In Conversation: Tei Shi on Going Indie with “Die 4 Ur Love”
The EP marks the Colombian-Canadian songwriter’s first release since cutting ties with her major label.
In 2004, Gwen Stefani and Linda Perry wrote a bizarro pop song perfectly suited for the Madhatter’s chintzy tea party. “What You Waiting For,” from Stefani’s vibrant solo debut Love. Angel. Music. Baby., intensely addresses simultaneous pressure from the music industry, the sexism that fuels it, and her own personal qualms. Also, the song itself is maniacally fun. It’s a hodgepodge of pop music grandiosity that partly inspired Die 4 Ur Love, the latest project from the Colombian-Canadian musician Valerie Teicher, a.k.a. Tei Shi.
Sewing drama, humor, and delusion into five standout tracks, Die 4 Ur Love is Teicher’s most dynamic work to date. Whether it’s a house beat and Spanish guitar or nightmares and daydreams, unlikely pairings thrive together on the EP. There’s no literal romantic ties to the music—rather, the EP was prompted by her frustration with her label. “It’s a combination of what I went through last year with the label situation and my experience feeling crushed and disappointed with a lot of my experiences in the music industry,” she says over the phone from her Los Angeles home. Take the biting, synth-heavy closer “Goodbye,” where the words “Got my freedom / Also I’m making a hit” fit the equation of a suffocating business deal just as nicely as recuperating from a lame love affair.
Initially, Teicher was going to title it “Apocalypse.” But then the world broke. “I changed that because, you know, everything that’s going on. ‘This feels too on the nose,’” she says. Before COVID-19 and murder hornets, Teicher was going through her own hell. The doom was creeping up on her. “A personal apocalypse,” as she puts it. One part of her world that was collapsing underneath her was the relationship with her label Downtown Records. Teicher released her debut full-length Crawl Space in 2017 via Downtown, a year after the independent label signed a distribution deal with Interscope.
With momentum built from Crawl Space’s release and an exciting move from New York to Los Angeles, Teicher was already building an enchanting paradise for her sophomore album, La Linda. Instead, the happiness that inspired that LP would turn stale with label neglect. “La Linda was the album that got me out of my label deal that I was on, which I was very, very unhappy in. By the time I got it out, it was me freeing myself of that. It has a lot to do with why I made this EP and why I wanted to get it out quickly,” she explains. She unleashed the dreamy, verdant landscape of La Linda this past November. Two months later, Teicher would be working on a much more cinematic—and slightly grim—project.
We spoke with Teicher about her post-label rebirth and manifesting varying degrees of loss on her new EP Die 4 Ur Love.
I read you started working on Die 4 Ur Love in January. Were you planning on releasing it around this time regardless?
If anything, I was planning on releasing it a little earlier. I did a writing trip in January, and I told myself I was going to make a whole project during that time. I knew it wasn’t going to be a full album because I only had, like, six days to write the music. I wanted it to be something shorter, just a snapshot. My plan was to get that out as quickly as possible. I was going to be touring through most of March, and then my plan was to finish that up right after.
What was the writing camp like?
I went to this really awesome ranch in Texas called Sonic Ranch. It’s this big pecan orchard, but they have amazing studios built on it. It’s kind of like this oasis for artists to go and write and record. I went there with this person that I ended up co-writing this whole EP with, Daniel Ledinsky. He’s the first person that I’ve worked with in a real songwriting capacity. Most of the time I write melody and lyrics by myself in isolation. I had a hard time in the past when I tried to work with other songwriters in that way. Daniel is somebody that I developed a great relationship with, and we work really well together. We were just like, let’s do whatever. And we ended up writing this EP together.
The process was cool, because it was basically just me and him. Then there were other people, other bands working at the ranch on their own stuff. There’s a cool thing that happens out there where, inevitably, you start collaborating with people. There was this band from Argentina that I met who are really amazing. Bandalos Chinos is their name. I ended up doing a song with them for their record. And then one of the keyboard players of the band ended up sending me a bunch of beats that he’d made. And I wrote two songs over that. It was a cool, collaborative thing, but it was still very isolated. Most of the time it just felt like me and a mic and Daniel. It was just very fun and very quick. We wrote a song a day.
“It was a cool, collaborative thing, but it was still very isolated. Most of the time it just felt like me and a mic and Daniel [Ledinsky]. It was just very fun and very quick. We wrote a song a day.”
What is it specifically that you love about working with Daniel?
I just love his writing. He’s a songwriter by trade. I’ve never really gotten the chance to work with someone whose writing I love as a fan. It was cool because I just wholeheartedly trusted him, his opinion or his instinct. One of the things I’ve learned about writing that way, with someone that you respect and vibe with, is to have a sound board like something to bounce off of. Once you say it out loud and there’s someone else to hear there, it completely changes everything. It becomes a conversation. For me, one of the things that I have been wanting to do is become a better songwriter in terms of being able to write in different ways. And so I’ve always wanted to be able to write songs that are more telling a story, or from a perspective of a character.
A couple of the songs we made are much more like telling a story. There’s a song on there, “OK, Crazy” that we wrote. We’d been talking about stalkers and their psychology. What are the different sides of that character? It’s something that I was only able to do having somebody else there. I think a lot of the time it’s hard to step outside of yourself when you’re writing alone, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do more of.
