Tei Shi on The Creative & Emotional Challenge of 'Crawl Space'
Valerie Teicher, AKA Tei Shi, is living proof that vulnerability can be a strength. Because let’s face it: putting yourself (and all those emotions) out there for the world to see is no easy feat. Flowing from an exposed heart are Tei Shi’s sultry, raspy vocals atop a bed of smooth pop-R&B composition that immediately grabs your attention. Tracks such as “Keep Running” and “How Far” are relatable for anyone with experience in the love department—the good, the bad, and the hideous.
Tei Shi is currently on tour with MØ and will drop her delectable debut Crawl Space album on March 31 via Downtown Records. As if that’s not enough to fill one calendar, Tei Shi admits with a laugh: “I definitely want to start making some new music as soon as I can as well.” We spoke to the captivating songstress post-SXSW to discuss the multiple ways Crawl Space served as a cathartic release, how her childhood played an integral part in the making of the album, and what’s next post-release. Peep the full interview (and the “Keep Running” hit single) below.
I had a chance to listen to Crawl Space and I love it. There are a lot of different elements that I appreciate. It’s very emotionally aware and even vulnerable at times. Did that present a challenge creatively or emotionally?
At times, I think. It was a bit of a different experience for me because with the two EPs that I released before this, I wasn’t really being as up front with them. I wasn’t putting myself out there as much in the content and vocally. I feel like the experience of making an album—I made it in the period of like a year and a half—it went hand-in-hand with a lot of emotions and a lot of ups and downs and changes. I think the fact that it’s more vulnerable I guess and more emotive really came naturally, but it was different for me. There definitely were times there were more difficulty kind of emotionally recording some of the songs and getting some of the stuff out there simply because it was so tied to the things that I was going through. It also was a good process for dealing with a lot of those emotions and working through them. Making the album helped me to work through a lot of stuff that I’m kind of experiencing.
Cool. That actually leads to my next question in regards to your past couple of EPs—that last one being Verde in 2015. From a creative process, how was making this album different than putting together those two EPs?
With the creative process in itself it wasn’t all that different, but I think I kind of just approached it differently. First of all with the EPs, they were done in a shorter amount of time. At that time I was doing everything very much independently and DIY. I had very limited resources and both of those EPs were essentially made on a lap top in a bedroom with very kind of limited recording capabilities. So, it led to them kind of being projects that I did in a month or less. I didn’t put much thought into them. It was more immediate and because of those circumstances I think they ended up leaning more towards electronic stuff and minimalistic productions.
I wanted it to be more of a sonic landscape or something that was very specific. With the album I had a chance to really take my time with it and was able to work in a studio. I had the ability to explore more with the recording and with the production and the diversity within the album. There’s a bigger range than the EPs and that was like something I really wanted in an album. I approached it from a different place because I knew I wanted my first full-length album to be very eclectic. I wanted it to have a lot more live instrumentation and not be so much in this electronic world. I had clear goals on how I wanted my voice to be in the mixes…The actual process of working on it was quite similar because I didn’t work with too many new people or a bunch of different producers. It was still very much in the comfort zone of what I worked in the past.
The album is very cohesive—it definitely tells a story from start to finish. I noticed “Bad Singer”, “Bad Girl”, and “Way to Record” are different interludes or snippets within the album. What made you include those as part of the project?
Those little snippets are bits from takes that I recorded of myself when I was young. I kind of just assumed people would be like, “Oh yeah! That’s her!” but I feel like a bunch of people are like, “Who is this? What is this young girl that’s speaking?” So, that’s me. I think I was probably like ten in those recordings, but I guess that whole moment of my life was like my family had moved to Canada when I was eight—this is kind of post that.
My older sister gave me her old boombox and showed me how to use it so that I could record myself. I used to just like sit in my room and record myself singing and coming up with little song ideas and also just like talking to myself. I totally forgot about them, then a few years ago I found one of them and I kind of kept it in the back of my head. I knew I wanted to do something with it when I made a first album. When I was half way through making this first album, I went home and I dug up a bunch of other ones and just went through and picked out these little pieces that I thought really fit in with the album and the flow of it. I wanted to include it because I felt like when I came across those tapes that I rediscovered just how passionate I was about wanting to be a singer and performer when I was really young. I kind of forgot how much that was a part of me when I was really little and it felt cool to bring it full circle putting my first album out. It’s like a homage to myself when I was a little girl. It gave the album a little context outside of just the 12 songs.
Yeah, it really does. It’s cool you were able to include that. You kind of touched on it, but you lived in Canada, was born in Argentina and now you live in New York. Right?
Yeah, I was born in Argentina, but I only lived there until I was two. My parents are both Columbian, but they just so happened to be living in Argentina for a few years where I was born. I spent most of my young childhood actually in Columbia. We moved there from Argentina when I was two. Then, when I was eight we moved to Canada. I’ve kind of spent a lot of time back and forth between Columbia and Canada because my parents moved back to Columbia like ten years ago and it’s still like home for me. I’ve been living in New York for four years.
Nice! What part of New York?
I live in Chinatown in Manhattan—like low, low East Side.
Dope. How has living in these different cultural landscapes shaped your sound?
I think on a few different levels. I think my background of moving around a lot and having a really diverse environment and also kind of almost a lack of stability in my life in a lot of ways has affected me as a person. I think out of that I developed a desire or some sort of tendency to put myself in a lot of different contexts and environments and I’ve become a bit of a chameleon I think. I think musically that’s exactly what I try to do. I don’t really define myself in one thing or another or one genre. I just want to explore a ton of stuff musically and creatively and just kind of have my voice in that core identity – be the kind of thing that ties everything together. I feel like that’s how I’ve lived my life. That’s been my coping mechanism throughout my life. I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music. So, all of that has subconsciously influenced what I draw from and what my influences are.
That makes sense. You have a varied sound that draws from pop and R&B. From the start of your career as a singer-songwriter to now, what’s been your favorite part of the whole process so far?
That’s a good question. My favorite part is looking back at that first EP and seeing how much I feel like I’ve kind of evolved and how much I’ve been able to explore [and] mess around with my sound. I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most – just the ability to redefine and create and know that I have this endless exploration out of me.
Images courtesy of JJ Medina
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