Tei Shi: “I unexpectedly put myself into this world and I had to learn and push myself.”

It’s not easy being called along the lines of “one to watch” or “rising star”, but when you look at a case like Tei Shi, there really isn’t a more fitting term. From her first shows in 2013 at CMJ, and her first EP Saudade, released around the same time, real name Valerie Teicher burst onto the scene with her unique sounds blending pop, R&B, electronic and alternative sounds into something entirely her own. Tracks like Nevermind The End and M&Ms had people excited to hear what Teicher was capable of, but I could hazard a guess that no one was expecting what she would do next.

It was quite some time between the release of Saudade and any new material from Tei Shi, but she made sure she was well and truly heard with her new material come late 2014. Her enormous song Bassically saw her practically explode – much like the song does – and suddenly her name was everywhere. From there, she again changed it up by releasing the intricate and gentle See Me, which was followed by yet another entirely new sound in Go Slow. Painting an eccentric and eclectic image of her second EP Verde (read our review here), it wasn’t too long before she began being booked for shows all over the world, as her huge range in styles and genres, as well as her incredible vocal range, had fans clamouring for a peek at her in action. We got to speak to her just before she embarked on a US tour with Shy Girls, and the anticipation and excitement was very clear in her voice. From there, she will venture to Europe, supporting Jungle as well as playing quite a few festivals which she will be ready for after her 8-show stint at SXSW earlier this year.

2015 is really shaping up to be the year of Tei Shi, and as huge supporters of her from the get-go, it couldn’t be more exciting to watch!

What are you up to right now? 

I am just finishing a day of errands and emails and stuff. Just getting prepared for the tour that’s about to start. Then I’m going to go have dinner with my boyfriend later *laughs* Nothing too exciting!

Are you excited for the tour that’s coming up? 

Yes! I’m now in the phase where, because the last few weeks have been lots of stress and anxiety leading up to the tour, so now it’s blended into actual excitement! I think once I’m out and playing the shows it’s going to be really exciting and really great, but the anticipation is always a little bit stressful.

I can imagine you’ve had a pretty stressful but exciting couple of months! Things are going really well for you so far!

Yeah! It’s been a very eventful couple of months. We did SXSW, and we played eight shows which was really hectic but really fun. Then the EP came out and I’ve just been running around doing a bunch of stuff like rehearsing with the band and preparing for the next couple of months. It’s all been really busy but it’s all been really good stuff. It’s been a few good months.

Have you had a favourite moment or highlight recently?

I think probably the highlight so far would be certain moments at SXSW. It was very stressful at times and there was a lot going on, but I really enjoyed it this year. It was kind of nice to be able to see a few bands and artists that I really loved this year. Probably my favourite moment was watching Angel Olsen perform at the Mohawk, which is this really awesome venue. It was kind of unexpected, but I ended up there with my band without planning it. We had just played a show and we were unwinding, and she came on and did this solo acoustic performance which was amazing. It was just this really nice experience, and it kind of started to chill me out and set a different tone for the rest of the week for me.

Do those kind of performances put things in perspective for you, not only as a performer but a fan as well?

Definitely! It’s really nice to be able to realise that it’s not all about you! Because it is such a hectic week and you’re running around getting what you needed done, so getting those chances to be an observer is really nice and getting a chance to see people perform who you know have been through their various years. They’ve been around the block, and you see them totally at ease and doing their thing is a really nice thing to balance someone like me who is having first experiences all over the place.

The EP has just come out, and I have not stopped listening to it. I love it!

Oh that’s so cool!

There was a bit of time in between the EPs, but Verde has been ready for quite some time before it was realised, right?

