New York singer-songwriter Regina Spektor returned to her homeland, Russia, earlier this year to play for fans, many of whom had learned about her through the internet. It was the same week when Pussy Riot, the feminist punk band arrested for protesting Vladimir Putin and the Orthodox Church, was put on trial.

For Spektor, who left the country at the age of nine and titled her 2004 album Soviet Kitsch, the news hit home, especially when the band received a guilty verdict and prison sentence of two years.

"I just sat down and cried. It was so sad to me. I was thinking about how unfair the world is," she told CBC’s Q cultural affairs show.

"Here I am: I can play anything I want, I can say what I want, I have freedom of speech. And here are these three young women in a glass cage in a courtroom."

Spektor said she believes Russian leaders fear freedom because it is so "contagious," empowering people to speak up. Overall, the trip was a very emotional return to the land of her birth, she added.

"I thought I remembered a lot, but when I went back, I was flooded. There are certain memories that come to you from just being in the land, and [the] taste and smell. I went to our neighbourhood and our building and everything looked the same."

The singer, currently touring in support of her album What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, was hailed as this generation's Joni Mitchell by Rolling Stone magazine in May. Spektor said she was flattered by the comparison as she looks up to Mitchell — in part because the Canadian singer has demonstrated that an artist could create her own sound.

"There were two women that I heard early on when I was just humming to myself a lot. It was Joni Mitchell — a friend … sent me a cassette tape of her record Hits where she is lying on the ground as if she was hurt by a car and I just... it blew my mind — and another female artist was Ani DiFranco."

Spektor talked to Q about her early fear of signing to a major label — she is now with Warner — and how she maintains her unique style. She performed her song How, with Mathias Kunzli on drums, Yoed Nir on cello and Brad Thomas Whitely on keys.