Ever since her childhood in Vancouver, alternative R&B singer Tei Shi—born Valerie Teicher—has worked to conquer her demons.
“I moved around a lot as a kid,” the singer tells the Straight on the line from her New York City home. “Shortly after I landed in Vancouver from Colombia, I had these really intense fears at night, and I just couldn’t sleep. So I used to force myself to sit in the crawlspace for a minute every evening to try and confront those anxieties, and show myself that being in the dark was fine. After a few months, it worked.”
It’s no coincidence that Teicher decided to name her eagerly anticipated debut album Crawl Space. The follow-up to two well-received EPs, Saudade and Verde, the singer’s first full-length offering takes listeners on a journey from her childhood to the present.
Beginning with a simple piano melody and a sample of Teicher’s own 10-year-old voice discussing the best way to record onto a cassette, the album displays the knowledge that the artist has accumulated since her earliest days with a microphone.
“My older sister gave me her boombox, and showed me how I could tape myself,” she says. “I’d sit in my room and sing little song ideas, and just talk.
I would spill out my guts. I totally forgot about those cassettes for a really long time, and then about three years ago, I came across one that my sister had kept. I decided right then that whenever I wanted to make a full-length album, I would include it somehow.”
Although Teicher’s childhood songs might have been humble, her album is anything but. Crawl Space’s 15 sprawling tracks are united by the artist’s acrobatic and ethereal vocals, layered with backing instruments ranging from electronic drums and warm synth pads to jazzy guitar and trumpet samples. Bringing her voice to the forefront and meshing it with sparse musical accompaniment, Teicher reveals a new confidence in her abilities.
“I wanted to spend a lot of time on this record, and explore myself and my musical goals,” she recalls. “After the last EP, I realized that I’d outgrown some of the decisions I’d made, and was being held down by some of the relationships around me. This album was a process of redefining myself, and of connecting myself to the best parts of my past.
“When I was really little, I wanted to make music so badly,” she continues. “And then I lost that dream. I think for a lot of us, after a certain age, you forget those passions that you had as a kid. It was weird for me to come full circle and finish my first album. It was a really powerful moment to celebrate how much I wanted to do this when I was a child.”
Tei Shi plays the Vogue in support of MØ on Friday (March 17).