Interview: Tei Shi’s ‘BAD PREMONITION’ Sets Her Free

Tei Shi © Leeay
Tei Shi © Leeay
Tei Shi touches on freedom, standing your ground, and making space for your own brand of creativity on her latest release ‘BAD PREMONITION.’
Stream: ‘BAD PREMONITION’ – Tei Shi

Any artist will tell you that sometimes, you have to fight tooth and nail to release what you want to put out in the world.

Nobody feels that more than Valerie Teicher, better known by her moniker Tei Shi. After two less-than-ideal label deals, she’s finally free to do what she pleases as an independent artist. The Colombian/Canadian singer/songwriter and producer started making music 10 years ago, but her love for music, performance, and all things artistic began way before that. From a kid who simply loved art to being a full-fledged artistic powerhouse, she’s stayed true to herself every step of the way. Tei Shi’s bilingual, multicultural identity has long been an anchoring point in her approach to music and writing. Her most recent release BAD PREMONITION is no exception, featuring hard-hitting Spanglish track “QUIÉN TE MANDA?” and shifting between various genres and tempos across the EP with startling fluidity.

Bad Premonition EP - Tei Shi
Bad Premonition EP – Tei Shi
Quién te manda
Te pasaste y ahora tienes q tragar tus palabras
Ni te digo lo bien que me siento desde que te vas
Y lo fresca que estoy, pero no se te ocurra pasar
A ver, a ver
Hello, hello who’s there?
Que vaina con usted
De parte d quién?
I’m working again
When everyone’s sleeping
– “¿QUIÉN TE MANDA?,” Tei Shi

The project is a powerful display of reclamation and release after her struggles with label partnerships that hindered her ability to own her work, but it’s also a celebration. Now more than ever, Tei Shi is taking her power back and taking a stand, letting her full self shine through her music and so much more.

If I didn’t say it
You might think I’m the silent type
Although forgiveness is in my nature
You’ve been crossing the line
You’ve been taking what’s mine
Well, we had it then, but now it’s over
Take a look around
Don’t let me catch you coming over for a second chance
You think you know but you don’t, but you don’t
Look you got your grip around me and you’re not letting go
Think you got me in the palm of your hand
What don’t you understand, I need that money
– “GRIP,” Tei Shi

Tei Shi’s punchy yet poignant production and thoroughly emotive delivery make BAD PREMONITION one of the most expressive EPs released this year, and it seems it’s just the beginning of what we can expect from her.

Atwood Magazine spoke to Tei Shi as she dove deep into being a bilingual artist, getting her start in the blog scene of the 2010s, and entering the world of fashion.

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:: stream/purchase BAD PREMONITION here ::
:: connect with Tei Shi here ::


Bad Premonition EP - Tei Shi

Atwood Magazine: So how's everything going after wrapping up the Bad Premonition tour in San Francisco?

Tei Shi: It was a really good show in San Francisco and yeah, I’m good. I’m just kind of wrapping my head around not being on the road anymore. Before my headline tour, I was opening for Kimbra for two months, so 2023 has been mostly on the road. Now I’m just trying to transition into normal life again and I’m really happy to be back home.

Was there any specific date that really stood out on tour?

Tei Shi: To be honest, it was such a sweet tour because since it was only 10 days, every show really stood out and had its own personality. But, I think the Chicago show is going to stick in my mind for a long time because it was one of those days that’s just a tour nightmare. We were flying from Toronto to Chicago the morning of the show and ended up missing our flight, so we had to run to another airport to catch another flight. Bags were lost and we got to Chicago super late, maybe right before doors opened, and did the fastest soundcheck ever. It was just one of those days on tour, but when you have those shitshow days, it makes the show count so much more and it gives you so much to just unleash during the show. It was really one of those, and it was packed, it was really fun. It felt like one of those really fulfilling shows.

Tei Shi © Leeay
Tei Shi © Leeay

So how did you first get into music and what was your upbringing like?

