Tei Shi takes us inside her dreamlike world on 'La Linda'
The artist's sophomore album finds her more self-assured and hopeful than ever.
Photo by Erica Hernandez.
When Valerie Teicher a.k.a. Tei Shi moved to Los Angeles from New York in 2017, she came across a quaint apartment complex called La Linda. At the time, she had no idea that it’s name would inspire the rich, sonic universe of her highly-anticipated second album. The Spanish phrase, which translates to “the beautiful,” became Teicher’s working title for her new record. And it stuck. Her new album La Linda, which calls to a dreamlike, idyllic place, is out today.
Before relocating to the West Coast, Teicher made a name for herself as one of the most influential artists within the New York music scene from the release of her first EP Saudade in 2013 to her groundbreaking full length debut Crawl Space in 2017. While La Linda’s humble beginnings can be traced back to Teicher’s tiny, Chinatown apartment, the album came together over the last two years in LA. The songs, in both English and Spanish, are informed by the feeling of freedom and sense of rebirth she found there. “I was feeling really inspired and like I’d stepped into this paradise,” the Colombian-Canadian musician says. “It was beautiful — nature, open space, birds chirping everywhere. I just felt so happy and I hadn’t really felt that way in a long time.”
On La Linda, Teicher channels the sounds of her childhood — lush Brazilian music from the 60s and 70s and romantic Spanish ballads — and lets us into her emotional world. It’s a rich journey through the depths of heartbreak to falling in love again and starting the next chapter. While the process of fulfilling her creative vision came with its own challenges in the music industry, the album sees Teicher more self-assured and fully formed than ever.
Over the course of the past few months, i-D spoke with Teicher at her airy home in LA and in New York, naturally at a crowded Chinatown cafe, to hear how La Linda took shape.
What were some of your influences in looking at the album as a whole?
I think the biggest inspiration or influence has just been being in a place like [LA], around nature and open space. I went from feeling really stifled, frustrated, and stressed all the time in New York to this fresh start, and being in this place that visually is inspiring. That felt reinvigorating. Also, the collaborative environment here. I wanted to open myself up to this world of working with a bunch of different people because before I’d been really closed off to that in a way.
The album overall tracks the closing of a chapter, waving goodbye, and diving into this new thing which I think goes hand in hand with leaving New York. There are some songs that are about relationships that were ending after my last album, so looking back and reflecting on that. Then that goes into this new beginning — falling in love again, experiencing that, opening yourself up, being vulnerable. This album is coming out of that into a more hopeful, positive, and happy perspective.
A more self-assured place.
Definitely. Even the songs on this album that might be a little sad or angry, they’re coming from a place that’s empowered. There’s a confidence and self-assuredness in my personal life and in my work since Crawl Space. At that time, I was dealing with a lot of insecurities. My self-esteem was low and I didn't know how to take control of my work and my life, and how to do that in a way that felt satisfying and made me feel happy. [Now] I’m on the other side where I’ve put myself out there, gotten to know myself better, and also distanced myself from toxic relationships.
It’s weird because people always say that when you get to the end of your 20s you settle into yourself in a way. I think that’s what I’ve been experiencing. There’s this kind of internal growth that I’ve experienced, and that a lot of people experience and the album is definitely about that. It’s about recognizing that past that’s brought you to where you are, recognizing whatever pain, or baggage, and then just kind of being like, ‘Okay, now I’m moving forward with that experience and with that knowledge.’ It’s not defining me. It’s not affecting me in the way that it used to.
How are you feeling now that the album is about to be released?
I’m feeling mixed emotions because honestly, this album took way longer than I wanted to get it out in the world. I think this happens a lot, [where] you have this initial phase of inspiration, creativity, and excitement. Then if you’re not able to act on that quickly, you end up in this weird purgatory. For me, there were a lot of things that happened that were not in my control and I was just sitting still for awhile. I’ve felt so many different emotions outside of the emotions of the music. But I am really excited to finally have it out there. For people that have been listening to my music, I think it’s going to be a good progression for them and I think it’s going to show what I can do on a bigger scale, musically and creatively.
You even thought about not putting it out.
Yeah, I thought about scrapping it. I had a lot of hopes and plans for the album and little by little it became clear that I just didn’t have the team behind me to make those things happen. I was just hitting a wall over and over again, just for basic things that I needed to finish it. And to have any help with it whatsoever was like screaming into a vacuum. I felt so emotionally invested in it and so much love towards the project, but I felt like if I put it out it wasn’t going to get the support and the love that it needed. Then eventually I didn’t really have a choice and just realized that at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters to me is that people who care about the music get the music. I didn’t want to do something half-hearted and I didn’t want to withhold something that I spent a lot of time and hard work making.
