A few weeks ago I sat down with Teeny of the band TEEN to discuss her current tour and performing at SXSW.
How was performing at SXSW?
Teeny: It was fine. You know we’ve done it a couple of times now and I don’t want to sound grumpy but it feels sometimes like it’s a lot of effort for little reward. But you know I think the best part is making connections with other musicians and being able to see incredible bands play that you don’t normally get to see. But sometimes it feels a bit degrading for sure.
Can you elaborate on that?
Teeny: I mean you’re not being paid a lot of the time for playing all these shows. It just feels like musicians, because we love what we do, we end up getting taken advantage of for opportunities sake. And for a lot of us, this is a job and you can’t afford to do things for opportunities sake. So, it’s a difficult position to be put in because you don’t want to be saying no to everything, but at the same time you need to be respected for your work. It’s a little bit of a catch 22.
What musicians do you get to interact with and meet?
I got to meet this band from Brazil that I am obsessed with called the Boogarins. They’re amazing. I highly suggest you check them. That was our last night there. We went to the Brazilian music showcase. You don’t get to do that often. They don’t come to states often. It’s hard to cross over.
Do you have artists that you are listening to on tour?
We just finished the Dr. Death podcast. Oh my God, it’s horrifying. I don’t know if I should suggest it to people. We listened to the new Helado Negro record [“This is How You Smile”] today. That’s beautiful. We checked out the new Solange. We been listening to older stuff. I’ve been listening to Boogarins, Caetano Veloso. We’ve been listening to a lot more podcasts because sometimes after a place like SXSW you don’t want to listen to music.
I interviewed the artist Buzzy Lee, and she mentioned that she has this collection of old journals and perfumes she turns to when she is looking for inspiration. Is there anything nuanced or different about how you get into your creative headspace?
I tend to be more a sort of disciplined person. I like the practice of sitting down at the same place everyday with my coffee, really simple, as if I am going to work. So when the emotional or metaphysical or whatever thing is happening, I have the groundwork to communicate whatever is coming through. I think maybe because I wasn’t disciplined when I was younger, I was kind of a mess, I like the practice of it now. It’s like working a muscle. Like if you go for a run each day you are able to go for longer or you feel better about your exercise, rather than feeling like “oh I feel inspired to do this thing!” Everybody has their different ways, but I prefer a steady practice.
As a creative person myself, I find that inspiration comes a lot at times when I can’t get to a pen or paper, so for stuff like that, do you just hold it in your mind until you sit down at your desk or are you someone who keeps a notebook?
I always have a notebook. Something I can write down even just ideas or bigger concepts that you need to just get down to start making it into something structured. I often have music recording equipment with me in case the spark is there.
What kind of equipment do you have on you?
I mean traveling on tour, I have a little keyboard with me. Not when I’m just walking around New York City. And sometimes you’ll hear a melody and hum it into your phone.
Speaking of you hearing melodies, do you ever take musical inspiration from nature?
It’s both. I am a big nature person. I can definitely get inspired by nature. Not necessarily sounds, but more the feeling or the expanse of being outside or the loneliness of that, which I really like. The solitude. I am a big hiker and I often, after hiking, have a lot of ideas. I find that solitude in the woods to be very inspiring. It offers the space to think.
I just watched the Mister Rogers documentary and one point that I thought was interesting that he really tried to get across was the importance of silence. That’s something we don’t try to do now is live in the silence.
Especially now with constant stimulation. We are constantly stimulated visually as well which is another form or non-silence. I totally agree with that and that’s why I love being in the woods and around nothing.
Do you have a high point or low point of tour that you want to talk about?
We are still in the middle so we have to see. I think we are really excited to be on the West Coast. And we are playing Treefort Festival [in Boise, ID] and we have a lot of friends playing at that.
How do you keep up the creative energy on tour? The energy to get up and perform on stage time and time again?
That part is the easy part because we like to play music. Playing shows is the fun part. It’s the driving and feeling restless in the car and the mundane stuff that is tedious. When the shows are fun, we are fine and we don’t care haha.
Do you guys have any snacks that are staples on the road?
Oh my God. We have so many snacks. Snacking becomes a big part of the problem. I think it started more ambitious and healthy with dates, granola, almonds. Now we have a junk food bag.
I think something that ties you guy’s sound together is your distinct voices, so no matter the musical accompaniment, we can tell it’s you. I was wondering if you could put into words how you think your new album “Good Fruit” differs from your older work?
I think obviously we’ve changed, we’ve grown, we’ve played together a lot. We’ve gotten interested in different kinds of music as you do over 6 years. I think, especially, we gotten interested in electronics. I’ve always been into that myself. Katherine who plays drums, did more programming. We are the type of musicians who don’t want to make the same thing twice. And so we’re always challenging ourselves with every new record. And this one, we also produced ourselves. So that was a new undertaking, but I think it felt really natural at the same time because we were in charge of a lot of our decisions.
Is there a story or message behind your album or did you create it to have an intended theme?
I think the theme happened naturally because I personally was going through some stuff and we’re are women getting older in the music industry. So a lot of it is sort of about moving forward and letting go of attachments or notions of how things should be. And having the courage to take that on. I think that applies to many things, romantic relationships, work relationships, grief, everything.
This interview was conducted by Jennifer Lee for KXLU.