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Tei Shi: Free & Empowered

Tei Shi
Tei Shi

"(I’m striving to be a) time traveling intergalactic cross cultural pop star" — Tei Shi


Five long years removed from her last studio set, LA Linda, and following 2023’s six-track EP, Bad Premonition, Canadian-Colombian singer, songwriter, record producer, Tei Shi, née Valerie Teicher Barbosa, valiantly returns with her latest magnum opus, Valerie, an eclectic yet purposeful - not to mention perfect - blending of Bachata, Pop, R&B, Tropicalia and Indie genres. 


Valerie, masterfully crafted alongside frequent collaborators Noah Breakfast, Mikey Freedom Hart, Nick Hakim, Rodrigo Amarante, Knox Fortune, Dave Sitek, Ash Workman, and Zooey Celest, is unequivocally and unapologetically Tei Shi, in her truest form!



Let’s hop right into this selection, ‘Falling From Grace’ ” Tell me about this particular track; how did it actually come to fruition?  


‘Falling From Grace’ is probably my most personal song yet. It was inspired by a near-death experience I had in 2020 with an unexpected pregnancy, which led to emergency surgery to save my life. The experience stayed with me and took me a long time to process, but it wasn't until I sat down with Nick Hakim and Zooey Celeste a year later in Nick's studio that I was able to put any words to it. The song came together like a sudden apparition once Nick and Zooey allowed me to share my experience and emotions with them, and encouraged me to channel them into a song. It happened very quickly, Nick played those chords on the guitar and I started singing over it, Zooey had some melodic ideas I loved and we put down the demo…I kept writing and tweaking the lyrics over time, and probably a year or more later I dug it back up and went into the studio with Nick, Zooey and another collaborator of mine, Noah Beresin - we recorded a bunch of live instruments and the song took flight! I tweaked the production for about 6 months after that until it felt perfect to me.   


Of course ‘Falling From Grace’ comes courtesy of your brand new body of work Valerie — Conceptually, what does this title represent both to and for you?  


It definitely represents a return to myself, to my independence, to my purpose as an artist. I felt I’d totally lost my connection to myself and to my creativity for a good while. I think my experiences in the music industry eventually got me into a place where I felt completely creatively lost. ‘Valerie’ was the first song I wrote for the album, when I started getting out of that headspace and was able to nurture myself back to a good place. So, the song represented that initial spark that let me know there was something bigger coming for me. It was the only album title that made sense, and I think it really fits because the album is like me redefining myself in a lot of ways.   


How then does Valerie either differ and / or compare to previous Tei Shi efforts?  


It’s a very natural extension of my first two albums. I think I’ve gotten my fans accustomed to expecting my releases to be pretty eclectic and diverse genre-wise, so Valerie continues that tradition. I do think it’s my most direct and intimate album so far though, because I really leaned into the songwriting, which was all coming from a very honest place of what I was going through during the 3+ year period of making the music. I think Valerie is a more ambitious album than my previous ones, and I think it’s somewhat elevated production-wise from my previous albums.   


As a songwriter, when you sit down to pen your lyrics where do you draw inspiration from?  


It’s really hard to pinpoint inspiration - I’m not really the type who decides to sit down and write. It’s a combination of voice memos I’m constantly getting down, lines of lyrics I may write on their own or as poetry, and a lot of improvisation / mumbling which later turns into real words. I usually like to let the melody and lyrics really define one another, so sometimes the lyrics come first and then the melody shapes around them, or vice versa. Inspiration will come from everything - life! Lived experiences, relationships, observations, things I might hear people talking about, what I want to hear, or just whatever comes out of my mouth when I’m feeling moved by something.   


Reflecting, tell me your whole inception into music -- When did you first become interested in it? And, how did it all begin for Tei Shi?   


I have always been singing, always! Since I was very little I would write little songs, and performing was part of my life in different ways growing up. I studied music in college and that was when I really decided to pursue a career in music, not really knowing exactly what form that would take. During my years at music school, I learned to record myself, basic production skills and I was writing and recording myself, but in a very private way. It was just for me. Once I graduated, I moved to New York and tried working in some different corners of the music industry — booking, publishing, etcetera. I recorded my first EP that year, which was made up of songs I’d written mostly at music school, and that took off on the blogs and led to my first opportunities. I started gigging around New York, and one thing led to another.  

 

Now where exactly do you hail from? And growing up there, who all did / do you consider to be your strongest musical influences?  

