I believe it’s everyone’s aspiration now to emerge with the perfect formula for attention and success. It’s something that can rarely be orchestrated and instead must happen naturally, or luckily. To release a track that incites mystery and intrigue while maintaining aloofness about your own artistry is step one. Step two is proper circulation and blog love. Step three is releasing more music, and hopefully proving that what you have deserves to be heard (are we numbering more one hit wonders today than in their heyday of the 50s?). Every so often the timing is perfect each step of the way, and naturally this isn’t the only factor. Talent and original, attention-grabbing music is the foundation – these steps the ladder to plays. Tei Shi is someone who fell into the attention her EP Saudade has received rather inadvertently. While the artistry was well thought-out, the EP masterfully crafted, the songwriting original- the release seems almost serendipitous. Thankfully this is one that didn’t get swept under the rug, and upon each listen just keeps on getting better.
Bowlegs: Can we talk about your moniker, Tei Shi? Is this a persona you’ve developed? How is she different from Valerie?
Tei Shi: Well, the name itself doesn’t have much significance to it. I was trying to come up with a moniker because I didn’t want to use my actual name. I wanted to separate the attached person to the music itself from my personal self. I was thinking out loud with my friend and Tei Shi came out of jokingly deriving something from Jay-Z. It was originally Yei Shi, and I thought if I made it T-E-I then it would look like my last name. It has some ties to my real name, but I thought it looked cool and serious sounding. I think the persona Tei Shi, although it is very tied to me as a person, is definitely something that’s very separate from myself. When I’m on stage and I’m making music I can enhance that side.
Bowlegs: I think it’s great that’s something that happened so randomly would add such an air of mystery to you, and come off seriously. It makes you wonder, what does this mean?
Tei Shi: Exactly, it looks like it has significance and it makes you ask “what is this?”.
Bowlegs- So you’re screwing with everybody’s heads is what you’re doing!
Tei Shi: Exactly!
Bowlegs: Also, just the way your name emerged is a fantastic example of what I like to call blogo-sprung, now that blogs are such a huge source of music rotation and music exposure. Like how M&Ms came out and it was all over the Internet, and that opened the door for you to move on to making or releasing your EP. What were you poised to do when M&Ms started making rotations?
Tei Shi: Well, it was funny because I had the EP completely done months before I put M&Ms out. It was a personal project. I had these songs written and wanted to see a final project of it, like a sample of songs that I’d written and wanted to take more seriously. I had the EP finished and I just really wanted to put something out. M&Ms was the natural choice for me to put out first. It was crazy. I really didn’t expect any significant response and I give thanks in that sense to my manager Nick Susi who at the time I put M&MS out was just a friend who was helping promote and send it out to blogs.
He took the reins on getting out there and I was kind of just like all right, well my music is done and I just want to share it. The song was premiered on GorillavsBear which was so awesome – and after that it just continued on other blogs that started picking it up and it just started circulating so fast. It was really amazing for me to see. Everything really just came out of that. People being more interested in hearing more music, and like you said, the blogosphere and the internet circulate it. It was amazing and really motivating for me. It made me more confident about the EP. After that I started focusing on the next single. The music was all done, but I was just trying to figure out a plan of action and getting a live show together. It just snowballed after that, it was amazing. It was just that reassurance from the outside world that this was something that people would enjoy, so that I could continue doing it. It was this very private thing that I did. I have a lot of thanks to give to blogs and everyone that picked it up and responded to it.
Bowlegs: It’s amazing the way that the internet and blogs have affected being an emerging artist. Going from having your work be completely private to sharing it and not really knowing what’s going to happen. Do you think it’s harder or easier now to become a successful artist in the sense of getting your music heard and possibly financial success with the way music and blogs interact?
