Six albums, over a dozen singles, and a lifetime of self-admitted Beatles fandom to her credit, Regina Spektor is coming full circle as both a musician and a fan with the release of her new song: a cover of the George Harrison-penned “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for the soundtrack to the new animated movie Kubo and the Two Strings.
As she preps to drop a new full-length studio set, Remember Us to Life, on Sept. 30, the 36-year-old singer-songwriter tells EW about the challenges of adapting an iconic song for a new generation, experimenting with a full orchestra of sounds on her upcoming LP, and the beautiful process of melding her vocals with words written by a genius.
Kubo and the Two Strings‘ official soundtrack is available now on iTunes and Spotify ahead of the film’s Aug. 19 theatrical release. Listen to Spektor’s cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in the video above, and check out EW’s full interview with her below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you think this cover will surprise people who expect a certain sound from you?
REGINA SPEKTOR: I’m a ginormous Beatles fan, but this song is sonically done in the world of the film, and the film is basically a samurai movie. It’s all Asian instruments; there’s a sweeping orchestra and, at the very end, there’s a boys’ choir. It’s a combination of wanting to do justice for all this hard work from the animators, [who live] the opposite life of a person who writes words in a song. I’m in the world of instant gratification and they’re in the world of being super careful and making very slow progress, so obviously [I wanted] to do right by their vision, but at the same time I wanted to bring the spirit of the Beatles into it.
As it’s so different from the original, how did you make yourself comfortable with the song’s tone and mood?
When I first saw the film, they’d temped in the original Beatles version, and there are all of those awesome guitars with George’s voice. There’s this energy that’s very rock and roll, and I loved the juxtaposition. I was like, “Damn, why don’t they just use this one? It’s so f—ing cool!” Once I spoke with [director Travis Knight], I understood where he was coming from. He was thinking of it as the song of the mother to Kubo, and it’s got a lot of [relevance] to the story. It’s a love story to a child from his mother. She’s trying to imbue the child with as much strength and preparation to live his life before she has to leave the world, because generations leave and it’s the next generation that takes over. It has lullaby elements to it, but it also has strength; you have to be strong and carry on. The way Travis described to me his idea for the boys’ choir — the Asian instruments carry the song through, and then this orchestra sweeps in and then there’s this boys’ choir that comes in at the very end. He said it’s almost like the children taking on the song of the mother and being the ones to carry on the story, and I really loved that he saw it all.
After living with the song for a while as a Beatles fan, why do you think this particular cover is right for the soundtrack of Kubo?
I knew the song for many years, and obviously Travis picked the song for the film long before I’d ever spoken to him. As soon as I had this long listen to the demo and saw the film I went online to read about the song. I know the song very well, but there’s knowing the song and then knowing how to play the song and knowing the history of the song. [George] wanted to write a pure song about what his mind was like at the moment, and in some ways it’s a love song to his instrument and the fact that it’s a constant. All of these things are happening on the backdrop of him sitting and playing quietly to himself. It reflects beautifully the desire for everyone to be their true self and to learn to open up to the world and show their love. It feels so timely and so important to me because everywhere I look there’s sorrow, and everything we’re seeing the news is just devastating, so to have a song that’s about a guitar weeping after witnessing what’s going on in the world is beautiful.
In addition to this cover, you’re dropping a new album later this year. What can we expect? Is it sonically in-line with other albums you’ve done?
I had so many songs waiting in the wings or waiting their turn to be produced. I mixed and matched to get them out of the purgatory of being sketches. All of these songs are new, even to me. [It sounds like] all the other records, except I’m a different person as time passes and as I hopefully grow as a person and a musician. On this record I extra-loved experimenting with all of the string arrangements, and we have everything ranging from a small trio to a full orchestra. Recording the full orchestra was one of those great, incredible feelings. There are a lot of fun things to me [about this record], but of course I’m in it, and now the excitement is going to be seeing it out into the world. I feel like I’ve been working on it forever, but I’m ready for it to be in somebody’s ears, like I’m singing to them.
You tend to work with a minimal number of producers. Is that the same this time around?
I worked with this incredible producer who is so cool and talented and kind and fun. His name is Leo Abrams, and he’s an amazing guitarist. I felt so free to experiment, and we had so many fun roads we went down. Some of them we backtracked on, and were like, “Ew, that’s totally not right,” but it’s still cool to try. On other things we were like, “Wow, this is f—ing amazing.” We did a lot of interesting processing of the piano as we recorded it, so basically this record could be called 101 Ways to Record the Piano. It’s got so many approaches [to the] songs, but I never know what’s going to be noticeable and what’s not, because sometimes I’m like, “This is so f—ing crazy, do you hear the flange on that thing?” and people are like, “No, it just sounds like a piano!” Sounds are big to me, but I don’t know if they’re going to be giant to everybody else. All the processing techniques, all the string arrangements — it was very fun to rearrange all the strings together. I love orchestras and I love classical music, so to approach [the album] like that was very exciting for me.