- Words Laviea Thomas
- Photography Callum Walker Hutchinson
- Digitech Mike Anderson
- Fashion Tori
- Makeup Carolina Ballesteros
- Hair Nathaniel Dezan
- Production Studio Notion
- Location MSA Studios
Recently going fully independent, singer-songwriter Tei Shi talks brand-new EP ‘BAD PREMONITION’, connecting with Latin roots and regaining control over her creative output.
If any artist represents the sheer power of hard work and persistence it’s Tei Shi. Carefully crafting her music career over the last 10 years, the singer-songwriter is currently on a journey of turning any self-deprecating thoughts into a catalyst for success. Ready to start afresh, she recently took the leap into being a full-time independent artist and is starting a brand-new chapter with her latest EP, ‘BAD PREMONITION’.
Born in Argentina to Colombian parents, Tei Shi (real name Valerie Teicher Barbosa) grew up between Colombia and Canada, gaining exposure to a range of cultures and drawing inspiration from the Spanish and Latin music around her. Identifying that she wanted to be a performer at a young age, Val quickly took to the joys of creating and performing. Her debut single dropped in the summer of 2013, and almost a decade later, she’s flipping the switch as an independent artist.
Tapping into all parts of her identity on her brand-new EP ‘BAD PREMONITION’, the singer-songwriter has taken a deep dive into her Spanish-speaking roots. Reclaiming her creative freedom, the artist is slowly taking steps to get in touch with her truest essence while encouraging her fans to feel capable, strong and empowered in their own personal journeys. ‘BAD PREMONITION’ is not only a tracklist of six infectious songs, but an emotionally mature project tackling self-growth. Also recently returning from a six-week tour supporting Kimbra, Tei is learning to embrace the fun in live shows.
With the EP officially out, we spoke to Tei Shi about its themes, the creative process of putting together her visuals and what’s next.
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Hey. Congratulations on the new EP ‘Bad Premonition’, can you tell me a bit about it?
The EP as a whole is a handful of songs that I made during a period when I had lost control over my work, my career and my life. I was trying to be in control again as an independent artist and I wanted to, in a way, be back in the driver’s seat of my work and in a place where I was creatively inspired and fulfilled again.
I have completely started from scratch – not for the first time, but after a few restarts. The themes are really about finding myself in similar situations, finding myself making repeat mistakes until eventually, I found myself again. I found confidence and an empowered perspective that I’m now able to put songs out with.
‘BAD PREMONITION’ is a very personal and introspective project. Has it been a long time in the making?
The EP was written probably around early 2021. The first song that I wrote where I knew I was about to make a full body of work was the title track. That song infused something in me – something I’d been missing, that direction that I needed to be pulled in.
You’ve described the project as tackling your ‘journey of rediscovering your power and purpose as an artist’, and you’ve touched on it a bit because you’re now independent – can you tell me about that journey? Did anything else aid it?
The journey was really tough for me, exacerbated by the pandemic of course, as we all lost so much control over our lives and our individual choices. It was a journey that began with a lot of self-criticism and self-doubt. I would examine myself and ask questions like ‘what’s wrong with me?’, and ‘why do I keep ending up in this place?’ But a lot of things have helped me along the way, things that were not overnight solutions such as self-reflection, therapy, and relying on the people in my life who I knew were unconditionally there for me.
You unpacked a lot of raw emotions throughout this EP. Do you feel your recent releases mark a new era for you, especially as an independent artist? Are you entering a new chapter?
I do, I definitely do. More than ever before, because I feel that every time you release something it’s a new chapter. Every release has in some way been a restart, so I’ve always been in my new era. Right now feels like the moment where I’m truly starting my career. It’s crazy because it’s been nearly 10 years that I’ve been doing this and it’s taken me that long to get to a place where I’m actually doing things the way I’ve always wanted to. It definitely feels like a new chapter.
You make music both in Spanish and English – is your songwriting process the same for both? What does it entail?
I think it’s pretty similar and more fluid now. Sometimes I have a line in English and then I’m like ‘Oh, this line in Spanish would rhyme in a really cool way’, so I dip into that. Particularly on the song “¿QUIÉN TE MANDA?”, which is English-Spanish.
I started writing songs in Spanish a little bit later. In the beginning, it was a different approach because I would write poetry in Spanish and then make songs that way. When I first started writing songs in Spanish I would write the lyrics and poetry before adding the melody. It definitely opened up another approach to writing. It just depends on what naturally comes out at the time, or what I think will sound good together.
