Anti-folk chanteuse Regina Spektor found a way to push the boundaries of her unconventional sound on her latest effort, Begin to Hope, due June 13th. The singer-songwriter -- who broke out with her 2004 major-label debut Soviet Kitsch (the title a nod to her Russian Jewish roots) -- felt free to improvise and take greater risks. The approach paid off, even roping in a member of former tourmates the Strokes.
"Did I know that I was going to have have him play? No," she says of Nick Valensi. "It was like, 'Well, do we know any really cool guitarists?' And then he came in." The resulting collaboration altered the course of the pop track, the anthemic "Better," taking Spektor's own style down a new road. "That really informed how I sang," she admits.
The freer spirit behind Begin to Hope is also thanks to Spektor's producer, David Kahne (Paul McCartney, the Bangles), whom she met through Valensi and Co. With Kahne's guidance, Spektor found herself tinkering with her compositions, stretching herself to include electric guitar and even drum machines on some songs. "I was able to be more playful because it was such a no-pressure atmosphere," she says. "It was just the two of us, me and David, and we were just working like on an art project. It was the first time when I really let go."
The album's twelve tracks demonstrate a new, adventurous range, from the playful "Fidelity" -- with Spektor nearly scatting -- to the stormy, piano-led "Apres Moi." But that's what comes of raiding years of work. "It all started with the fact that I have, like, 700 songs," Spektor jokes. "So a couple are really old." For instance, Begin to Hope features the well-worn fan favorite "Samson," a tender piano ballad from her 2002 self-release Songs
Kahne also challenged her to expand and refine her already elastic and theatrical singing voice. "He recorded my voice in this way I hadn't heard before," says Spektor, "and I learned a lot about singing on a record versus at a live show -- just like acting onstage versus acting in a film. Recordings are like a domain of miniatures; everything is subtle. And I love the idea of singing every song differently. I look forward to the day where I'll have a record where my fans won't even recognize that half the songs are sung by me."
With the release date still months away, Spektor says she feels like "a little kid, waiting for your birthday party!" But don't worry: To curb some of that anticipation, she's set to road-test the new songs with a club tour next month.