Colombian-Canadian artist Tei Shi just released new EP, Die 4 Ur Love, on July 17. In addition to releasing two EPs and albums, she's worked with artists such as Blood Orange, A$AP Rocky, and Tyler, the Creator. "Die 4 Ur Love," the song and EP as a whole, was created entirely during quarantine and is about "losing someone you never thought you could lose... and the end of the world as you know it." The latest single, "Goodbye," was released on June 26. Pre-save the EP using this link.
Over the phone, the artist talked about producing her own EP, making music in quarantine, and her songwriting process.
I wanted to start off by asking you about your EP that’s coming out in a couple of weeks. You said that the title track, “Die 4 Ur Love,” is a song about the end of the world as you know it, and when I listen to it I can’t help but think about how much it speaks to our collective experience of being alone right now. I’m wondering if you meant to be so prophetic when you wrote it or if it was borne out of a more personal experience that we just all can relate to?
I think it’s both things. I wrote the whole EP in January on this writing trip to this ranch where I like to work, and I ended up writing the whole EP that week while I was there. So this song, and all the songs really, came out of this personal phase and personal experience. It was a point in time where I was just feeling like the year immediately started off for me on a really dark note, and the weeks leading up to that writing trip I was in a really negative space where I just kind of felt this upcoming thing. I felt like the world was ending for this period of time. And it was kind of [about] what was going on at that time for me and where my head was at, but also I think I was feeling a precursory anxiety. I think that we all have a certain level of intuition in us, and that’s kind of just feeling energy shifts and stuff.
After I wrote the EP and I was getting ready to release the first single, “Die 4 Ur Love,” all of the coronavirus stuff really hit hard here in the states and everything went into lockdown. And around that time I really felt like, “oh shit, this kinda makes sense for me.” I was feeling these feelings before it really hit home and I can’t really explain it, to be honest, but the song came out of reflecting on - I think the EP as a whole - on a few relationships that ended in the last year or two for me that had really abrupt and painful endings. “Die 4 Ur Love” (the song) is about a relationship that ended and where this person kind of disappeared from my life and the feelings of how much your own personal world can feel like it’s ending, or your life and your world as you know it is ending. It was really just talking about that within my personal relationship but it really does apply beyond that.
The song kind of took on a new meaning for me as everything started happening and we all went into quarantine and our reality and expectations for this year completely died. I think the rug was pulled out from under every single one of us and the song took on that meaning for me too: of your reality and your world ending and changing all of a sudden. And that’s kind of the apocalypse that I talk about in the song, but obviously it’s on a much wider scale now.
Yeah, it’s super in touch with everything that’s going on. It’s truly a quarantine anthem. Something that I appreciate about the EP is how your songs are lyrically beautiful, but still bops. “Daydream” and “Johnny” talk about living in a nightmare and the fear of being alone while also being songs that you can jam out to. So when you’re making music, and in this project specifically, do you find yourself more honed in on the lyrics or a certain sound that you’re trying to produce?
It always starts out with the lyrics. The way I approached this EP, which was a little bit different from how I’ve worked in the past, was very much starting from pure songwriting. I wanted to have really strong songs that could exist in a variety of different kinds of production, contexts, or sounds. My goal starting out was to make a handful of really strong songs — and then I could figure out what the vibe of the EP should be. And I think that’s why this EP is really more about the songs. The songs started from a stripped-down place, like writing over a guitar or really really simple instrumentals.
So that’s kind of where it departed, but I also realized while I was writing the songs that I wanted to make an EP that was more upbeat and more danceable because I haven’t done a lot of that in the past. I feel like I’ve had some songs that are like that, but my music tends to be very mid-tempo and chill. And I wanted the EP to have a new energy and I wanted it to feel chaotic and frantic. And I wanted people to be able to dance to it because I felt like that was what I needed. I wanted stuff I could put on and it makes you move and it feels like a banger and it feels big.
The idea of wanting that happened while I was writing the songs, but the majority of the production and recording happened during quarantine — I was in quarantine with people on the production and everything. I think the state I was in [made me feel like] I wanted to have something that would make people move around and dance and to feel a little bit more — like the energy to be more chaotic.
Yeah, so how has being in quarantine affected your songwriting process and the work you produce?
I think it’s put me — I think it’s put all of us — in a really weird state of mind. For me, it’s been tough because I’ve kind of struggled with being like, “Okay, I should be writing all of these songs right now at home, I should be making all of this,” but then also I’ve felt really stuck in terms of songwriting, to be honest. Whenever I go do something, it takes me awhile. It takes me quite awhile to process and then start writing about it. Most of the time when I’m writing a song I’m writing about something that happened or that I went through like a year before. I’m not really one of those people that experiences something and then writes a song about it right away. It takes me a while to process. So I feel like I’m probably gonna be writing about the things that I’ve been feeling and experiencing during quarantine later this year. And in that way, it’s been hard for me to tap into writing.
