Tei Shi Doesn’t Need To Justify Herself

Facing fears can be a truly transcending experience. For Valerie Teicher (aka Tei Shi) her latest album wasn't only thematically about childhood fears, but was in itself Teicher's own way of coming to turns with becoming a full-time musician. Earning buzz with a string of EPs, her debut LP Crawl Space earlier this year was not only a delight of pop, but jazz, retro rock and R&B. Touring with MØ and Lawrence Rotham, she's learned from some of the most driven and out there performers to deliver a show to match the record as well. We caught up with Teicher ahead of her set at Mavericks on September 26 to talk about her Canadian childhood, justifying herself and the life overhaul that led to her debut record.

Ottawa Life: What inspired you to use your childhood recordings on the your new album, and how did you keep hold of them over the years?

Valerie Teicher (Tei Shi): I came across those cassette tapes maybe four years ago when my family was moving out of my childhood home. I had forgotten about them, so I listened to one of them and remembered this phase f my life where I would record myself on cassette tapes. I kept that one tape, and kept the idea in the back of my head that I wanted to do something with them at some point. When I was working on the album, I started revisiting a lot of my childhood, looking at old home videos and revisiting my relationship to music at that age. I remembered that pure and passionate love for music and performing, and how much I wanted to do that when I grew up. I wanted to go back and find that again working on the album. I had lost a bit of that pure love for those aspects of what I was doing. It felt like a really natural part of the album for me, especially being my first full-length. I felt proud giving this as a gift to my younger self, or to know that I am now doing the thing I had once dreamt of doing quite innocently. When I was finishing the album, I went home and found a bunch more tapes so I picked out little bits and pieces.

There's a lot on this album about facing fear's from the artwork with a spider and even the personal story of yours behind the title, what fears did you have to overcome with this record?

I felt overall, approaching making an album was really scary for me, because I've always had a really hard time putting myself out there with my music. It's something I've gotten way more used to now, especially playing live. I had a really hard time for a long time putting myself out there, and promoting myself and being able to stand behind my work and feeling I had a right to do so. I found making the album a really daunting thing, because when I made the EPs, the material I put out before the album was still testing the waters. It still wasn't my career and my life yet, so I knew going into the album it would be something different, that I'd have to own up and really take it seriously. I was afraid of a lot of things going into the album in that sense, coming into my own a lot more as an artist. I was dealing with a lot of insecurities and self-doubt, wondering if I deserved to be doing what I was doing.

That was the overall fear factor, but throughout making it on a personal level there were a lot of personal changes I had to make. I went through a really bad breakup, and a lot of personal relationships that were entangled with my career at that point because I came from a really DIY place. It came to a point where they were becoming really negative, so I think the album was a point in my life where I was changing, so I had to make some decisions I was afraid to make and break away from the environment I was in before. Making the album was an accumulation of all that stuff and it became the tool through which I worked through all those things. I was in a very different place in my life once I finished the album, so this album was a way to deal with those things, and it was the thing itself, so it was pretty scary.

Now that this record is out do you still hold onto any of that fear of trying to make it as a musician?

My relationship with a lot of the things I had a harder time dealing with before have gotten easier now. Playing live for me used to give me a lot of anxiety and although I sometimes still feel those things, the thing is to get joy out of it. Making music, talking about my music and trying to promote it all used to be really hard, and after making the record I'm in a really different place. I feel self-empowered, it was making the album that got me to that place. It's probably normal to have this self doubt when you put yourself out there every night, and talk about yourself a lot. I still have those feelings but I've learned to enjoy it all a lot more.

I know you're self-producing and writing a lot, so I was curious how you start building a song, especially considering all the different genres on this record?

It depends. A lot of the time it's lyrics and melody first, and the track gets built around that. On the album I started trying different things. With "Justify" the barebones of that beat was something I worked with a lot. Listening to that beat I got the melody and lyrical idea. Sometimes there's an instrumental that really kicks it off for me. It's a mix of different things.

Where did the ideas behind dissonant vocal moments on "Justify" come from?

I'm always just trying different things with my voice, and I like to think of my voice as an instrument that can really create different textures, like how other instruments can. Because I don't play instruments very well, I really on my voice a lot more. It's that side of things, wanting to be a lot more experimental with my voice. Also I think the emotion behind that song was coming from me feeling pressure to fit in a box within music or the world, and that pressure to define myself as one thing to be more marketable. That's something I feel in my life, and life in general, that you have to justify yourself to other people. People often have an assumption of you based on shallow trivial things. That pressure I felt putting myself out there and fitting into a box, it was a lot of frustration, so that's where it came from. I wanted it to sound very aggressive.

I understand along with growing up in Argentina, you live in New York, so what drew you to Montreal for the record?

I was born in Argentina, but I moved to Colombia from two to eight, and then we moved to Vancouver. I spent a lot of my life growing up in Canada, and feel very much Canadian. I went to McGill for a while before moving to the U.S.. I always had a close relationship with Montreal from living there, and then my friends went there for school, I dated somebody that lived there too so I would visit all the time. I always loved the city so much, so I wanted to spend a summer there. When I started writing the album I felt like I needed to get out of New York and get somewhere where I could isolate myself. Montreal was easy to get to and it was good to spend a few months away from stuff, writing and figuring out what I wanted the album to be.