Tei Shi: I’ve always loved music and had a really strong connection to music. When I was about two years old I started ballet and I did that until I was 15. I think as far back as six or seven years old, I was writing little songs in my diary, writing lyrics and poems. But that was always a super private, personal endeavor that I never shared with anyone. As I grew up, I didn’t really see a way to actually make a career out of that, because I didn’t have the reference points. I was going to school for psychology, and figuring out what I wanted to do. Then I had a pretty serendipitous experience where I ended up doing this audition and I was given a scholarship to go to music school in Boston. It really put me in that environment of meeting other musicians, being around other artists, and learning about the foundation of music. That was where I started learning to record myself on my computer. I was writing more and more stuff on my own and kind of learning to produce a little bit, and that was where I made my first EP that I released as Tei Shi.

I know that you had some bad experiences with labels. How did that happen and how has your situation changed now that you’re independent?

Tei Shi: I started putting music out and being an artist publicly at a time when it was still “the blog world,” you know? There wasn’t really streaming yet. There weren’t the structures in place that we have now. It was fun, and it was free, and I started with that freedom. Tei Shi was born out of the spirit of being an independent artist in that scene. I think when you sign to a label, especially early on, you’re not really aware of the fact that you’re relinquishing a lot of control over your livelihood to a company. I was trying to move forward with my career and keep releasing music and I ended up just not being able to do that. Then I tried my hand at a different type of label partnership where I basically wasn’t allowed to release music and not being dropped when I was begging to be dropped. I’d release an album, and then there would be two years of absolutely nothing. I had to fight against some very narrow-minded perspectives of how a female artist should be marketed, how a multicultural bilingual artist should be marketed, and what kind of music I should be making. All those decisions which at the end of the day, are decisions that an artist should be making if you’re an artist who has that vision. It was really crushing actually, when I experienced that for a second time. But having that freedom and being back in the driver’s seat is really amazing. I think it’s the beginning of a really exciting new phase for me.

Tei Shi © Leeay
Tei Shi © courtesy of Tei Shi

Did you do a lot of writing during the pandemic?

Tei Shi: At first, I just kind of focused on finishing that EP that I released in the summer of 2020. I was definitely making music and working at home, but it was more about finishing things. Then I decided to start writing for the next album. I was looking for support [from the label] to be able to make music in the circumstances of the pandemic and I just wasn’t getting that. Instead, I was getting really intense pressure to perform in certain ways that were impossible given the pandemic. So, I had a really crazy creative block for several months because I was getting a lot of toxic rhetoric and it just really got in my head. I think the first song I wrote that kind of reignited everything was the title track “BAD PREMONITION.” Gradually, the songs started coming out as I started addressing some of the things that were not working for me and getting myself out of that situation. That’s kind of when all the songs that ended up on the EP really came to me and came together.

I noticed some themes around breaking out of that darker place on the EP, and the themes of liberation on there, which are really timely and relatable, I think.

Tei Shi: Yeah, definitely a lot of that and a lot of acknowledging the repetition of certain patterns, situations, and cycles. I think that’s probably something that a lot of people had to do during the pandemic, that self-work or self-observation of really acknowledging your life and your internal landscape. That was all stuff that I was working through while I wrote the EP. So yeah, the liberation theme, that kind of only came later, but I like that that’s kind of the tone that the EP has in its final form.

Tei Shi © Leeay
Tei Shi © Leeay

How would you say this EP differs from Die 4 Ur Love, for example?

Tei Shi: I didn’t necessarily have the creative control that I wanted when I made that EP. It was a frustrating process for me, to be honest. I love the songs, but there were things that I wanted to do with some of them that I just wasn’t able to. I wanted to just be like, “boom, here’s something fun,” not overthinking it. I wanted it to be a step into this pop world, pushing myself as a songwriter, so that EP was kind of a result of that. But I wouldn’t say that that EP was my most authentic, creative expression. I think it was really banger songs and I was able to do what I really wanted with one or two of them.

With BAD PREMONITION, it’s completely the opposite. The majority of the songs were from when I was trying to convince my label at the time to let me release them. So I was trying to prove something, you know? By making these songs that I felt were really strong, standalone songs, and then I got that freedom back to do whatever I wanted with them. So it was this combination of wanting to prove myself through this EP, like, here’s what I can create on my own with the freedom to just do it the way I wanted to and play around and have fun. So, yeah, they’re different. I think they just represent different times, but BAD PREMONITION is definitely more my own, for sure.

