- Words Matthew Kent
Tei Shi talks about how change is “the driving force” behind all the music she’s ever made, including her new EP, Die 4 Ur Love.
Tei Shi’s discography is growing to become a vast, genre-spanning collection of work which shows the true versatility of her art. From her stripped-back debut EP Saudade to the roar of its follow-up Verde, and it’s still enchanting lead track “Basically”. Tei Shi – the moniker for Columbian and Canadian singer, songwriter and producer Valerie Teicher – marvels at every chance for change.
Her two full-length albums are an eclectic mix of her tastes with 2017’s Crawl Space offering cinematic alternative pop like the breathless “Keep Running” and last year’s La Linda submitting to a more subdued, but equally atmospheric pace. Her diverse back catalogue also includes notable collaborations with Blood Orange and P. Diddy.
Like the rest of us, Tei Shi’s world came crashing down around her as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the planet, and while it’s still here and showing few signs of holding up, not one to rest on her laurels she was quick to shuffle things around and make this time work for her.
The finished product is her outstanding new EP, Die 4 Ur Love, set for release tomorrow, July 17th. Written before the onset of the doomed 2020 we’re all experiencing, the collection’s subject matter deals with the personal hardships and farewells Teicher has battled over the past twelve months. A tale of regaining control and becoming an independent artist, this new body of work is grounded in the dramatic synth-pop of its title track and the heart-wrenching lyrics of the resonant “Goodbye” with the three remaining tracks adding even more depth and additional corners to the shape-shifting polygon of talent Teicher has become.
We spoke to Tei Shi about how she quickly swapped a calendar of touring to head into full-production-mode, the journey she’s been on to create this EP and how change is “the driving force” behind all the music she’s ever made.
Where have you found yourself quarantining?
I’ve been at my house in LA where I’ve been living for the past couple of years. At the beginning of all this I was actually on tour and then the tour got cancelled after two shows and I just turned around and came back home, and I’ve been here since.
What’s been helping you cope with the isolation?
I think the big thing that has helped me deal with that is [having] a lot of outdoor space and a garden, and I live right next to a park so I spend a good amount of time outside, just helping me not feel as claustrophobic. I literally have on my to-do list every day ‘start meditating’ and every day I push it to the next day. That’s the one thing I really want to start doing and I feel like it’s a total necessity right now, but unfortunately it’s just become this thing on my to do list… but I’ve been trying to do mini forms of meditation. You know, turning my phone off for an hour, just trying to disconnect, that is the biggest thing you can do for your mental health is disconnecting from the internet for little bits at a time.
Back in January, when you were writing for the EP, the world didn’t seem as apocalyptic as it does now. What put you in that headspace?
There are certain things I can pinpoint for sure, but there’s also things that I’m realising now and putting them into context of how this year and how the world has unfolded that fit together more.
2019 for me was a really hellish year, it was rough on a lot of levels and towards the end of the year I released my last album. The purpose of that album for me, beyond the music and everything, was allowing me to free myself from a lot of working dynamics and relationships and a situation that I felt really stuck, stifled and frustrated in. I was able to get out of those situations and 2020 was this beacon of hope for me.
Within the first few days of the New Year, there was some family stuff that happened and a couple of things in my personal life too, I was just sad and in a dark headspace. Now that we look back on the last few years, I think it’s not that difficult to see something really big and kind of dark was coming in the world. At least that’s how I feel. I think I was feeling a lot of that existential dread and anxiety at the beginning of this year too.
I went on this writing trip for a week and that’s when I wrote all the songs for the EP and I was in the middle of all these things. Both personal and broader, more existential [things] and that’s where the songs came from. The name of the EP, at that point, was going to be Apocalypse. It was this concept I had in my head, there’s an apocalypse on a mass scale, but there’s also the apocalypse on a very small, personal level. Your own personal apocalypse. Obviously that changed and I didn’t go with that name, but it’s weird looking back, I feel like a lot of those emotions I was feeling make more sense to me now.
How did the process of finishing the EP change with lockdown?
I needed to do some recording and move into the production phase, so all of that took place in quarantine. That was really different to me. I’m used to collaborating with other people and being in the studio with other producers. Things move in a much more immediate and natural way, so it was tough getting used to doing sessions with people over Zoom, FaceTime, emails and phone calls a lot more. It was interesting. I think it ended up informing what the EP was, for better or for worse.
What’s the most important track for you?
