Over the past two decades, fans of Regina Spektor have come to rely on the indie-pop musician for a few things: a mixture of whimsical and devastating lyrics; high, piercing vocals; a gorgeous piano; the sort of worldbuilding you find in a short story or fable; and a sense of humor.
On her latest album Home, before and after, released on June 24, Spektor delivers these hallmarks with some delightfully weird surprises and an expanded musical palette. It’s the sort of experimentation one would expect following her previous 2016 record Remember Us to Life, which found the 42-year-old deploying a full orchestra to create an epic, melodramatic soundscape.
“I think it was the most involved, arrangement-wise,” Spektor tells The Daily Beast about Home, before and after. “There’s a lot of orchestral arrangement on a lot of the songs. And there’s also a lot of sound design-y, soundscape-y, textural things.”
Where her last record felt elegant and lush, the variety of sounds on Home, before and after are a bit chaotic but still compelling. For example, the opening track “Becoming All Alone,” where Spektor relates to God about feeling lonely, begins with some somber piano chords reminiscent of earlier ballads like “Samson'' and “Eet” before launching into an abrupt dance beat. “Up the Mountain” is another strange but amusing adventure where Spektor oscillates between rapping and her usual operatic singing. At one point, the song “What Might’ve Been,” where Spektor lists things that “go together,” sounds like a sci-fi movie score.
Lyrics take unexpected turns as well, particularly on the song “One Man’s Prayer,” where Spektor recites the inner monologue of a pathetically desperate, lonely man that’s equally hilarious and unsettling (“‘Cause if I won’t get to meet God and I won’t get to be a god then at least, God, let me get talked to by a girl.”) But leave it to Spektor, an expert storyteller, to casually throw a satirical incel anthem on an album and make it work.
Home, before and after, Spektor’s eighth studio album, will certainly provide a level of assurance to listeners who fear the singer-songwriter might be leaning into a more palatable, pop-y direction given her mainstream success as an indie artist. However, Spektor, who rebuts the idea that she even has a signature sound, claims that the punk spirit of the record wasn’t calculated.
“I feel like I went to very new places sonically with this record, but I’ve always felt that with every record,” Spektor says. “You would probably be able to know better if it’s just in my imagination that I went further sonically.”
Home, before and after’s peculiar vibe feels appropriate given the unusual—but now quite normal—circumstances surrounding its making. The Russian-born New Yorker says that she and her husband, guitarist Jack Dishel, were “accidentally” living in Los Angeles for a few years working on their respective projects when she struck a friendship with Grammy-winning producer John Congleton. The pair teamed up for the first time on the song “One Little Soldier” for the 2019 film Bombshell—a collaboration that seemed well overdue given the array of indie artists Congleton has produced for. When Spektor went back home to New York, she realized she wanted Congleton as the sole co-producer on her ninth studio album.
Spektor, who’s known to rotate producers for projects, was thrilled by the “element of newness” and what she could learn from Congleton. But like most Americans in the spring of 2020, COVID threw a wrench in their plans.
“On April 1, 2020, he was going to fly into New York a couple of days before and we were going to start working at Electric Lady [Studios],” she says. “We had time booked. And it was going to be like a regular record, you know? Cut to, of course, a couple of weeks before then—like, full lockdown, and the world changed.”
Like everyone else whose jobs remained doable via a computer, Spektor and Congleton continued creating the album remotely. In 2022, a bicoastal or even transnational working situation between an artist and producer is extremely common in the music industry. But for the more traditional Spektor, the distance was initially nerve-wracking.
“He actually told me, ‘You know, a tremendous amount of people work remotely,’” she recalls.
“I remember talking to him just pacing up and down some road upstate being like, ‘I don’t think I could work like this,’” Spektor continues. “I’ve always been in the studio. I’m so hands-on. I’m such a control freak. How will this ever work? And he’s like, ‘You don’t understand. People literally send me a voice memo. And they just say, turn this into a song.’”
Spektor, a mother of two, was also pregnant with her second son at the start of the pandemic and during the album-making process, which prompted her and her family to temporarily move out of the city to upstate New York.
“COVID safety felt very, very good,” she says. “I don’t think I could’ve made the record without that.”
In addition to the privilege of being isolated, getting to work out of Dreamland Recording Studio, a converted church in Ulster County, made for a particularly idyllic work space for Spektor.
The singer jokingly compares the tightly enclosed environment of a typical studio to working in the “basement of the Capitol building.” However, she says the openness of the repurposed sanctuary, the people who would stop by to reminisce on the weddings they held there, for instance, and the nature surrounding it felt particularly inspiring.
“Just being able to step out and see a bunny hopping—that was a really big deal,” she says. “We would be recording, and we’d have to stop because there was like a raccoon on the roof or a squirrel. And I loved hearing the thunderstorms. ”
Spektor, who recently completed a Broadway residency, has always been enthusiastic about performing her music for an audience. Likewise, she left little time between her new album’s release and touring, performing her first show in Napa, California, with special guest Norah Jones on June 25. In July, she’ll also be making what will most likely be an emotional return to Carnegie Hall. This past April, she was meant to do a show at the Manhattan venue that was ultimately canceled due the passing of her father.
“So far, I’ve been practicing all the ones I can play solo,” she says about her upcoming shows. “I love playing ‘Loveology.’ I love playing ‘Becoming Not Alone.’ I’ve been loving playing “Spacetime Fairytale” just in my room. That one feels kind of like walking on a tightrope.”
“Spacetime Fairytale,” the seventh track on Home, before and after, is as playful and fantastical as the title suggests. Clocking in at almost nine minutes, the track instantly transports you to a seat at a ballet or an opera with its thunderous orchestra.
“Doing that in front of people has got a little element of risk,” she says. “But I kind of like that. That’s one of the benefits of not [being] a classical musician. You know, it’s not a recital. It’s fucking rock and roll.”