Every great album, like every great superhero, has its origin story. And for every super feat, there is the thing that drives the inspiration. Dreams, products of the unconscious, are many times the first visualization of the superpower and in making dreams a reality. There is a power in the unconscious mind, there is something to be said of inspiration to creation. Valerie Teicher, under the moniker Tei Shi, has realized the dream. Her debut album, Crawl Space, is the fulfillment of a personal promise, and it plays as such. Combining songs of self-discovery and perseverance interspliced with home recordings of childhood aspiration, it is the conquest and acquisition of ambition and actualization.
“It was something that I came to later when I was finishing the album,“ says Teicher. “It wasn’t something that I necessarily set out to. This was going be the narrative or the idea around the album. But as I was making the album, in the process for me, there were a lot of emotions, a lot of ups and downs. It was really daunting for me to be putting out a first album. I almost fell into a way of pursuing this when I put out the first EP that I released, and I wasn’t really expecting anything of it, and over time this became my primary focus and my career. I felt that I had to go back and find that passion and that initial love for music because I think I encountered so many things along the way that were really discouraging to me in the music industry and so many things that I had to kind of see and deal with that I never expected that would be part of my life.”
“I just wanted to really make music, so I kind of lost some that passion,” she says. “When I went back, I found pieces of my childhood and was able to kind of reconnect with that younger version of myself and realize that I really dreamed of being a singer and a performer. I realized how lucky I am to be kind of doing that now, and so I went through that process of sort of reevaluating myself and what I was doing. It was kind of interesting to me to juxtapose this nine year old me who was learning to record myself on a cassette tape, and it was so exciting and I felt like I had it all and knew it all and I’ve obviously grown a lot more. There was a lot about it that was like coming full circle.”
A crawl space can be like a refuge, a shelter in a physical and spiritual sense. It can be protection and solace, a place to run to but also to rebuild and recharge, a place to make anew and heal. Tei Shi takes a variance of ideas to present the ideas on the album. It’s framed in the love song at times, but what is a relationship but a compromise? It can constrict or liberate. Matters of the heart parallel all struggles in the sense of becoming or suppressing the self in order to approach an ideal of happiness. This is perhaps said best in the excellent track “How Far,” with the lyrics “Is this part of the game, a friendly exchange of blame, if you please, We talk of the things we hate in ourselves as if we’ll change them.”
The personal is political, if you will. This invokes love as much as it invokes any sort of partisanship.
“Generally with lyrics I like to write it to be interpreted in having a lot of different meanings. I think a lot of the time people assume a song is about a romantic relationship. That’s a common unifying theme, and a lot of the songs are about that,” Teicher says. “A lot of times I think a song is about a relationship or it’s a love song, but for me it applies beyond or it’s something like a relationship with myself or my relationship with the outside world or that other external figurative person that is this constant presence when you’re putting yourself out there publicly like I am now.”
“There is this presence of this external something that is always ‘you’re getting validation,’ or is always judging you,” she says. “It’s external, but it’s really internal and there’s a lot of your own inner demons coming into play when you are putting yourself out there. A lot of the album has to do with that, but it’s also relatable because those are feelings we often feel in relationships — in romantic relationships. But I think, for me, I was going through a very difficult relationship when I was working on the album, which ended halfway through writing the album. I think a lot of the difficulties and a lot of the struggles within the relationship were almost a reflection of the struggles I was going through generally in my life.”
Tei Shi’s Crawl Space is a wonderful album with progressive R&B and experimental pop. It’s heady and thought provoking but also bumping. She will be performing at White Oak Music Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 13 at 7 pm alongside Lawrence Rothman. Whether you read this before or after her show, you should find her album and fall into it wholeheartedly. It is a jewel.