Tei Shi makes introspective pop from the ground up | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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Tei Shi makes introspective pop from the ground up 

“It’s an assertive, powerful thing to perform.”

Tei Shi is a pop performer from New York City. Valerie Teicher, an artist who came up in the vibrant, multi-faceted Brooklyn DIY scene, is the brains behind Tei Shi. While some may have the idea that DIY scenes are the primarily the stomping grounds of punk and rock acts, Teicher says that’s not the case any longer.

“People are straddling genres, making experimental stuff, and DIY can make it more accessible,” said Teicher in a recent phone interview. “The bridge between pop and experimental and alternative, it doesn’t exist anymore. There’s a lot more people in total control of what they are doing, so the divide doesn’t have to exist anymore.” 

And Teicher does control her music from top to bottom. She self-produces her music and carefully selects collaborators from New York to Los Angeles to help her realize the vision for her songs. 

“I’m always learning more and more about producing,” she says. “I got much more hands-on with [Crawlspace]. It was super collaborative, and I’m there every step of the way. I’m learning a ton, and I hope to get to the place where I can [produce] for other people.”

Most of the material for this album began with Teicher using just Ableton, a microphone and the occasional Midi keyboard to construct the bones, before working with others on building out beats and detail-oriented production touches. 

Crawlspace, Tei Shi’s debut full-length, begins with a tape recording of her father helping her set up a little karaoke machine with tape-recording capabilities. Next comes the tiny voice of a young Valerie Teicher explaining how to record into the microphone.

She uses these intimate childhood tapes as direction on the record. One particularly powerful piece of tape precedes “Justify.” On it, that little voice speaks closely into the microphone with the intensity and attitude that thrives in youth: “I’m a bad singer, I confess it. And I’m a helluva bad girl.” 

“Justify” is an anthemic track with minimal instrumentation and vocals that show off the intense range of styles Teicher is able to bust out. It dismantles her childhood claim of being a bad singer, while espousing the baddest of cool bad-girl vibes in its pounding bass and Prince-esque screams.

“It’s bare-bones in production and instrumentation. It’s minimalistic, but it hits really hard,” says Teicher. “It’s all about the vocal performance. Performing those screams is out of my norm, so I love doing it live.

“It’s just an assertive, powerful, empowering thing to perform.” 

Those tapes connect the themes of emotional intensity, vulnerability and discovery, things that adults experience through a different lens than their younger selves. 

“What struck me about those tapes was this moment of shock. I can’t believe I was thinking, feeling, saying those things, but I was also relating to it,” explains Teicher. “We can relate a lot to our younger versions of ourselves, these unfiltered versions of ourselves when we grow up.” 

Revealing such intimate peeks into your childhood can be really intimidating, but Teicher wasn’t nervous about sharing. “Once you put something really personal out there, it’s there. You have no choice but to roll with it,” she says. “And a lot of people really related to it, reaching out to me about stuff like those tapes they’d found of themselves as kids, and how it felt to confront that sometimes embarrassing personal history.” 

The album’s sound ranges from dark dreamy pop (“Your World”) to bouncy dance tunes like “Crawl” and “Say You Do.” Introspective tracks like “Keep Running” call forth feelings like nostalgia, fear of aging and contemplative reflection, while “How Far” and its layers of falsetto confront interpersonal conflicts of changing yourself, or trying to change others in an attempt to make things work. 

For Teicher, much of the inspiration for the visual elements accompanying the record came from Italian horror director Dario Argento’s films. Argento directed semi-surreal films like Inferno and Suspiria, and had a producer credit and did soundtrack work on George Romero’s zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. Argento’s earlier work inspired Teicher to incorporate a retro style of plush textures and colors in her videos.

You can see this in the video for “Keep Running,” as bright colors and soft lighting draw the eye, and the silk costuming pairs with imagery of a tarantula gently crawling on Teicher’s face. 

In the video for “How Far,” a disheveled Teicher crawls out of the trunk of a seemingly abandoned vehicle only to be chased by it. Shots of Teicher taking refuge in an abandoned building, whose concrete yard is surrounded by barbed wire, and bleeding from an unseen injury, give way to shots of her being chased by the car again. It seems like a thriller-movie metaphor for running away from and returning to an unhealthy love. 

“I love horror films, old ones. I got into this Italian, campy horror stuff,” says Teicher. “It’s the cinematic, visually stunning and psychological-horror stuff I really love. I don’t really care for the modern, gory stuff.” 

While Teicher works on collaborations and small projects between tours, the release of new visual elements from Crawlspace will keep fans satiated as they wait for new tunes; Teicher confirms a new video is on the way. 

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