In regard to “OK, Crazy,” I’m interested in the perspective of who you’re singing to.
We were having a conversation—for whatever reason—about stalkers. People who are real, real stalkers—like a stranger who is following somebody that they’re obsessed with, and that person doesn’t know who they are—and the ways in which that is kind of relatable. The sides of it where it can be perceived as something sweet and kind of beautiful and cute. But then it can also be something dangerous and horrible and dark and fucked up. We were trying to explore those two things.
Overall, the EP is touching on both of those things a little bit: the sweetness and intimacy, but also how it’s dark and off-putting. At the beginning of the year before I went on the writing trip, I was feeling this very—for lack of a better word—apocalyptic state of mind. When I wrote the EP, I was gonna call it “Apocalypse.” Then I changed that because, you know, everything that was going on. ‘This feels too on the nose.’ That’s where those songs were coming from. That song in particular, like the whole nightmare/daydream thing, I trying to drill in this weird, diluted, crazy reality—but making it fun.
Especially the end where you repeat “Everybody get on the floor,” it’s a mix of a traditional pop song saying “Everybody get on the dancefloor” and a robber coming in to blow up your life.
Yeah, exactly! I’m glad that that came across.
I’m interested in what it was like writing this, dealing with your own sense of the word “apocalypse” while also experiencing the cultural shift that everyone was going through.
When I wrote this EP, it was both the personal stuff and this idea of your own personal apocalypse, how easy it is for it to feel like your world is ending when something changes, a relationship ends, something just shifts your reality in that way. I was feeling a bigger existential dread. It’s weird because there was a delay between that and everything I’ve been feeling through what we’ve all been experiencing. I wrote those songs then I went away. I put together my tour. I was very excited to go on the road—everything was about the live show. And then I came home and everything started unfolding.
That has felt strange. But in some ways it’s cool. It made the EP resonate in new ways for me and I think, hopefully, it’s gained meaning now for when people listen. It’s going to bring out different things that a lot of us are feeling, given our circumstances now that maybe it wouldn’t have if it was just the EP existing on its own.
“I knew that I wanted the EP to feel, for the most part, upbeat, intense, and chaotic—but also fun. Those were things that I felt I needed right now. I wanted to just fucking put something on loud and thrash and dance around, but also wallow in my own frustration.”
Was it hard to stay creatively driven? Or maybe like, the universe affirming those feelings?
It is affirming in a weird way. I wrote the music in January, but then all of the production and shaping of the sonics and what the EP was overall happened during quarantine. I knew that I wanted the EP to feel, for the most part, upbeat, intense, and chaotic—but also fun. Those were things that I felt I needed right now. I wanted to just fucking put something on loud and thrash and dance around, but also wallow in my own frustration. Those were the things that I wanted to get across that came together more so in those quarantine months. It came full circle.
The EP feels like a far jump from 2019’s La Linda. Do you see this as an unrelated project, or is it an extension?
I see them as two very separate things. Because La Linda was this thing that took me a long time to get out—I was working on that music for a few years—by the time it came out I had felt somewhat removed from it. I was very ready to move onto the next thing. La Linda was the album that got me out of my label deal that I was on, which I was very, very unhappy in. By the time I got it out, it was me freeing myself of that. It has a lot to do with why I made this EP and why I wanted to get it out quickly. I wanted to do my thing. I wanted to do something the way I wanted to do it, and when I wanted to do it and take advantage of that freedom and that control that I didn’t have for a few years.
The reason I asked if they were connected is because both projects reference a character named “Johnny.” Are they related at all?
I was wondering if somebody was going to notice that because I realized…it’s not that it’s one person that those songs are about and connecting them. To me, the name “Johnny” is like a symbol. Something about the name Johnny to me is like a blank slate. It feels like folklore. I’ve used that name as a stand-in for a variety of people. I don’t know how to say it, the emotion in both of those songs are similar. There’s a connection in terms of disappointment. But it’s definitely not about the same person. I feel like “Johnny” to me is all the men who have disappointed you or fucked you over. It doesn’t even have to be men necessarily. But to me, Johnny was, “OK, how can I write about all the fuckbois?”
Are you going to be releasing music independently for the time being, or do you want to re-sign with another label?
I definitely know that I don’t want to sign with a traditional label deal. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that again. I’ve created my own little system now. I have a new team and it’s a very small team but I work with them on everything. That’s a very different feeling, being able to guide your time than being tied to a company that is its own entity and has its own interests that are very far removed from your work. I honestly don’t think that that’s something anyone should be doing right now.
What was your biggest lesson in that situation?
I feel like I’m just now processing a lot of it. If you’re going to put your work in somebody’s hands, and basically give them the revenue to your work and put them in charge of making that work matter, pushing it and making it relevant, you have to be careful who you give that to. In my experience, you sign to a label that a couple years later is not the same company. Everybody has left and there’s all new people. The internal structure of the company changes, they’re owned by somebody else. The most important thing is being able to decide who works on your stuff. My ideal situation is being able to hire my own people to work with me, instead of signing to a company that then hires people that you’re assigned to, and then those people might leave and maybe nobody fills their position. That’s the situation that I went through, of never knowing this place and who is accountable for what. The more control you have over the hands you’re putting your career into the better. FL