Yeah, well the EP was totally finished as of the end of last year. It kind of gave myself a couple of months this year to plan the release and work with the label partners that I had on board, so they were planning too – getting the physicals printed and everything. But yeah, the process, or the initial “seedlings” of this EP were around at the time the first EP came out. I was writing some of the songs that ended up on this one. The process is a little drawn out just because I took a good amount of stuff and compiling a lot different material and then working on it and developing it with Luca [Buccellati] who produces all my stuff with me. The recording process and all of that only really took a month, but then I kind of sat on that for a bit. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the EP – whether I wanted to self-release it or have a label on board and stuff like that. It kind of took a while to get that rolling, especially with all the great label partners I’ve had working on this EP.

The sounds between the two EPs are quite different as well – are you one to write in the moment or do you need to go to a cabin in the woods for two weeks?

Well usually, the way I’ve gone about it so far is I’ve really been able to take my time with things. I haven’t really had any pressure or set plans. I like to take time to just be working on writing melodies, lyrics or arrangements by myself and then once I feel like I’ve got a good amount of material and I’ve got raw demos, I’ll bring them into whoever I’m working or collaborating with. With this EP I had that phase of like sketching the songs on my own and then bringing them in to add instrumentation and develop them further. It has different stages but it’s always evolving and changing.

One of my favourite things about your music is that there are multiple ways to perceive the meanings of the tracks. For example, with Bassically, it’s actually quite a personal song for you even though it could be construed that it’s about a relationship?

It’s not necessarily relationship based, no. There definitely is a very personal message for me behind the song. What I was proud of in that song is that you can relate to it on a purely enjoyment level – the aesthetic of it where it’s really fun and upbeat and more catchy than a lot of other stuff that I’ve put out before. But there is still that intimate message behind it for me, not necessarily about a relationship but I was going through a phase where I felt certain pressures and going through new experiences of limitations and really putting myself out there. It was more of an empowerment message for me, for myself, and I wanted that to speak for a larger empowerment song.

Totally! That also brings me to something you’ve said previously about wanting your music to be a little more accessible this round, sort of having more of a mainstream appeal, but still keeping with your trademark Tei Shi sound…

Yeah! It wasn’t that I wanted to make something more mainstream, but with the first EP I put out those songs without really thinking about anything. I never wrote or thought about those songs with the purpose of releasing them necessarily – it was more of a personal project – so those songs were created in a very isolated way and just thinking about myself. I wasn’t taking in any external factors of who would be listening to it. Between then and this EP, I experienced what it’s like to play your music to people and gauge people’s reactions and how people react to different things. All those things came into play more when I was writing the new stuff. The approach wasn’t completely self-based, and it was being influenced by what I thought people would want to hear at shows and what would make people move. I wanted to create more of a soundscape than a stripped down type of song, and I wanted it to be more dynamic and have more time and thought put into it. I wanted fuller songs and songs that are more catchy and light hearted.

I can only imagine the differences, not only from a fan perspective but for you personally in regards to playing live. From your first shows at CMJ to now, the differences must be huge! 

It’s a huge difference! It’s something I’ve not really thought about because experiencing it has been a gradual thing but when I stop and think about it, it is kind of crazy. I had never played a show, never played with a band, never played my own music live until October 2013 so I had to very quickly learn because I unexpectedly put myself into this world and I had to learn and push myself. It’s been one of the biggest learning and growing experiences and now I think I’m at a place where I’m a lot more confident and comfortable playing live, and I enjoy it more. It’s a constant growing process, but that’s definitely one of the biggest things that has marked the starting point until now!

Looking ahead now, what are you most looking forward to in the next few months? You’ve got yourself a massive tour schedule!

I am really, really excited to go abroad and to play in Europe because it’s an experience to play in front of an audience I’ve never been in front of before, and I’ll be playing a lot of festivals over there too! That will be new too because so far I’ve only really played SXSW and CMJ kind of festivals, so I’m really excited to see what that’s all about and see different cities and meet different people outside of my little New York bubble.

Sadly no Australian shows booked in yet!

Yeah! I would love to. I think it’s definitely in the near future, but I think it’s just about planning the right time because it is such a big trip! I would love to go soon, I’m sure it will be in the near future!