As Tei Shi puts it, being in control of your life is a process that is constantly evolving. “I feel like I’ve been pretty in control of everything, and felt strongly about that being the case since I started putting music out there,” she explains. “But I think it took me a while to figure out how, where and how best to do that, especially as you begin to surround yourself with more people and your team gets bigger.”
Part of this evolution, Valerie Teicher adds, came from the release of her two EPs, 2013’s ‘Saudade’ and 2015’s ‘Verde’. “I definitely feel like I was my full authentic self at that time, especially with the first EP,” she recalls. “That was a culmination of a bunch of songs I’d written when I was at university ,very privately. I hadn’t shared them with anyone, and I didn’t expect anything out of them. That was almost, like, the purest process.”
Thanks to those EPs, the breakout success of the immensely addictive ‘Bassically’ and the support from a certain Canadian musical genius Grimes, Tei Shi began to realise that, musically, she wanted fulfil a “potential beyond what I had done before”.
“Pursuing being an artist was the biggest fear for me,” she admits. “It was something that I wanted so much for my whole life, but I think I suppressed it out of fear,” Tei Shi ponders. “When I first started putting music out, I was just testing the waters and I didn’t expect it to lead to anything. So, I forced myself into doing this thing that I was really afraid of doing.”
"I forced myself into doing this thing that I was really afraid of doing.”
It wasn’t until work began on her debut album ‘Crawl Space’, however, that the singer saw herself 100% committing to what she was – a musician. Alongside that realisation was the process of breaking away from some negative relationships in her life. “I felt like I had outgrown some of my surroundings and it felt like there was negativity that I needed to get away from,” she says. “I don't know if that necessarily translates in the music, but I do think that a lot of the songs are about the ending of relationships and confronting those moments of accepting the ending of things.”
Luckily, ‘Crawl Space’ delivers both sonically and lyrically. The electronics that littered the ‘Verde’ EP have been stripped back, with Tei Shi’s vocal deliberately pushed forward in the mix. It’s an intense and deeply personal listen, with tracks like ‘How Far’, ‘Baby’ and lead single ‘Keep Running’ emerging from desperate and self-deprecating places.
“I always feel like I carry a heavy sense of nostalgia in my life, like there's something missing and it's in the past,” Tei Shi says. “When I wrote ['Keep Running'], I was thinking about the fact that time is this thing that is constantly escaping us, and there's no way to hold it or to get any kind of stability in it. It's something that we live our lives by but we can't control it at all. It's so intangible and it defines so much of existence. There's something really sad about how tied we are to this thing that is fleeting and is so conceptual and abstract.”
Pausing, she adds: “I just think there's something so poetic about time and how much it defines everything.”
"Britney Spears was my earliest reference to a really powerful female artist.”
It’s a theme that runs throughout the album. Interspersed among the songs are spoken word interludes recorded by Tei Shi when she was a kid with a cassette player. They not only assert her ambitions as a child, but convey a surprising amount of vulnerability.
“That’s what was funny about [the recordings],” she remembers. “The way we are as kids is an exaggerated version of ourselves. It was funny to look back. On the one hand I was more dramatic and down on myself in some ways, but I was so much more passionate about stuff,” Tei Shi adds. “I remember wanting to be a singer and a performer so much, and just feeling such a passion for that. I think I lost that along the way through real life.”
As an eight-year-old Tei Shi says on ‘Bad Singer’, she was just desperate to be like Britney Spears. “[Britney] is an icon, and she was this young girl next door who became this massive powerful star,” she tells us today. “And she was, and is, such an amazing performer. I feel like she was my earliest reference of this really powerful female artist.”
It’s this pure pop inspiration and the realisation that, in her own way perhaps, she is now like Britney Spears, that encouraged the writing of the album’s standout moment, ‘Say You Do’. “It was one of the fastest [times] I've ever written a song; it just kind of came out really naturally. I remember thinking that it was too poppy, and instead of using it myself I wanted to pitch to another artist to do,” she admits. “Over time, I got more and more attached to it. It's definitely the catchiest and best pop song that I've written. In some ways, I knew it didn't really fit but it's a statement to myself: I can do this; I can make a pop song that's immediately translatable to a lot of people because it's catchy and the message is pretty relatable. I liked the idea of throwing that in the mix with things that are more eclectic.”
Don’t let Tei Shi’s seeming ambivalence to her ability to write a cracking pop song fool you, however, as she’s pretty dedicated to being an artist that takes over the world. “I don't want to make what it is currently defined as Top 40 pop music. But I do want to be an artist that gets to a point in her career where my music is listened to globally.
“I want to be ambitious about what I do,” Tei Shi concludes.