Tei Shi: I think definitely blogs and the digital realm in general have made it easier. Both easier and harder. Easier in terms of providing a platform where you could be a completely unknown and just put out a song. It’s so easy for people to gain exposure with very little budget and kind of just an organic way. There’s no doubt that it’s so much more feasible for people to gain exposure and get their music heard. At the same time there’s definitely a limit to it, in terms of tangible or financial success it has become harder because there’s such a grey area of the reality of success versus what you see online. You could have your music playing everywhere and be written up. It doesn’t mean your making money as an artist. It’s like amazing, but it does make it harder to create a tangible form of success. It’s a cause of the music industry in general as it is right now.
Bowlegs: Absolutely. It’s heavily saturated and there is this grey area dividing online success and real life success.
Tei Shi: Totally. Well, I think because it allows for so many people to share their music and be heard, it also makes it harder to stand out from a lot of noise. It’s harder to make yourself unique and something that’s consistent rather than just a one hit wonder or something like that.
Bowlegs: So many artists release a track, get hyped, and then there isn’t something else out there, there isn’t something to back that up. Or maybe they release a full-length and the quality isn’t consistent. That’s what was refreshing about your EP- it seemed like a cohesive project, which makes sense that it was written beforehand. What about the production? Who did you work with?
Tei Shi: It was a collaboration between myself and Luca Buccellat who produced the EP. We became really close friends and he was one of the only people I showed my music too. I had all of these songs written and he encouraged me to make a project out of it. We took a bunch of the songs that I had written and recorded demos, then cut it down to six songs that I wanted to put on the EP. We recorded all of the songs together, developed the sound together, added instrumental, mixed it, and it was all in about two weeks. It was just the two of us in my apartment doing it together. Although, the whole writing process is something that I do completely alone, locked up in my room. I’m trying to work on that and collaborate with other people.
Bowlegs: In terms of the EP itself, I was thinking about how poppy Nevermind the End is. Probably the most conventionally pop track on the EP, but at other times your style is more abstract, like M&Ms which is contemporary to FKA twigs. It seems like you fluctuate between those two styles a little bit. I thought Nature vs. Nurture was a great middle ground there. So, how would you define your musical style?
Tei Shi: I definitely lean much more towards the abstract side of things, like most of the stuff on the EP. Nevermind the End was great because it was a highly collaborative one. My friend Jesse actually wrote most of that song and he had it as a track he wanted a girl to sing on. He sent it to me and I recorded myself over it and completely fell in love with the song. Luca and I took it further and it became what it is now. That was introducing a more poppy and structured song-writing form outside of myself. It turned into something amazing that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. Which I think also inspired me to incorporate that into my writing style now and write things that are catchier, more immediately appealing, and more on the upbeat side. Nature vs. Nurture was the outcome of having worked on Nevermind the End and wanting that element to be present. I’m also just a huge fan of really fun, upbeat, dance music. I wanted to bring that into the EP too and have a really cool beat, so Nature Vs. Nurture was certainly the middle ground of that.
Bowlegs: I also love Heart-Shaped Birthmark. I was super impressed by the vocal layering on the track. When you work on your harmonies are you constructing mostly by ear? What’s your musical training background?
Tei Shi: I do it all by ear. With Heart-Shaped Birthmark I had the melody and then created the harmonies as I recorded. I’ll record the main melody and then build on top of that, and then another on top of that. It just comes, as I go. I rarely use an instrument as a reference for my writing. That’s why there’s such a big emphasis on vocals and layering. In terms of my musical training I definitely have a solid understanding of music theory and I went to music school. Constructing the harmonies comes so naturally, I think that my musical training at school and my understanding of harmony and theory influences what comes out.
Bowlegs- What do you want next? Are you working on a full-length or mostly live shows?
Tei Shi: Right now the live show is definitely the focus, just because it was something that I was thrown into. Whenever this great response started happening CMJ was right around the corner and I had never played a show before in my life. I had to get a band together and get my live show together in like a couple of weeks. It’s definitely been really hectic since then, and it’s something I really want to focus on and develop especially for myself. I really want to have a solid show, so that’s the main thing. I am also working on new music, and I’m planning on being able to put something out soon. Whether it be in the form of another EP or if it turns into a full-length, I have yet to see, but definitely I’m always working on new music.
-INTERVIEW BY RICK MARCELLO-