Ones To Watch: Tei Shi
Tei Shi returns with her sophomore record La Linda; with a self-assured sound and a mystical album cover of her submerged underwater, La Linda focuses on a visual, dreamlike world. Tei Shi opens up about her relationships displaying vulnerability with strength on tracks such as “Red Light” and powerhouse vocals on ‘When He’s Done’. Her album with these dazzling pop gems came about after moving to Los Angeles, which inspired her to create music from a fresh perspective; marking a new chapter in her life.
Milk spoke to Tei Shi about her new album La Linda, working with Blood Orange and her creative journey in the process of making the album.
Your album is finally out! How does it feel?
Yeah, I was just saying on the way here, “This is the first day where I’m just feeling good.” I’m relaxed because I feel like so much goes into, obviously, the process of making the album like prepping everything, there’s so much that builds up. And once it comes out, it’s almost like all the work is done. I feel really good. I mean, it’s been a really crazy process getting this album out. I think there are so many feelings wrapped up in it for me that it feels really good to kind of just let go of it and, you know, have it out of my hands. I’m really, really proud of the album and I feel like it’s resonating with people so far.
Do you read your social media comments?
Well, yes and no, I like to read the comments on my Instagram because it is mostly fans and people who were actually listening to the music. So, for the most part, it makes me feel great because, at the end of the day, that’s the reason to make music; and to connect with people through it. But I definitely have like a strict no YouTube comments rule.
What are your current favorites on the album?
I think. Yeah, I kind of jump around a lot right now. I think No Juegues and Matando, the two Spanish tracks are like, really special to me. Those are my favorites right now, for sure.
How have you grown as an artist since your previous album Crawl Space? Did you do anything differently in terms of your process?
Yeah, 100%. I feel like I’ve grown creatively a lot as an artist. I feel my outlook on making music and making a career out of it is really different. I think that my last album, I still felt really really green and new, I didn’t really have the confidence in myself as much at that time. I felt like I’d put a lot of weight in other people’s opinions and other people’s input and, I think between that album and this one, I did a lot of touring and a lot of just experiencing those first album things for the first time, obviously.
I think something clicked for me in the last year as an artist; I feel like I have everything I need in myself, you know? I think when you’re a young artist and you get signed, you kind of start getting people involved; it’s very easy to just not know what you want, and be able to steer the ship. And I think through this album process, it was really a reclaiming of that control, and trusting myself a lot more and really feeling much more confident. I worked with a bunch of different people on the music so it was a new experience for me in terms of just really putting myself out there that way and working with so many different producers as well.
What inspired the album cover for La Linda?
Well, I was really inspired by natural beauty and I wanted all the visuals for the album to feel like you were outdoors and you were in this surreal paradise. And so it was more like a general concept. I wanted to shoot everything outside and I wanted it to have a fantasy, classical elements, but be very natural. And I worked with this amazing photographer Cara Stricker and we had some ideas of some shots we wanted to get for the album cover in the big aquarium tank. That was a really last-minute thing that happened.
There was one reference photo that we had on our mood board that was underwater, and we thought it would be so cool to do something like that. We couldn’t really figure out a big enough item to shoot it in. And then we found this giant fish tank on Craigslist. It wasn’t in the budget, and we were kind of like, “Oh, God, do I buy it? Is it worth it?” And then the last night, I was like, “I’m just gonna buy this fish tank!”
But it really completely made the whole shoot because, in the end, it was obviously the image that was going to be out and the cover. We just put the tank in the middle of the woods up in the mountains in Topanga up north of Los Angeles and filled it up with like freezing cold water. We decorated it and made it look really beautiful. And then it was like maybe 20 minutes of me going underwater back and forth. But I kind of I feel like I feed off those extreme challenges with stuff like this. So it was cool and I’m really happy that it worked out.
I love the song “When He’s Done.” Can you tell me more about it?
Yeah, that song was definitely my favorite for a long time. That was the first song I wrote for the album. So I feel like that one is kind of like the transition from Crawl Space into La Linda because I remember I actually wrote it, right before I dropped Crawl Space, to the point where I thought about including that song in Crawl Space, but it wasn’t ready. I had that one for a while, and I knew that was special. It took me a while to get it to sound the way I wanted it to.
The process of getting it to the finish line was actually really tough because I knew what I wanted it to sound like, and the vocals are something I haven’t really sung before. It’s very powerhouse, belted vocals. I actually recorded my vocals to that song five times because it just wasn’t right or I wanted to try different microphones. It was just one of those where it just took so many tries but along the way. I kind of got really frustrated with that song, and it kind of like got pushed aside. But now I think it’s crazy because I always felt like that was the one. After sending the album to friends and family now that it’s been out for a few hours, that is the one that people keep mentioning and get back to, which is really cool to me.
What was it like working with Blood Orange, how did your collaboration for “Even if It Hurts” come about? What was it like working on the music video?
I think I was building the visual world of it for a while; it really went hand in hand with making music. So, as I was writing and I was inspired by all these things that we were talking about, I was just pulling little references along the way: photos, film references, things where I felt like I just built a mood board of stuff on my phone.
I would have this document that I would keep adding stuff to. For the “Even if It Hurts” video I worked with Cara Stricker, the same photographer mentioned earlier, she directed the video. It actually came together really, really last minute. I knew I was going to shoot it and I had talked to Dev about it. It was really based on the location that we found; which was this place called Meijer Gardens, which is this stunning, insanely beautiful place. I worked with the choreographer the day before to work out some movement stuff. And the styling obviously was like a huge part of it. I worked with this stylist called Captain Paul who’s amazing and when she came through I thought it was only one look. And then we had like, so much amazing stuff that it ended up being like, a fashion video, it was just like, “Look, look, look, look, look! We have amazing clothes like we have an amazing location”. Then it just kind of came together from there.
Are you working on more music videos to our what else is in store?
I’m hoping to get the resources to do it because making videos is just such an investment that I feel like if it were up to me I would make a video for every single song. I’m waiting to see which song feels like it’s the right one to do that for so I’m planning to make another music video but we’ll see when that happens. Definitely like more visuals for the album and more music soon and touring.
Will you start touring in 2020?
Yeah, I’m definitely planning on touring next year. It’s kind of TBD. Because I really just want to keep making music. I feel like a lot of the time in the past when I’ve been on the road I’ve kind of been like, “Damn, I could have just been in the studio making more music!” It’s a balance but I think. I want to tour next year for sure. But I want to kind of take a minute to maybe release some more music before I do that.
What does it look like for you if you’re not in the studio?
I’m probably like sleeping and watching a movie. I go to this Korean Spa in LA that is like heaven. It has these tubs that you’re soaking in, that is all I do on a full day off, I’ll just go there for the entire day. That’s what I’m planning on doing next week. Honestly, just chilling.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Undine Markus
INTERVIEW: Harshvardhan Shah
VIDEO: Christina Bryson
MAKEUP ARTIST: Hadia Kabir
STYLING: Kathryn Typaldos & Neelo Noory
HAIR: Jaime Diaz
Stay tuned to Milk for more Ones to Watch.