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Tei Shi

Feb 25/2016
INTERVIEW Amanda Purdie PHOTOGRAPHY Tina Chang STYLIST Vanessa Sanchez HAIR Blake Arsenault MAKEUP Jenelle Forde PHOTOGRAPHER'S ASSISTANT Alberto Jannarone

As the daughter of Columbian parents who spent her childhood living between Argentina, Columbia and Vancouver, it’s little surprise that people find it hard to characterize the sound of New York-based singer-songwriter, Valerie Teicher. “The changing of my environments is something that has influenced me as a person. It’s affected the way I approach music and my desire to make something eclectic and not easily defined – something that pulls from a lot of different places and sources.”

Better known by the moniker Tei Shi, Teicher’s latest EP, Verde, is at once indie-pop, electronic, minimalist and sumptuous, effortlessly blending ‘80s synths and R&B grooves with silky, layered melodies and soaring, powerhouse vocals. It’s a notable departure from the more melancholy EP Saudade, which Teicher wrote and recorded while studying at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music. She explains, “My first EP was very raw – it was minimal in its production and the arrangements around the voice. I had never done anything like that before.”

In fact, 2013’s critically acclaimed Saudade was not only the product of Teicher’s first professional effort, but also the first of her music to ever go beyond the four walls of her bedroom. “I always had the desire to put my stuff out there, but I never shared it with anyone – not even my family,” she says. “When I put out my first song, they were like, ‘You wrote this?’”

Taking that initial leap signalled a turning point for Teicher: “My life changed a lot after I put out Saudade. I kind of took charge of myself and what I wanted to do. Writing the second EP was very different – it was a little more light-hearted and fun, and more assertive… there was more of a purpose behind it.”

“Bassically”, arguably Verde’s most accessible song, certainly speaks to Teicher’s desire to take charge. With lyrics like “Is that what you want, like the other boys? / Someone you can flaunt like the other toys?” it’s been received as a feminist anthem of sorts – but Teicher said that wasn’t exactly her intention. “It’s funny, because for me personally it was definitely coming from that place, but I never expected anyone to objectively interpret it that way,” she says. “In a broad sense, that song is like a liberation – it can speak to anyone who’s experiencing some sort of frustration.”

For me, [“Bassically”] was more about wanting to prove myself in the music industry and the obstacles of being female in an environment that can be oppressing.

As she elaborates on the motivation behind the song, it’s clear that Teicher – who identifies as a feminist – is no stranger to some of the challenges facing women in music. “For me, [“Bassically”] was more about wanting to prove myself in the music industry and the obstacles of being female in an environment that can be oppressing. You kind of feel the need to break through certain expectations.”

“It’s something that I struggled with a little bit, because most of the time I’m surrounded by guys in my musical environment,” Teicher discloses. “There was a while where I really wanted to have a relationship with a female doing the same thing – I think that’s so important. I can’t say I necessarily have that, but I’ve turned a lot to learning about other women that I admire and reading about their careers and where they started, and that’s definitely been really useful for me.”

Her advice to anyone in her shoes? Accept help when it’s offered – but always stay true to yourself. She explains: “I think that for women in music there’s a sense of needing to do everything alone in order to feel like you’ve proven yourself. I’ve realized that collaboration is something that will make your music better. It’s fine to allow other people to help you, but at the same time it’s important to maintain that sense of self.”

She might be a relative newcomer to the music industry, but Teicher’s experience thus far has translated into a deep-rooted passion for helping other female artists succeed. “Something I feel very strongly about is the need for women musicians to support each other,” she says. “There’s such a weird tension in the music industry around female-to-female competition. At some point, when and if I ever have enough influence to do so, I’d like to create an environment – events and things for female musicians – where we can rely on each other and collaborate.”

In the meantime, Teicher is busy working on her third album. Although still in the early writing stages, she can already say with certainty that it will have a different sound to Verde. “It won’t be a complete departure by any means, but definitely a further exploration musically.”

Possibly a by-product of her nomadic lifestyle, Teicher admits she’s already starting to feel somewhat disconnected from the five tracks on Verde. “I kind of have an approach to things where I don’t get very attached,” she reveals. “I recognize that I’m always changing, which I think is good, so when I make stuff I just accept that it belongs in that point in time.”

Teicher’s forward-looking approach and willingness to test musical boundaries and evolve is what makes her one of the most exciting artists to watch. Stay tuned.

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