How does your Colombian heritage and bilingualism come into your work?

Tei Shi: It’s a really natural thing. I’ve always kind of been writing in Spanish, mostly poems. And, you know, kind of more abstract stuff, I guess. It was something I kind of always did, just as an extension of who I am. So I’ve been releasing stuff in Spanish along the way through my career, but it also was not easy for a long time to do. It wasn’t the way it is now where people just accept and embrace that one artist can be multifaceted and straddle different cultures and languages. So I feel it’s something I’ve always done and has come naturally to me, but it’s not something that I’ve been able to pursue necessarily the way I’ve wanted to until more recently. Yeah, I think on this EP and more in recent years, rather than writing a song in English versus a song in Spanish, it’s been fun not really thinking about language so much and just going with the song. I love just mixing and matching and when you are bilingual and you grow up in an environment where you’re throwing words in Spanish and English together, and you’re kind of talking to your family or friends that way, it’s just a natural way of expressing yourself. And I think people are really open to that now, which is cool.

So you recently walked in the Elena Velez show for Fashion Week. How has fashion been another creative outlet for you?

Tei Shi: It’s honestly been really nice and organic the way that’s unfolded alongside my music career. I’ve always loved fashion and I think for me, music, performance, and aesthetics have always been things that I’ve loved ever since I was a little kid. I’d be like, putting looks together and making little sets and having my parents take photos of me. I’ve been really fortunate to be welcomed and embraced in that space but I’m also really happy that it’s been through my music, which is the most authentic part of me. It feels like entry into a world and an industry that can obviously be very exclusive and superficial, but it can also be a space that’s way more free and experimental than music is right now. So it’s just really fun for me. The Elena thing came super organically, she and I were just fans of each other’s work and following each other online and you know, connected via Instagram and all that. We’ve been talking for a little while, and then she asked me to walk in the show. I’d never walked in a show before and I always wanted to kind of see what the behind-the-scenes was like and it was so much fun. Honestly, I feel really inspired by people in fashion, like Elena who are doing things that are not necessarily the conventional approach to fashion or who are really kind of pushing the ways that we present beauty and glamour. So yeah, I love it. I find it really inspiring, honestly.

What do you have coming up next?

Tei Shi: I definitely have some exciting things coming! I have some fun new merch stuff I’ve been playing around with, handmaking some custom things which I tested out on the tour and it was really cool to see that people loved. So, I’m spending more time on that, and figuring out ways to create things with my hands for my fans beyond music. I have an amazing video coming out, I won’t say what it’s for yet, but it’s coming soon. It’s kind of an exploration of something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, tying my dance background into it, and then some more Spanglish things coming as well. More music, honestly, I have a lot more music that I want to finish over the summer, so I plan on just keeping the music coming and hopefully do more collaborations, and dip into spaces like fashion, and art, and all these things that interest me. So, lots of fun things to come.

Tei Shi © Leeay
Tei Shi © Leeay

Is there any advice that you would give to younger artists who are just starting out?

Tei Shi: I think ultimately, stay open enough to hear people’s thoughts and opinions, but take them with a grain of salt always and really anchor yourself in the thing that gets you going, whatever it is that really excites you. For me, it’s the moment that I’m sitting with a microphone in front of my face, and there’s some sort of music, some sort of inspiration, and there’s that feeling of anything could happen. So, really anchoring yourself to what it is that awakens that in you and protecting that at all costs. If you’re gonna surround yourself with people, and build a team around you, it’s important to be open to their thoughts and their feedback. But, the moment that it starts to fuck with your ability to tap into that thing that really moves you, you need to figure out how to protect that thing. Stay true to that, because I’ve just seen it happen so much and it’s happened to me, you know? The minute that your head gets messed with and you get separated from that creative inspiration, you might as well not be doing it in the first place.

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:: stream/purchase BAD PREMONITION here ::
:: connect with Tei Shi here ::

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Bad Premonition EP - Tei Shi

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