So, I did this very full-circle thing where I ended back up at this place where it’s super DIY again. I was doing everything myself, connecting directly with my fans, and not putting so much weight in the things that at one point I was putting a lot of stock in — which was trying to get this album to take me to the next level and be more international. And that’s actually been a very cool process. I feel like I’ve taken everything back into my own.
Are there certain tracks that standout when you look back on them?
The songs in Spanish are very much that. Specifically “Matando,” which in my opinion is one of the strongest songs on the record. I felt really proud of it because obviously I speak Spanish and that’s a really big part of my life and identity. I’ve always written in Spanish, but I’d only released one song in Spanish before. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do more of for a long time and I felt really inspired by the fact that in recent years Latin music has become so local. People have responded to it in a way where I was told people would not. I was told it was confusing if you’re an English speaking artist and you’re doing something in Spanish. It doesn’t make sense and it can’t be part of the same package.
Right, or that not everyone can understand it.
And if people can’t understand it then it won’t resonate with them. Or that it’s so confusing to have that be coming from the same person, which to me has always been bullshit because that’s who I am. It’s been really cool seeing how much people embraced music not only in Spanish, but in other languages. That song was me trying to make a song that was undeniable. If you don’t speak the language, it doesn’t matter. It hits you and you feel it. It makes you want to dance, but it’s also emotional.
I did a little trip to this ranch in Texas a year ago and it was at a point in time when I was feeling the most frustrated. I was feeling super stagnant and a friend of mine invited me to go out there and I just spent a few days talking to a few friends. I wrote “Alone in the Universe” and “No Juegues,” recorded them, and almost finished both of those tracks. That was so exhilarating for me because I spent a few months not really writing and just feeling really down. I wasn’t really able to tap into that and that trip set me back on the right path. “Alone in the Universe” in particular was getting back into myself and being like, ‘Okay I’ve got this.’
Where does the concept of La Linda, come from?
The concept started when I was first working on the album. I had just moved to LA and I was feeling this sense of rebirth. I was feeling really inspired and like I’d stepped into this paradise. It was beautiful — nature, open space, birds chirping everywhere. I just felt so happy and I hadn’t really felt that way in a long time. When it comes to making music, I always started from this very sad, somber place and I was trying to figure out how to write from this happy place.
I wanted the sonic landscape to feel very lush, beautiful, and sparkly, kind of bright. Like this beautiful idyllic place. The name was first inspired by this apartment complex that I walked by called La Linda. It had this really cool sign outside and it just kept coming back to me. Over time, it stuck. I like it because in Spanish things are feminine and masculine, so la linda can be referring to a person or a place. For me, it was more about this beautiful place. It’s removed from the real world, but it’s like an accentuation of the beauty of our world.
The video for “Even If It Hurts,” feels like it takes place within that world. Tell me about making the video.
It was shot at the end of August and we did it in New York actually, in Yonkers. It’s this place called Untermyer Gardens. The video happened really last minute and it all came together around the location. At first I was only going to have one look and it was going to be more choreography. Then the stylist that I work with, Kat Typaldos, she just like killed it. I’ve never done a video like that where it’s super fashion-centric. I wanted it to feel within the same world and an extension of La Linda, but there’s something off about it. It’s beautiful and surreal. I wanted me and Dev [Hynes] to both exist in this space and I wanted it to feel like we were both parallel to each other, but never really together. I wanted it to feel a little bit removed from everyday life.
The song is about the way in which love and pain go hand in hand, and the idea that the things we do for love... we kind of sacrifice ourselves. It’s necessary in love to make yourself super vulnerable and do things that are uncomfortable or hard to do, but you do them because you love someone.
I kept coming back to the last song, “We.” Will you tell me about that one?
That song is for anybody who has been taught to not love themselves or embrace themselves. When you’re growing up, there are so many things that you’re bombarded with that are designed to make you feel like you’re not enough and that you need to adapt yourself to all of these expectations. I was coming from that place, but I was trying to make something that would resonate with anybody that’s felt that pain. The song starts in that reflective place, but by the end it’s more like forgiveness and letting go of those things and that past. With the passage of time and with enough repetition you can work your way out of some of those things and just let go.
And that’s what I wanted the album to be because it’s a journey [to] a lot of different places I was in at a lot of different points, but I wanted the end to feel like redemption. Like the closing of a chapter or moving on in a really positive way.