It’s Music Monday! So, to kickstart this week we present you with yet another exclusive interview, this time featuring Brooklyn-based songstress, Tei Shi. The up-and-coming electro-dreamgirl is one of Giulia’s favorite artists. “Her album Saudade, which was released late 2013, will leave you feeling vulnerable, with her layered cloud-like harmonies,” says our Sonic Sessions writer, Giulia Marsico.
Who is the lovely Tei Shi, you ask? The culturally eclectic gem was born in Bogota, Colombia, raised in Vancouver, now living in Brooklyn, and has a global outlook on music. Giulia gets the inside scoop on Tei Shi’s skincare secrets, upcoming tracks, and her thoughts on David Lynch. Read on for our exclusive with Brooklyn’s heavenly artist. (Images via Danny Lane)
Giulia: The first time I listened to your EP, Saudade, it struck me as very exposed and sincere. What state of mind were you in while recording?
Tei Shi: I was definitely in a very exposed and sincere mindset. I think that is actually the best way to describe how that whole project came to be. I went into recording the EP with absolutely no expectations, I didn’t even know I was going to release the music or if it would just be something I kept for myself. It came about very naturally. It was a really beautiful time where Luca Buccellati (who produced the EP) and I were both doing absolutely nothing else. We had just graduated from college and he stayed at my apartment in Brooklyn for a month. During that summer we just made music and worked on my EP. My mindset was really peaceful, curious, and sincere in the sense that we both went into the project kind of innocently, and oblivious as to what may come after.
Giulia: Is music production relatively new for you? How long have you been working on music?
Tei Shi: I’ve been writing music my whole life, but I didn’t grow up in a musical environment. None of my friends were making music and there was no one for me to learn from. I played a bit of keyboard on which I used to write songs at times, but I would mostly write melodies and vocal harmonies with lyrics. In music school, I dove into writing more, where I would record my songs on GarageBand and make more intricate vocal arrangements. Since I didn’t play any instrument well enough, or bring other people into the mix, I would just use stock, GarageBand instrumental loops.
It wasn’t until linking up with Luca, though, that I really started learning production. On the EP, we were very collaborative on the production end, although Luca definitely took the reins. I would express my ideas and he would make them happen, which was really awesome. We’re currently working together again on some of my new stuff, and I’m definitely more comfortable with having a heavier hand in this, which has been really fun.
Giulia: Have you had any formal vocal training before, or were you blessed with such lofty pipes?
Tei Shi: I took voice lessons for six months when I was 12, but I hated it. I was really shy and didn’t use my real voice to sing because of it. I sang very softly and timidly, which led my teacher to think I wasn’t very good, and that just kind of made for a boring cycle. Then I would go home and belt to Mariah Carey (laughs). I just really didn’t like the idea of someone telling me how to sound good vocally, because the voice is such a subjective thing. I’ve always been more of a fan of stylistic, interesting voices, rather than really trained or impressive pipes. That made me have a negative view of vocal training for a really long time. Once, at music school, I had private voice lessons once a week for four semesters, but I didn’t enjoy it. The thing about vocal training is there is no real room for creativity, and that’s discouraging. I did, however, learn the importance of technique, proper breathing is so important in singing. I’ve only recently begun to appreciate this, now that I’m singing live a lot and recording more.
Giulia: Do you typically come up with a vocal melody first? How do you structure each song?
Tei Shi: Usually I’ll come up with a melody line and build off of that. By looping the melody, I’ll build tons of harmonies around it, and then I’ll develop the song from there. For the last EP, I basically made all of the songs out of vocal arrangements while I recorded on GarageBand.
In a collaboration I did with Glass Animals I would sing over instrumental tracks. While working on my new stuff, I’ve been leaning more towards this approach: starting with a bass line or a drum beat, then developing a melody and more instrumental ideas on top of that.
Giulia: Your video for M&Ms was a sultry kabuki fusion. What inspired your makeup in that video?
