me to relate to. It wasn’t so much a style of music, but it was really centric to one particular café on the Lower East Side called the Sidewalk Café that had a really late-night open-mic that would go every Monday until like 4 a.m. – and it was a 24-hour place, so you could get mashed potatoes at 5 in the morning. So I met all kinds of musicians, but musically, I never really fit in to what I thought was “anti-folk” because it seemed like it was much more political in its lyrics rather than abstract, which was more how I felt. And it was also very guitar-centric and more from the punk way of playing.
But I think the spirit of it was what I really connected with – it was very much everybody doing what felt right to them, and a real, true disregard for the mainstream, which just didn’t interest us. And I still have that disconnect, for the most part, with mainstream music. I mean, there are a few gems that get in there that I connect with, but for the most part, there’s like my record collection and what I love, and then there’s stuff that gets played in stores and on the radio.
Have you been to Miami before?
I have never been to Miami, and I’m really excited. I’m in Orlando right now, and I’ve only toured anywhere in Florida twice, both times opening for other bands. This spring I opened for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which was really fun.
What have you heard about Miami?
I heard it’s really sunny, beautiful, multicultural, festive, colorful, so I’m excited to check it out. So it’s kind of nice to get to run away from New York, from the cold to the warmth for a little bit.