Regina Spektor often speaks of the stockpile of songs she has amassed as though they were old friends she’s had for years. Making an album is akin to throwing a party in honor of the ones “that waited patiently to be recorded,” she says. This time, Spektor hosted a group of gate-crashers that pushed their way onto her latest, Remember Us to Life.
With 11 newly written tunes that jumped to the front of the line, Remember Us to Life is the New York singer’s seventh album, and her first since the chart-topping LP What We Saw From the Cheap Seats in 2012. Since then, Spektor contributed the Grammy-nominated theme song “You’ve Got Time” to the hit Netflix show Orange Is the New Black. She also had a baby in 2014, which helps account for the newness of the songs on Remember Us to Life: She spent a lot of time writing during and after her pregnancy.
“I made more art and felt more inspired than I had in a long time,” she says, noting that her fears about no longer having time to create have proven unfounded. “Your time becomes so much more concentrated and precious that you’re able to start to use all parts of the animal. That was always the thing that was so hard for me. I was leaving these half-eaten carcasses of time around, and I didn’t know how to be always productive.”
Her focused productivity yielded songs like album opener “Bleeding Heart,” which mixes synthesizers, strings and Spektor’s piano to frame a stick-in-your-head chorus that becomes anthemic. Then there’s “Grand Hotel,” a fanciful imagining of a luxurious retreat for devils ready for a break from the netherworld; or “The Light,” an aching ballad that pairs Spektor’s wistful, expressive voice with subtle instrumentation. Her penchant for lyrics that balance poignancy and wit, and her way with memorable melodies, are on full display throughout.
The songs on Remember Us to Life are drawn from personal experience, and also from Spektor’s vivid imagination. The divide between the two isn’t always clear, which is just the way she likes it. “They’re kind of like cocktails, so the proportions change,” says Spektor, a classically trained pianist. “Let’s say my songs are a vodka-cranberry. There are some that are more vodka with a splash of cranberry, and some are more cranberry with a splash of vodka. But there’s always both in everything, and a lot of times, I don’t even know.”
Spektor recorded Remember Us to Life with producer Leo Abrahams (Florence and the Machine, Frightened Rabbit, Paolo Nutini), in whom she found a kindred spirit. “I love knowing every consonant, every breath, just knowing this thing so thoroughly that you couldn’t possibly know anything so thoroughly in life. And in order to do that, you have to feel really, really safe with the person you’re collaborating with,” Spektor says. “I felt a sincerity with Leo. He’s a workaholic and a perfectionist, and I love that. He’s a person who will spend 16 hours going through something with a fine-tooth comb.”
They recorded in Los Angeles with musicians including drummer Joey Waronker, bassist Mike Elizondo and, on the stormy, cinematic reminiscence “Sellers of Flowers,” the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Skeet. Recording with an orchestra was a first for Spektor, who let the musical arrangements on the album take shape almost of their own accord. “If you live with a song for a while, you start to get a vision for it, and because these songs were so new, it was very, very experimental,” she says. “I had strong ideas for the world that they were going to be in sonically, but they were very vague and abstract.” She laughs, adding, “That’s probably the worst combination.”
Spektor made her debut in 2001 with the self-released 11:11. Her commercial breakthrough came in 2006 on her fourth LP, Begin to Hope, a gold-certified album that included the singles “Fidelity,” “On the Radio” and “Better.” Spektor has also collaborated with artists including Ben Folds, played for the Obamas at the White House in 2010 for Jewish Heritage Month and performed as part of philanthropic campaigns for Darfur, Tibet and Doctors Without Borders. Like Remember Us to Life, those gigs are all part of a career that is still unfolding.
“It is another step on the road,” Spektor says. “Every time I take another step on the road, I tell myself that I believe in myself. I make art and I participate in the world in that way, and the part that is exciting to me is that I did it, and I’ll do it again, and it’ll never be the same.”