It’s tough because that changes all the time and because it’s just an EP. It’s only five songs. I wanted to make something where every song was it’s own personality or character but stood out on its own. To me, there really aren’t any filler tracks… I feel really attached and inside of all of the songs. “Goodbye” is the one that speaks most to the transition out of my last project and where I was at when I made that album and into this new chapter, which has seen a lot of change for me. I think it’s made me really grow up as an artist and become more confident and in tune with what I am, who I am and what I want to do.
Your sound has evolved, again, with this release. What were your guiding lights in terms of inspirations and references while creating Die 4 Ur Love?
I wanted to try and make songs which were more upbeat, more danceable and made you move more. A good amount of my music and especially La Linda, my last album, fell into this mid-tempo, very dreamy, beautiful space, but I wanted something that felt like it had more energy behind it and was more intense. The production and pace of the songs are much more in that vein.
I rarely ever go into music with a set palette or anything like that, but I will say the one thing I can think of that I had been listening to a lot and then used as a point of reference was some of Gwen Stefani’s earlier music from Love. Angel. Music. Baby..There’s something about her stepping into her solo pop thing, she was making these big bangers, but there was something sort of off about them. Lyrically they were darker, quirkier and weird, and I wanted to balance this dark, apocalyptic mindset with leaning into this let’s just dance, let’s just make something really fun with it.
How important is that sonic evolution, with every release, for you?
I feel like that’s just everything to me. It’s the driving force behind anything I do from EP to EP or album to album or even within an album. The driving force is [thinking] ‘now, what else can I do?’ or ‘how can I do this differently?” There’s nothing more boring to me than making an album and then going and making another one the same way, with the same process.
There’s always something I want to focus on that I haven’t before. With this EP I knew I wanted to explore singing in my lower range more and focus more on the songwriting than anything else. I just feel like, for me, music is not one set thing. Music isn’t a genre, music isn’t a style, it’s not a brand, it’s exploration and it’s fun. I just want to do that in whatever way I’m feeling at the time. Sometimes that’s a little bit to my detriment, maybe it’s hard for some people to pinpoint what I am or some people who like some of my earlier work don’t like what I’m doing now as much, but I think that’s what makes for an interesting career.
Are you enjoying being an independent artist again and the freedom it brings?
It’s completely different for me. I can move at my own pace, which is a lot more fast-paced than I’m used to. I’m used to having to wait around a lot and wait for people to agree with me and see what I see and get behind what I’m doing, or just to cut me a cheque so I can do something. I’m used to that process which really killed a lot of my creativity and I feel like it slowed me down. Now I’m out of that and I can really decide how I do things. It’s a completely different feeling. I feel way more excited about what I’m doing and way more excited about the future. I’m already thinking about the next thing, and it’s cool knowing I don’t have to wait around to execute.
What’s on your radar to explore with your next project?
I’m figuring that out right now. I’m thinking about going back to something that feels really stripped and intimate. I want to use my voice a lot more.When I first started putting music out as Tei Shi, my very first EP; which I don’t want to draw attention to, I hate listening to and I don’t want people to listen to, but it was at a time where I had absolutely no resources or knowledge of how to make music and I was just using my voice for everything. I would make a lot of fully acapella arrangements and lately I feel a pull, not necessarily
How do you think these first months of 2020 have changed you?
I think it’s made me question a lot of things that I’m used to and the reality I’m used to functioning in. I’ve realised that it’s not this set thing that I either have to function within or not. I feel like I keep having a lot of these conversations with friends and it’s probably one of the good things that might come of this. It’s making us reorganise our priorities and values – realising that things we put a lot of weight and importance on before really don’t matter, but there are things we didn’t value as much really do.
When the music industry is up and running, everything is normally so fast-paced and as an artist, you have to put something out, go travel, promote it, tour it and then get back in the studio. Being outside of that cycle a little bit is cool. It’s made me closer with my family, closer to some of my friends. I think there are some really nice things.
It’s also making me question a lot of things, like what function do I serve in the world, especially now we’re all having this very active, public dialogue about race, opportunity and equality within our industries and communities. I think it’s made me try to question those things more and work out what I want to do and say with my work and do it in a way that feels like I’m bringing something to the table, but not taking away from things that are more important. That is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. If people are thinking that it’s a good thing and hopefully some meaningful change will come, particularly from within the music industry.
What are you most looking forward to in a post-lockdown world?
I just want to go out dancing and have a night out with friends, dancing. In March, right before I went on tour, I felt like I’d been working so non-stop for six months before that. I thought once I got off tour and I get back home I’m going to go out, I’m going to have fun, go dancing and go to parties. I remember having that as my reward for finishing the tour and tour never happened and all of this happened instead. I still have all of that pent up energy and I just feel like I need to be in a crowded space and to physically dance… if right now things went back to normal I would do that.