But the good thing is that I feel like I have been able to stay really productive during quarantine because I had all of these songs that I wrote in January and I knew I wanted to make an EP out of them pretty quickly, so I took the opportunity of quarantine to settle down and finish the songs and EP as a whole. In that way, it’s been really cool because I used the time to do that. The process was really different, of course, because I’m used to being able to go into the studio and sit with people and have it be really immediate. Having that exchange that happens in person — the excitement — it’s so much easier to do that in a lot of ways whereas this time around I had to do a lot of stuff on my own. But then I also had to work with people across the world over FaceTime and Zoom and phone calls and emails. So it was really different creatively, but I think we’re all learning that maybe we can do things with these limitations and it’s just more of a learning experience. That’s how I’ve viewed quarantine time until now.
How do you view this EP in relation to the other EPs and albums that you’ve made?
I think this EP is much more fun. It’s been a more playful experience and I haven’t taken it so seriously. I’ve made albums [where it has been] a two-year process for me, really like slaving over details and reworking, just kind of driving myself crazy over things. This EP was deliberately trying to make something that wasn’t gonna be that. In that sense, it’s a lot more fun and just kind of like “it is what it is.” But in terms of like - musically and stuff - it’s kind of me stepping a little bit more into the pop world, trying to make these bigger songs that are really catchy and more direct. The EP points back a little bit more to the early music I made that was more electronic and more...kind of borne out of that same space where I wasn’t overthinking anything. I was making them within a short period of time and putting them out and not putting too much pressure on them. So I think this EP is a full circle back to that in a lot of ways, but also a lot more ambitious in other ways.
You’ve been on a few different record labels in the past but you produced this EP independently. What do you think is the value of producing your work independently?
I think it’s something that’s completely different for every single artist. Also, you move through your career in different phases, so what you need changes very quickly. For me, I realized that I need to be able to release music when I want to and not sit on music because of things that are out of my control, and because of bureaucratic things that you have to deal with when you’re on a label or a part of a bigger structure like that. For me, the most important thing is the ability to make the call on things and be able to release music as quickly as I want to or not [release music]. In my experience, it has been less about a label or management and more about being able to create a team that is best for you. Now, I’m in a situation where I have that team that is really just the right environment for me, and for some people, it might be having a really strong major label behind them. For other people, it might be being completely independent and having one assistant helping them with stuff. For me, it’s more of a mix of all these things and having the people around me that really share my vision and my ambition, but are allowing me to make the decisions and have control. I don’t wanna say that it’s better to be independent or on a label. Right now I feel in a really good place where I have the support of my team that covers all those bases without necessarily being one thing or the other.
Yes, so you said that the experience is different for everyone, but do you feel like being a woman musician, especially a female musician of color — do you feel like you have less control and autonomy if you’re working with a label?
I think it depends. But I think in general if you look at the experience that [female] artists have in this industry, it’s very different from the experience that male artists have. For me, it’s more about the freedoms given and of the subtleties of how empowered you are by the industry and the team. And I think there’s a lot less of that given to female artists right off the bat. You really have to prove yourself over and over again as a female artist in order to gain that position of “you are the ultimate boss,” where everyone respects what you say and trusts that your instincts and decisions are the right ones. And I think that’s where there’s an inequality in how artists are treated. A lot of the time for male artists it’s assumed that you are the boss and it’s assumed that you’re deciding everything and you’re the leader of your project. And for female artists - so many times I’ve been questioned on that. People question, “oh, how involved are you really in your music.” I don’t think you really start out with the same amount of trust and control and power as a female artist. It’s not granted to you in this industry, a lot of the time with male artists. But I do think that’s changing.
Yeah, definitely. Besides music, is there anything else you’d like to tackle in the future?
Yeah! Obviously music is my focus, but I hope that in my career I’ll be able to use that to do more. And I don’t know exactly what that is right now, but I love performing in general and I’ve always loved theatre, so one day I’d love to be on Broadway. There’s a lot of fun segues into other things that I’d like to take on with my music. Eventually, I hope to be in a position where I can create some sort of organization or something to help other artists. I would love to do something to help train women who are interested in music on production, engineering, and songwriting. I’ve been really passionate about continuing the generations of female artists and artists of color and empowering them. And I don’t know exactly how I will do that, but I would love to use my career and my platform one day to do something like that because I think music is such a powerful tool. And the barrier of entry into music and the music industry is so hard to break into. I’d love to eventually do something where I can help create a space for people who might not necessarily be in the circumstances to break into music but are really passionate about it. That’s something I’ve had in the back of my mind for awhile.
Images via VMA Agency
More from BUST
Grace Weinberg (she/they) is a senior at Simmons University pursuing BAs in English, Women's & Gender Studies, and Spanish in addition to interning at BUST. When she's not reading in bed with her french bulldog, you can find her rollerskating or watching the next feminist horror flick. Follow her on Twitter at @GraceWeinberg6.