Tei Shi: The M&Ms video was totally improvised, shot in Vancouver by my friend Mac Boucher, we only had three days to do everything. We only knew we wanted a haunting and dreamy looking aesthetic, like the song. My friend Michaela Rechtschaffner did the styling because she has great taste and is very creative. She had this amazing red kimono at home and that led to the Asian-inspired look.
Each scene was built visually around each different outfit we put together. I also had some great makeup artists who volunteered to help, and they made the “Geisha meets The Cell” look come to life.
Tei Shi: Thank you! I think I’ve been somewhat blessed by the women in my family who have had great skin, so I’ve never thought about it too much. But I definitely think taking care of your skin is huge. I wash my face at least twice a day and mainly just make sure not to go to sleep without clean skin. And I moisturize a lot. I like Clinique face cream.
Giulia: The video for Nevermind the End was quite controversial due to its commentary on gender roles. Was this a synergetic effort between you and video director, Nicolas Pesce or just your aesthetic vision?
Tei Shi: Nick and I are really good friends, Nick is also a big Lynch fan, and I knew I wanted to channel Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks in my aesthetic. We wanted to replicate its dreamy, surreal, and beautiful, but twisted, visual. I had this idea of (the video) having a role reversal, where the young girl is preying on the older man. We usually see young girls being ensnared by older, dominating males. I wanted to have the opposite effect, but with an eerie, off-putting edge. I saw an image of a young girl making a man dance for her, taking pictures of him, feeding him wine, etc.
It could have been anyone playing the female role in that video—I tend to look at music videos more as if they were short films, or short stories, rather than me singing my song. The video tied really well into the song, though, because to me that song is quite fun, bright and upbeat in its exterior, but it’s also quite dark beyond its sound. The lyrics are sad and dark, and I really wanted to emphasize this kind of sweet, pretty coating over something darker and creepier. The video was just that, glossy and beautiful visuals with a weird message. Nick really took that idea and made it come to life. He always jokes that in his work something violent always has to happen or that someone has to die (laughs). So, we threw in the ending where I smother Paul Nazak as per Nick’s request.
Giulia: You mentioned in a previous interview that one of your dreams is to work with David Lynch. Would you say he has an artistic influence on your music and visuals?
Tei Shi: I think his work has an influence on how I see art as a medium. Before discovering his work, what I saw in films were beautiful and interesting depictions of things that made sense: expected story lines or one-dimensional messages. With Lynch, you get that visually appealing dimension of the visual, but he presents so many nonsensical, surreal scenes. He (Lynch) makes you feel like you’re watching someone’s dream or that you’re tripping. This influenced me to make things that have many dimensions to them, things that can be tangibly appealing, like a beautifully shot scene or a catchy song, but that express something beyond what is expected and not so pretty. The striking visuals in his work are something I love. I like the way dreams are tied into his work. I find dreams and the subconscious to be fascinating.
Giulia: I saw, via Instagram, that you are currently working on some new songs. What can your fans expect from the new EP, and do you have a release date in mind?
Tei Shi: I am, indeed! Right now, I’m recording as much material as I can with Luca, and I hope to whittle that down to a second EP later this year. The new music is true to the sound from the last EP, but a bit happier and lighter. When I was writing new stuff, I found myself writing more upbeat, groove-oriented songs… Maybe I’ve been in a happier state of mind as well. Some songs are more playful, and there is a stronger focus on instrumentation with more heavy-handed production than on the last EP, which was mostly a capella. Expect something versatile. It’s not just an extension of Saudade, but a growth from there. I’m hoping to release the EP in the fall.
Giulia: Will you be collaborating with anyone?
Tei Shi: For now, I’m steering away from collaborations since I want to focus on continuing to build my own identity. I did a collaboration with Glass Animals which was an awesome experience, and I think it turned out really well. But, I know that when I collaborate, my sound will be influenced by people other than me. This is a great thing, although I think it’s easy to get a bit lost with too much collaboration before you truly set your own individual print as an artist. There are some key collaborations that I would love to have happen soon but nothing is set in stone.
Contributed by Giulia Marsico
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