Regina Spektor

Jun 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Barbara Schultz



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photo of Regina Spektor

It all starts with a grand piano, Regina Spektor’s acrobatic voice and the breathtaking songs that bloom from this classically trained artist’s fertile imagination—that’s a pretty amazing place to start. And then…enter the human beatboxing, acoustic and electronic instruments and, somehow, musical breathing.

Spektor made her latest album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, with versatile musician/producer Mike Elizondo. Best known for collaborations with Dr. Dre and Eminem, Elizondo has worked with a broad range of musicians, from Alanis Morissette to Maroon 5 to Avenged Sevenfold. Elizondo and his go-to engineer, Adam Hawkins, also helped make a handful of the songs on Spektor’s previous studio release, Far, and Spektor came back for more.

“Even though everything starts with her piano and vocal, it was very clear that Regina didn’t want this record to feel like it was all centered around the piano,” Elizondo says. “There’s a lot of rhythmic interplay, and a lot of instruments that come in and out. We started with piano and voice, but then we’d start layering sounds.”

The project started with Spektor playing new compositions for Elizondo in his home studio. Once the pair had selected songs for the album, Hawkins recorded Spektor’s simultaneous piano-and-vocal performances to Pro Tools.

“Everything you see Regina do in a live performance—moving around, making vocal sounds—that’s what she does in the studio,” says Hawkins. “She’s very dynamic. She can be bashing on the piano while whispering. Or it will be the other way around: She’s wailing and barely touching the keys.”

For Spektor’s vocal chain, Hawkins used a vintage Telefunken 250 mic into a Neve 1073 mic pre, and then to a vintage blue-stripe UREI 1176 compressor. “The 250 has all the detail,” Hawkins says. “It’s a little warm and fuzzy; it’s really bright without being harsh, and it has some fullness. Because she’s so dynamic, we needed the 1176. I probably used it to more of an extreme than most engineers would, but it seemed right to let the 1176 work pretty hard.”

On piano, Hawkins used a pair of Wunder Audio CM12s “to capture the clean, bright dynamics of everything,” and a pair of Coles 4038 ribbons. He placed one ribbon near the far end of the low strings and the other near the high end; the CM12s were a small distance apart, both near the hammers. All piano mics also went into Neve 1073s. “I also processed the Coles with a Chandler TG1 [compressor] and limited them pretty hard,” Hawkins says. “That adds a cool character if you tuck it in under the clean CM12 sound. It adds unrealistic width and depth to the image.”

Hawkins also helped Spektor create some unusual piano sounds. On the song “Oh Marcello,” for example, the piano is processed to sound something like an underwater harpsichord.

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