    

I spent my early childhood in Bogotá, Colombia, and later my family immigrated to Canada. I grew up mostly in Vancouver, but moved back to Colombia as a teenager, then back to Canada to finish high school. I basically grew up back and forth between Colombia and Canada.

Some of my strongest influences would be Prince, Kate Bush, Missy Elliott, Mariah Carey, Aventura, Caetano Veloso, Madonna…   

Tei Shi
Tei Shi

In having said that, how do you classify your overall sound and / or style?   


I hate to classify - I usually just ask people to listen to it, and decide for themselves :)   


Switching gears here, what exactly do you want people to get from your music?      

 

I’d like people to find something new, a new feeling or vibration, to feel connected to their emotions and to others when they hear my voice, to feel accompanied by it, and to find some type of transcendence from regular reality when they dive into the music or come to a show.   


If you could collaborate with any one artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?      

  

Prince.   


If you could play any venue in the world, which one would you choose and why?    

    

Probably like the Colosseum in Rome or an old opera house, something very ancient like that.   


On a more serious note, are you happy with the current state of music? 


I could go on for a long time about this one! I’m happy with where Pop artists are starting to take music…I think artists who take risks and are more experimental with their work are being embraced by larger audiences, language / cultural barriers are less and less relevant, and same as genre. However, I’m definitely concerned with where the industry is headed and what the future for artists, especially independent artists like me, will be. I hope there is a sustainable future for artists.   


What do you feel has and will continue to be the key to your longevity?      

  

The fact that I just keep going! The fact that I’m not focused on clout or trends, but on creating, collaborating and crafting work that will resonate beyond a moment in time. I am a musician at my core, so I’ll always make music, and I believe it will only keep getting better and better.   


Do you have any other outside / additional (future) aspirations, maybe even completely away from music? 


Definitely! I’d love to go back to school one day, to study something for enjoyment, without the pressure of having to build a career out of it. I’d love to do theater, and make music for a film.

  

To date, what has been your biggest career moment(s), at least thus far anyway?  

      

Honestly, I think my biggest career moment was getting myself out of a horrible contract I was in and getting my independence back. I feel like my career is really starting now.  

 

What’s an average day like for you? 


It really depends on what I’m focusing on - if I’m touring or writing / recording. Lately, it’s a lot of emails, meetings and calls, putting together my live show, organizing files, pulling wardrobe for my tour, doing interviews, shooting / editing stuff. I don’t think people know how much straight up admin is involved in being an independent artist. I spend a lot of my day on my computer and / or phone, which is not ideally how I’d like to spend my days long term!    

Please discuss how you interact with and respond to fans...  


I love interacting with fans in person - at shows I have the opportunity to connect physically and to chat with fans when I have enough energy to go to the merch booth. I also feel like I run into fans in the world now and then, and that’s always nice because I get to interact with them as a regular, everyday person. I’m still wrapping my head around digital interaction and figuring out what works with me with my fans. I love seeing what they create with my music, too.   


What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? And, why?  


Most favorite, collaborating with other artists, whether it be musically or visually. Least favorite, emails and dealing with the business side.    


What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps? 


Be ready to grind for several years before you start to see the rewards of your efforts. Don’t be impatient, spend more time and energy figuring out what you love, what you’re good at, and how to get better at it, rather than trying to gain followers / schmooze / social climb. That’s always been my vibe, though maybe I would be farther ahead in my career if I’d done the opposite…lol!  


Looking ahead, say five or maybe even ten years from now, where do you see yourself?  

   

I see myself having built my own studio where peers and collaborators come through and create with me. I see myself making many more albums where I get to explore whatever I want and bounce around. I see myself having done more work in other areas; like fashion, film, etcetera, and touring when I feel like it to amazing and loyal fans. I see myself playing big stages all over the world and headlining festivals. I see myself FREE and empowered!!   

Tei Shi
Tei Shi

As for the immediate, what's next for Tei Shi?  


I’m halfway through my headline tour for Valerie, and I’m hoping to add another leg of shows so I can hit some of the cities I missed on this first part. I’d love to perform in Latin America for the first time this year and do some touring down there. I also really want to go back to Europe, play some shows there and get inspired. I feel like I want to lean into DJing more because it brings me a lot of joy. Mainly though, I just want to get back into the studio and keep the music coming. Hopefully, some fun collaborations and branching more into fashion as well.   


Lastly, any “parting” words for our readers?  


You are one with the force, and the force is with you!



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