Tei Shi’s tour uniform includes a shirt she bought at a gas station
Tei Shi’s mystifying whispering vocals have been sailing out my earbuds since she released her debut album, Crawl Space, earlier this year. I met up with her at Elsewhere in Brooklyn where she was performing at Dr. Martens’ Worn Different art and music event. She was chilling in the green room wearing perhaps one of the best denim jumpsuits I have ever seen.
You just finished the tour for your first album, how was it?
It was good, it was the longest I’ve ever been on the road. It was really cool to be able to go and play this album in all these places. Some of which I had been to before and played in a bunch of times and so it’s kind of like coming back and playing for a crowd I have been in front of before. Also going to places I have never been and seeing people who are singing along to the music. Going and getting to meet people after the shows, I really took a lot away from that experience. It is kind of like a weird blur when you are playing the same show every night over and over again, it was like a big blur of experiences and I am still processing it.
Did you have a favorite stop along the tour?
I would say it was a toss up between Toronto and San Francisco. Those were two of the ones that felt really great and the energy was super high and I didn’t expect it to be that way as much.
Do you have a fun tour story?
One of the cool things that happened early on was we stopped at this like random rest stop gas station in Texas I think. They were selling these plaid cut off button up shirts that at the time I was like these are really dope. So I bought one in every color for the band to wear on stage because I was kind of looking for something for them to all be in a kind of uniform, and then that became what they wore at every show we played. It was a cute little random gas station find, and they look really cute in them. They [the gas station] were marketing to probably fifty year old biker guys but that is kind of up my alley as well.
How do you pick what to wear on stage?
For this tour because it was so long, I kind of just ended up going to Beacon’s Closet and buying a bunch of shit, and then adding in my own stuff from my closet and pieces I borrowed.
What would be your ideal show outfit?
Well I love the idea of having, like, one consistent thing that you wear every show so that you don’t have to think about what you are wearing every time, and I have not been able to arrive at the thing. I do not know what my ideal show outfit would be but I know that it would be an outfit that is the thing for shows and I can do variations of. For the most part I dress pretty true to my personal style, I maybe put more thought into constructing an outfit [for a show] but I kind of like it being a little bit casual and whatever I felt like that day.
The album is sort of about confronting your fears, what is your biggest fear right now?
I guess the biggest fear that informs my life and music is the fear of being underestimated by people. I think when you put yourself out there creatively a lot of people have that fear. It is a very vulnerable thing and there is a very strong desire to prove yourself and prove that you deserve to be heard and that people should give a shit about you and what you have to say.
Do you think as a female in the industry it is harder to do that?
I think that as a woman in a lot of different industries you have to work twice as hard to get the respect or acceptance from people and in music it can feel like that a lot of the time because it is still a boys club kind of situation. There definitely are elements of that but I also think that as women you are often taught to question yourself and your successes more often and attribute your successes to other things that are not yourself. That is what I struggled with earlier on when I started putting music out. Just not trusting that I was getting good recognition and feedback because of my own skills. That just takes becoming more comfortable and more confident with yourself to get to a place where you can take your own self seriously.
Do you think releasing your first full album was you coming into that?
I think the album was a process of me doing away with a lot of those insecurities. It is almost like a self defense thing, you make excuses for yourself. You think it is easier to not have to expose yourself that much to people, by being really assertive and upfront about things. Making the album I got away from the shyness and that stuff. I wanted to come out with the album and be more upfront about it, and be able to talk about it more openly, and be on the cover of it, and do the visuals for it and have it be more tied into myself and not shy away from it.
How would you describe your music — first to a mom, then to a millennial?
To a mom I would say alternative pop, and then to a millennial I would say its a mix of indie pop, with R&B elements, jazzy elements, and centered on the vocals.