Tei Shi The part of Valerie Teicher known as Tei Shi channels the more submerged elements of the Colombian-born, NYC-based songstress’s personality. Though she herself might dismiss her alter ego as a “mental-health thing”, Tei Shi embodies a modern-day siren that draws listeners toward figurative, water-crashing rocks with her goosepimply, ethereal electro-pop. And Glamcult is only too happy to follow.
Before “becoming” Tei Shi, Valerie Teicher grew a backbone through self-reliance and the ability to adapt. Frequent family moves—and later, sporadic higher educational pursuits—saw her formative years divided between Argentina, Colombia, Vancouver, Montreal and Boston. Initially studying psychology in Montreal, Teicher dropped out to attend the Berklee College of Music—although her takeaways from the prestigious Boston institution were “probably not the things they tell you you’ll get out of it!” she confesses. Despite that change of direction suggesting, perhaps, a conscious pursuit of a musical career, it wasn’t until three years into the programme that Teicher shared her work with the person who would become her biggest champion, her producer and, her boyfriend. Luca Buccellati immediately understood the potential of Teicher’s sweetly ethereal, dreamy ballads, committing his expertise to re-record and produce her songs. Together they made her 2013 debut EP, Saudade. A Portuguese and Galician term without an equivalent in English, “saudade” is a strong yearning for an absent someone or something, intensified by nostalgia or loneliness. It’s a title that couldn’t be more elegant or appropriate for a singer who, before moving from Boston to the creative catch-all of New York City, had never fully experienced a sense of belonging. “I didn’t really have a place that I felt settled in and I think that was what prompted me to move to New York,” she reveals to Glamcult. A move from Brooklyn to Chinatown took Teicher into what she calls her “own little world”, one purposefully separated from her friends and everyone else who’s flocke d to the city’s most populous borough.
The relationship between Valerie Teicher and her alter ego Tei Shi is best illustrated with a simple equation: Valerie Teicher divided by her music equals Tei Shi. “Tei Shi is the music that I make and that is me,” she clarifies. “And that is who I am as a person on a day-to-day basis.” Tei Shi, then, is literally a part of Teicher —even down to the name itself. Derived from a fragment of her last name and fashioned together from a brainstorming session and successive conversation with a friend, “Tei Shi” minimizes the discomforts of such intimate expression as is found in Teicher’s lyrics, allowing her “to take control of different sides” connected to her personality. “A mental health thing,” she concludes dismissively. While it would be easy to file Tei Shi’s sound alongside Say Lou Lou and call it a day, she also joins female artists such as Feist, Björk and Lykki Li, who all strengthened their musical identities with their own genre, persona and name. Each is an inspiration for Tei Shi, admir ed—as is the case with all her heroes— for their captivating complexity and unconventional beauty. But Tei Shi is also trying to earn a place next to talents, such as FKA twigs and the equally precocious Banks, by connecting with others through her creations. There’s no other way, she professes, to bring together the range of influential individuals in her life. With her star truly ascending— and that progress set to go stratospheric with the release of her debut album later this year—it would be perfectly natural if Tei Shi was feeling the pressure. Instead, she says, the increasing scrutiny only makes her more motivated and gratified. “I never feel like, ‘Oh my god I have all of this attention on me,’” she says, before adding the caveat: “Although I can see how it presents internal challenges to you as a person to start measuring your value
through how much people are talking about you.” Ever-increasing interest has not, it seems, shaken her sense of identity. Her self-assuredness perhaps derives from a fascination with the entire experience of her work, not just the minor aspects. The gentle invitations extending from her gauzy sounds enclosed by an almost bedroom intimacy go beyond mere music, acquiring additional visual and sensory qualities. “The thing that will inspire me to write a song is not necessarily the music I listen to,” Tei Shi clarifies, “but more the experience I’m having.” She cites examples like watching a film or attending a new art venue. As a nomadic individual who’s already experienced numerous lifestyles and their engrained peculiarities, experiences influence Tei Shi in indecipherable ways. Take music as an example: though current projects from The Acid or Caribou stirred her interest, the music from her past weighs more on her current projects. From growing up to the soundtrack of her parents’ classic rock and folk music to explorations in indie rock, indie pop, electronic and hip hop, this eclectic mix has all contributed to her sound. “The influences are a lot more involuntary and subconscious,” Tei Shi explains. “I find that when I’m working on my own music, I stop listening to music,” she continues. Her “solitary process” customarily begins isolated in her room, building on a melodic or lyrical starting point, an idea picked from daily writing sessions on her phone or a review of old notes. Her lyrics acquire a lacy complexity throughout the process, with most of the writing occurring during recording session. “It’s all on the go, and that’s how it stays,” Tei Shi explains, where layering vocals and folding in concepts as they develop override an incubation period or need for frequent review. During these
phases, the vocals become the focus of attention. “If I have an idea for a baseline or a rhythm, I find it easier to just do it with my voice,” she admits—a necessity, since she does not play an instrument well enough to accompany her lyrics, and a particular feature, she speculates, that makes her music more focused on the voice. Heart Shaped Birthmark or Adder(F)All from debut EP Saudade exhibit the characteristic vocal layering taken to their extreme, almost into an accompanying chorus instead of elaborate instrumentals or bleeping synths. The majority of Tei Shi’s music, she analyses, becomes either “mellow or pretty”, like the airy See Me, or “upbeat or fun”, apparent in her more commercial single Bassically. However, even the latter’s danceable characteristics cannot completely eclipse its vulnerable message. “Please don’t say / Please don’t say / Please don’t say / That I’m begging you for love,” she whispers over entrancing instrumentals. “The lyrics are usually something more then the song is giving away,” Tei Shi offers, “and sometimes there’s a darker side.” While her next EP will continue to unravel the relationship between her music’s mood and message, Tei Shi’s solitary process preserves the overall experience. “Yeah, it was mostly at home,” she admits to Glamcult of the recording sessions. It’s a choice that, be the songs upbeat, mellow, airy or danceable, will continue to engulf her listeners in an intimate place only Valerie Teicher can access through Tei Shi. www.teishimusic.com
GLAMCULT / 2015 / ISSUE 3 / #111 / EU