Creative Direction: Alexandra Weiss
Videography: Jonathan Schoonover
Styling: Jenny Haapala
Hair: Kiyo Igarashi
Makeup: YuuiVision using Kryolan
The word ‘real’ gets thrown around a lot these days—especially when describing stuff that’s actually not. But there’s really no other way to describe Tei Shi. With her long-awaited debut album, the 27-year-old fuses pop, jazz and indie-R&B in a gutting treatise on love and heartbreak. She even makes the latter sound good. And in a world of shallow pop songs by people who didn’t even write them, Tei Shi gets to the bottom of what it means to be an artist—even when it sucks. On Crawl Space, the singer, whose real name is Valerie Teicher, deconstructs toxic friendships and broken relationships, crafting a soulful—and undeniably catchy—take on the pain of growing up. That’s exactly what the album is—poppy proof that Teicher’s found her voice.
BULLETT caught up with the artist to talk about life, labels and learning to love her sound.
Tell me about Crawl Space. Why did you wait so long to release your first LP?
It was a big step from the releases I’d put out before and I just had to wait until I finished it and felt good. There definitely was a long period of time where I felt like I wasn’t doing anything—I hadn’t put anything out in a while and I didn’t tour much at all all of last year because I was focused on the album. But I really needed to get into the right headspace, which can be really hard to do when you’re touring and playing shows and going out and trying to find a record label and promoting yourself. So that was a big decision—making the album and carving out these big spaces of time for myself.
What were you able to do with the album that weren’t able to do on previous releases?
I was able to spend a lot more time on this album than I’d ever been able to spend on anything else. With the EPs, I was doing music, but it wasn’t my full-on job yet. So I just didn’t have the ability to work and think about it 24/7. Also just being able to learn more about recording and being able to go into different studios and record—that was a huge step above recording in my bedroom on a laptop.
How do you think you’ve grown as a songwriter?
I’ve started paying a lot more attention to songwriting on its own. When I first started putting out my own music, I was pretty shy, and didn’t have a lot of the confidence you need to put yourself out there. Because of that, I was really hiding my vocals in the production, and often, you really can’t hear what I’m saying at all. With the album, they feel a lot more like actual songs than a lot of my old stuff did, and the vocals are loud and clear—in that sense, my whole mentality around songwriting has changed. And the way I write has expanded. But my creative process is still the same.
How do you describe your sound?
I’m always hesitant to describe my music or assign anything to it. Most of the time, when people ask me, I’d rather just play the music and let them interpret their own idea of what it is, because what I try to do—and what I want to do—is be able to make vastly different kinds of music and have every release be very different from the last, with my voice being the only unifying thing. And with this album in particular, I wanted every song to feel like it’s own style—there’s pop, there are songs that feel more psychedelic, there’s a rock influence with some softer, more feminine vocals, there’s even some electronic elements and some jazz and R&B. I definitely felt with my EPs that I got pigeonholed into this female, indie-electro pop genre, where I didn’t feel that I necessarily belonged. So a lot of my ambitions with the album, and a lot of my musical choices, were just me trying to get away from that and show that I can do a lot more.
I feel like every female musician always has that word in their title. You never hear ‘all-guy band’ or ‘male indie-electro pop’—it’s funny that being a woman changes your genre.
It’s also condescending because it’s kind of insinuates that being a female musician is being an exception in some way—it’s not music, it’s female music. I mean, I get it. Sometimes, I connect with female vocalists in a way I can’t with male vocalists. But that’s for the listener to decide.
I talk about this a lot of the female artists. It’s difficult, because I know being a woman is not something you always want to have to address. But you also don’t want to just let it happen.
That’s that double edged sword. And there’s obviously a bunch of times in music where it feels unfair or shitty to be a woman, but there’s also a huge strength in it. There’s something very powerful about having a voice—a woman’s voice—and being relatable to other women. I would never want to strip away that part of my identity and just pretend that it isn’t something, that it doesn’t define me in some way. There definitely needs to be some sort of balance there. But I’d like to be able to define that for myself and not have everyone else try to define me.
You’ve said before that you never really wanted to be a singer—you wanted to be a songwriter. Why?
When I was first starting to create my sound, I was less interested in singing, and more interested in what I was making and the feeling of it—I wanted to be more of a creator than just a singer, not that those things are mutually exclusive. But now, singing has become my first and foremost thing. Through the years and doing what I’ve been doing, I’ve learned to value my voice more than I used to, and realize that it’s my forte. Also, I’ve been singing since I was a kid—I was always so passionate about it and performing was a huge part of my childhood. That was something I really got in touch with as I was making this album—I went back to the root of what I felt about music and what I loved when I was younger that I sort of lost throughout the course of adolescence, and really got that spark back.
What was the hardest part about making the album?
The most difficult thing about making the album and that phase of my life is that both my personal life and work life were very blurred together. I think that was a result of having started making music from a very DIY place, but every facet of my life became tangled together, and a lot of my relationships and surroundings became negative and kind of oppressive to me, emotionally. Making the album was really a process of me breaking out of those relationships, and out of the world I was in and creating a whole new one for myself.
What do you want people to take away from it?
I’d really like for people to experience the album as a whole. Nowadays, we experience music in different ways, and a lot of the time we just hear one song by an artist, or a single, or a couple of tracks and that’s as far as you go. But really I wanted to make something that felt like a full, cohesive thing—not just 12 songs. And I hope the people who listen to it, connect to it and it becomes something that’s really etched into a period of their lives. For me, the albums and artists I’ve really loved—I feel like I can really pinpoint the part of my life where I was listening to them, and what I was going through. That’s the most important and coolest part of making music—that you can become a part of people’s memories and emotional experiences.