Through the process of making any new work the creator is transformed, a different person, having processed the feelings, experiences or dreams that make for the art. It can also work the other way, the process of making and sharing work transforming the creator. For Tei Shi – Valerie Teicher – releasing and touring her debut album had a flow-on effect on her personal life, which in turn formed the foundation of her new record, La Linda. A lavish sonic wonderland of bilingual R‘n’B-influenced pop music named for an idealistic apartment block in her newly adopted home of Los Angeles, La Linda sees Teicher on solid ground. Equanimous and embracing her lot in life, La Linda is Tei Shi’s honest, authentic expression of someone in tune with where they’re at in this moment in time, owning every minute and move.
Coming off the road after making and touring her debut album, Crawl Space, Teicher knew she was overdue to make something new, she just didn’t know what that something was to be. “I really needed to start writing some new music. I knew that I was writing for a new album but I wasn’t really doing it from a starting point of knowing what it was going to be exactly. Once I had three or four songs that I was excited about I started really thinking about the album as a whole, and that’s where the overall vision for the album starting coming together, hand in hand as I was writing it.”
With a handful of songs sketched out, Teicher’s internal processes began to emerge externally. “After that first period of writing without thinking about it too much, I started noticing some threads, patterns, some themes. The headspace I was in, I was closing a particular chapter of my life and opening a new one, and that gave me this different mindset that I hadn’t really written from before.” As a result, La Linda looks back from a peaceful distance and forwards with anticipation, Teicher’s voice sounding stronger and more at home than ever amid the record’s plush, shimmering soundscape.
Shedding the skin that had shaped Crawl Space, La Linda developed with a refreshed outlook. “I noticed that I was writing from a more happy, positive place. It’s not that the album as a whole is all happy, but I felt like I was really actively moving on from a lot of things that had played a big role in my life, and I was embracing that idea of letting go and moving into the future in a positive and welcoming way – I felt like a lot of what I was writing was touching on this idea of looking into the future and seeing something bright,” she says. Stepping back and looking at her feelings objectively, Teicher was able to see clearly and celebrate them. “Letting go of this fear of being happy and fear of falling in love again, forgiveness, trusting – just throwing your hands up and letting myself feel those things – these were all on my mind. It took me a while to identify those things as being good.”
For Teicher, her process is driven by a desire to float in the magical zone where true, authentic creation is conjured, and the desire for those creations to resonate beyond herself.
“There’s such an excitement you get when you’re creating something or when you’re almost creating something, you’re trying to catch this thing that’s almost like trying to catch the end of a balloon that’s floating away.
The desire to make the thing you’re imagining, and the desire to make other people feel something, to translate a feeling, this is the ideal I have in my head,” she says.
As she pushed herself deeper into the process of working with a team of musicians and producers, Teicher’s abilities as an artist and collaborator expanded. After working with a small crew on Crawl Space, Teicher worked closely with Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes in the studio and on tour, emboldening her to invite more people into the process of La Linda. “Going into this album I really wanted [to] work and get more comfortable with a lot of different people, letting my guard down that way,” she says.
Project-managing a record with so many moving parts forced Teicher to establish what she wanted La Linda to be, with the responsibility for achieving her goals falling squarely on her own shoulders, a proposition that pushed her into hitherto unknown and ultimately rewarding places. “It kind of turned into this process where I worked with a bunch of different people but I was then having to take on this particular role myself where I was functioning almost like an executive producer,” she says. “Because I was working with a lot of different people and there’s all these pieces of things that needed to come together – doing drums with this person and then taking those drums and having somebody else do all the keys and then bringing that to someone else to record the vocals – I really had to have a super clear idea of how I wanted everything to sound. It was very fragmented and I had to be really on top of my shit and make sure I was steering the ship.”
Teicher’s dedication to her craft has at times fed a work-life imbalance, one she’s grappled but now made peace with; while relationships may be strained from time to time, her work ultimately fosters a satisfaction she can’t deny. Accepting that imbalance, acknowledging that her career takes precedence and relationships need to fall in step with that, enabled her to go all in and pour everything into La Linda.
“When you’re hustling as an artist you have to be self-centred and not a very reliable person to a lot of people in your life. Not everyone is comfortable with that,”
she says. “I think there are a lot of struggles I’ve had with relationships in the past that play a role in that transformation, and me stepping up and really taking ownership of my shit. For me, my passion is my work and that to me is number one, so it’s always tough for me opening up and getting into a relationship because I always have a fear that it’s going to derail me from that.”
Turning challenges into opportunities, and perceived weaknesses into strengths, Teicher grew personally in step as her world as Tei Shi evolved beyond expectations. “I started in a really DIY place where I wasn’t really expecting much. I was really just doing everything myself, and from there to signing to a label and releasing an album that way, I think that exposed me to so many hurdles and obstacles that you’re never prepared for, at least that was my experience,” she says.
Rather than defeating her, the challenges not only made her more determined, but more keenly aware of who she is and what she wants from this life. “When you have that kind of trajectory I think it’s impossible not to have some kind of transformation. From being young and sweet and naive and like, ‘Oh this is my music I hope you like it’, kind of thing to having to really take control and be like, ‘No this is who I am and this is what I’m doing.’ Almost becoming a little more aggressive about it because that’s the nature of the beast. A lot of the experiences I’ve had in navigating the industry, I’ve really had to step up and become much more assertive and affirmative about what I want my music to be and what kind of artist I want to be and how I want to do things – these experiences have really made me who I am.”
The soft power of La Linda is a tantalising testament to that.
PHOTOGRAPHY Drew Escriva
FASHION Karolyn Pho
TALENT Tei Shi
HAIR Candice Birns
MAKEUP Homa Safar
PHOTOGRAPHER'S ASSISTANT Louis Marzin