Image & Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“Change influences how I approach making music,
coming from that perspective of always
wanting to change my environment and my surroundings
and be a chameleon in a way.”
— Tei Shi
Valerie Teicher, known by her stage name Tei Shi, is a Canadian singer, songwriter and record producer based in New York. Releases include her two EPs Saudade (2013) and Verde (2015) and her debut album Crawl Space (2017), out now via Downtown.
R&B pop artist Tei Shi, the moniker of Columbian-Canadian and New York-based musician Valerie Teicher, recently released her much anticipated debut, Crawl Space (2017). The album follows her first two EPs, Saudade (2013) and Verde (2015), and has been hailed by Billboard as one of the Top 50 Albums of 2017 so far.
Prior to Crawl Space, Tei Shi toured her EPs as the opener for Swedish artist MØ and has guested for the likes of English indie rock band Glass Animals. She continues to turn critics’ heads for her unique brand of breathy, synth-backed lyrics and has made appearances in Vogue and The New Yorker. Tei Shi caught up in the midst of her tour for Crawl Space, discussing her childhood, the role of change in her music and her passion for animals.
Where are you from?
Kind of all over the place. I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Both my parents are Colombian, but they were living in Argentina when I was born. We moved back to Columbia when I was two, and I lived in Bogota until I was eight. Then we moved to Vancouver, where I spent my adolescence. So I’m from Colombia and Canada, and now I live in New York.
Who did you listen to growing up?
I listened to a lot of different kinds of music. The nature of moving around a lot and coming from a culturally mixed background meant there was a lot of different music in my house. Most of the music my parents listened to was classic rock and folk, and that was what I really adopted early on. The Beatles and Queen. My dad also listened to diva vocalists like Céline Dion, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. I shaped my voice somewhat around that. Also, a lot of Latin music, salsa, merengue.
There’s a big age gap between my older sisters and me, so I listened to all the pop music of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and Nirvana. Then I discovered R&B, soul and electronic music. I mixed those genres and influences into what I love to listen to and what I make as well.
When did you start making music?
I sang and made up songs since I was really young, but I didn’t write and record myself until I was maybe 19. I was studying music at music school, and that’s where I started to learn how to record myself. I began writing more frequently and recording what I was writing. Those songs and recordings comprised my first EP, which was the first thing I released as Tei Shi.
“Music, for me, is very much self-centered. You’re creating an extension of yourself and what’s going on in your mind and in your heart, and you’re throwing it all up out there.”
— Tei Shi
How did you decide that this is what you wanted to do?
From a really young age, I wanted to be a musician, an artist and a performer. After I graduated high school, I decided to study music. That was the point where I decided to have a career in music in some way. Then it happened naturally as I made more music and my first EP. I put a song out on the Internet, and it was getting good responses and circulating online. That’s kind of where things took off from.
What life events have impacted you and your music the most?
Relationships of all kinds. Obviously, falling in love at a young age and having a variety of very intense, very deep love relationships. That’s influenced my songwriting and the emotional content and a lot of what I went through when I started writing music more seriously. And then my relationships with the people in my life, like my family, and my experience growing up and moving around and having to be very independent and develop a very eclectic but also very constant sense of identity.
Change has been very prevalent in my life. It influences how I approach making music, coming from that perspective of always wanting to change my environment and my surroundings and be a chameleon in a way.
What are some issues that you look to address in your music?
I don’t necessarily make music from the point of view of wanting to tackle certain issues because making music, for me, is very much self-centered. You’re creating an extension of yourself and what’s going on in your mind and in your heart, and you’re throwing it all up out there. For me, the experience of creating is much more an internal thing than it is something with an intentional purpose to address certain things.
As an artist, in my career and in some of what I sing about and what I talk about, the idea of compassion, empathy, unity is really strong in music, and it’s something I try to build and create within my music. I try to sing about things I feel people can relate to or that speak to a deeper human experience more so than one particular theme. Obviously, being a woman, some of the things sing about and the music I make come from a very feminine place of talking about the experience of being a woman. And it’s a subject that is important to me to be vocal about and to connect with other women and create music that empowers other women and men.
Like I said, there are a lot of things that I, as a person, care about that I’d like to have some sort of influence on in my life. But through my music directly, I don’t think there’s any one particular thing that I’m really aiming to discuss.
“As an artist, in my career and in some of what I sing about and what I talk about, the idea of compassion, empathy, unity is really strong in music, and it’s something I try to build and create within my music.”
— Tei Shi
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
I’d love to collaborate with Kanye West. I’m a really big fan. What is most appealing and exciting about him is that he is constantly creating and paving a new path in music—he is very experimental and influences all of the music that comes out after he puts out an album. Every album he makes is so different, and it would be fun and unpredictable to work with someone like him. He has an incredible intuitive force that I would love to observe.
What are your interests and passion outside music?
Family and friends are a big part of my life. I try to keep my personal life close but also very outside of what I do for living. I love to read. I love to watch movies—I am a big film buff.
Someday I would love to help animals. I have a very deep love for animals and the earth that we live on, cultures and language. I love to travel and experience different cultures and connect with people.
What are your favorite films, books, etc. right now?
That’s a hard question because I’ve been so disconnected the past few months. I just watched The Talented Mr. Ripley, and I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before. I’m really obsessed with it. Books-wise, it’s kind of cliché, but I read a lot of Murakami. I’m re-reading Garcia’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish because I’m trying to read more in Spanish because I tend to read solely in English.