You mentioned that you started writing poems in Spanish and then later started songwriting. What sparked the idea to start incorporating Spanish vocals into your songs?
I think the first song I released in Spanish was on my first album ‘Crawl Space’ – “Como Si”. It started out as a poem but naturally had a melody that inspired me to change it into a song. It wasn’t really a decision of ‘Now I’m going to make songs in Spanish’, it was more ‘Oh, I made this song and it’s in Spanish and I really love it and I want it to be on the album’. Also, the response I received from my fans (because a lot of them are also bilingual and Spanish speaking) really encouraged me to incorporate it more. I listen to a lot of Spanish songs and Latin music is very much a part of my life, my upbringing and my inspiration.
Singing and writing in Spanish is something that came a bit later for me because I first established my career in English and in the American space. It feels really natural to me now, especially as you get older and you rediscover parts of your roots and heritage and culture that maybe when you were younger you were not so appreciative of. I think it’s a natural part of embracing that and wanting to carry all the parts of my identity within my music and my work.
I think often for a person of colour, life can feel like a journey of learning to tap into your background as you get older. It’s a completely natural learning curve. With your new EP, is there something you hope people can take away from it, perhaps a specific feeling or thought?
I’d really like people to have their own message, because although there are specific experiences that I’ve experienced, I never want my music to be listened to through the lens of just my own perspective. I’d like people to find their own meanings and to be able to walk away with a feeling of power, and despite their obstacles think ‘I’m the shit’. That’s what I had to remind myself. I had to listen to myself and follow what I want and connect with the right people around me that are going to enable me to do that. I think that’s a really universal thing. It’s an emotional journey of feeling really lost and purposeless, but coming out on the other side of it positively.
How do you go about putting together your visuals for your music?
It’s been so different for every project but this EP in particular has been really fun. The visuals and overall process of being able to revisit my roots, take on a DIY approach and work with friends has really seen me through this process. I’ve gone back to working with a couple of really close collaborators that I’ve known for a long time and turning it into a family affair.
You’ve been making your mark in the live music scene recently – do you enjoy performing? Does it come naturally to you? Do you ever get nervous?
I really enjoy performing now but I can’t say that I did for a very long time. I’ve always enjoyed being on stage but it’s one of those things that come with practice and with time because when I first started performing and touring I would have a lot of anxiety. I wouldn’t sleep the night before, but nowadays I’ve been able to relinquish control over so many things and be able to enjoy myself despite things not being perfect. I’m now in this place where it does come naturally and I’m enjoying it.
I recently got off the road from doing a six-week tour supporting Kimbra, it was the longest tour I’ve done in years but I had so much fun. It was the first time that I really felt that it was a naturally good experience. I didn’t feel nervous – of course there’s the kind of excited nerves before you go on stage – but I’m now in this place where performing is actually really fun to me.
Did you always know you wanted to do music?
From a really young age, I knew I wanted to be a singer-songwriter and a performer. But somewhere along the way I definitely lost that passion and the idea that it was a realistic goal. I think that’s so common, when we’re kids we have these passions and dreams and when we become teenagers life starts getting real and we have to start making decisions. I didn’t grow up with artists around me or in a family where there were musicians or professional creatives or really even just friends, so I didn’t think that was a possibility and I lost that for a long time.
Outside of music you recently made your debut at New York Fashion Week – what was that like?
The next day I kept saying that was the most fun I’d ever had. I was in the middle of this tour at the time and I had one day off and the amazing designer Elena Velez asked me to be in the show. It was interesting and inspiring to see the behind-the-scenes of how a fashion show comes together. The way Elena and her team created and put together the shows was very reminiscent of a family affair – there’s such an energy of spontaneity and fun. There’s nothing like walking out into a room with bright lights on you, not being able to see anything, music banging in the background and walking the fiercest walk you can. It was so much fun for me. I found it really eye-opening and inspiring. It’s the best kind of chaos.
And lastly, what are you looking forward to this year?
This year I’m looking forward to continuing to release music. I have a lot that is still up my sleeve that I’m working on. I’m looking forward to performing a lot more too, I have my US-Canada headline tour coming next month. I’m really excited to put those shows together now that I’ve toured for the last two months and have an idea of what I want to do for my own headline show.
I also want to do more creative collaborations with other artists, whether it be other musicians, in the fashion world, or in the art space. I just love working with other artists and collaborating. I’m really excited to do more of that and find different avenues to explore my creativity and find people that I can kind of create with.