Werking Well with Singer Songwriter Tei Shi
At The Werk, we believe you can’t talk about work or wellness in a vacuum. We know that our careers, our creative goals, our physical health, our mental health, and our self-care practices are all deeply interconnected, and that you can’t change one without affecting all the others. In this series, we talk to influential figures about how they Werk Well, and how these different components come to play in their career success.
This month we’re chatting with acclaimed Colombian-Canadian singer Tei Shi -- whose second full-length album La Linda, featuring Blood Orange, comes out in November -- about her work habits, navigating social media stressors, and how changing her diet changed her life.
Image by Jame-James Medina
The werk ethic:
I’m pretty good at setting day-to-day objectives. I come from a more academic nerdy background where I liked school and I was always really good at staying on top of shit. Right now I have a deadline to finish my album, but even when I don’t have such a firm deadline, I try to set specific goals for the week. When I was working on the album, I had a bunch of songs that were half written or that I'd started but hadn't hadn't finished, and so I would go into a week and be like, Okay, I'm gonna finish this song this week or I'm going to reopen these three songs and try and get them all to a different place. Booking time to work with other people is really helpful also because you force yourself to do something within a certain window of time. It’s kind of giving yourself like situations where you're forcing yourself to have some sort of deadline.
Right now I don't have a manager and I'm doing a lot of stuff. Yesterday I had a phone interview and emails to answer, then I had to put together a budget for my shows and send it to my label, and compile a bunch of material for the singers that I'm doing my show with to learn. And then I probably spend like two hours just doing social media bullshit every day, because I’m not very good at it and I’m still figuring out how to do that properly. And then I still try to make some time to do creative stuff and work on new music.
The creative inspiration:
Right now, the only way I’m able to get into that creative headspace is if I just shut off my phone and then smoke weed. That’s the only way I'm able to be creative in the middle of all this shit— it allows me to get into a headspace where I’m excited about things. It’s hard when you're doing all this administrative shit to even have a spark of an idea or the excitement you need to throw yourself into something. So I'll just listen to music or open up something old that I was working on or some beat that I have that I liked and then it goes from there. I work best when I’m alone at my house. I have a little room where I have my studio setup, and I just close myself up in there. To get into that creative mindset for me is all about about unplugging and not really having a lot of stimulus around me and then just being alone. Particularly being here in LA, spending time outside or in my garden often helps me get into a mindset where I can be quiet and alone with my thoughts.
The inner werk:
Self-care is something that I definitely feel like I need to work on more. For now, the main thing for me is trying to get a decent sleep most nights. And I try to do yoga and stretch and do little meditative things. My self-care is mostly just being alone. I feel like, in what I do I'm constantly exerting energy outwards and talking to a bunch of people and working with a bunch of people. For me to be able to recharge and conserve my energy involves being alone, taking a bath, watching a movie, little things like that. Some people need to to balance work with seeing friends and going out and being social -- for me it’s the opposite.
I feel like being a public figure is something you get more and more comfortable with over time. You have to figure out a way to use social media in a way that feels natural and comfortable to you, otherwise it just feels like a complete chore and then it's horrible. I think it took me a while to get to that place. Just generally as an artist, in every way, over time I've gotten more comfortable with myself and more sure of what I want, and that helps me be able to be more outward and extroverted with stuff. My main rule is that I don't read any comments on YouTube. I read my comments on Instagram and Twitter because I obviously want to interact with the people that like my music and get to know them and have it be an exchange. But anytime something goes up online, I don't read anything, because there was a time when I would read even one tiny sort of negative thing and it would haunt me for the rest of the day. So now it’s like whatever, fuck it, I’m not even going there.
My diet and health are something I've worked on a lot over the past year or two because there was definitely a period of time when I was really rundown and was having a lot of health issues. It took some lifestyle changes to figure out how to get myself in a more stable place and that makes such a difference. When your health, physical or mental, aren't solid, everything else is harder. For me, moving from New York to LA, and being in open spaces with good weather, really makes a difference. I have a very fragile immune system and any kind of changing weather or drastic temperature change, my immune system just kind of gets totally rocked by that. So the kind of weather that I have now is really helpful in that sense.
When I moved out here I started seeing an acupuncturist who's also a dietitian. I was having really bad acid reflux and my throat would swell up and I would get strep throat every four to six weeks, which is obviously a problem when you’re a singer. He started treating me based off diet and through acupuncture. Through him I tried switching up my diet and cutting out different things. Now I feel like I've kind of figured out the diet that works well for me. Anytime you actually pay attention to the things that you're eating and what they're doing to your body, you really start to notice, like, oh, if I eat this, immediately I go to the bathroom and have diarrhea. The first thing I was told was to cut caffeine, to cut alcohol, and smoking, which I did. It was right before I went on tour, so it was crazy because I was so used to drinking coffee all the time on the road and drinking beer after the show, but I was in such a bad state that I was like, okay, I need to do this. And it was really great. After a few months I started drinking caffeine again -- not coffee, I drink tea now -- and I haven't smoked cigarette in like three years.
I also have arthritis, and the acupuncture is great in terms of like dealing with chronic pain and also with sleep issues. If you go to somebody who knows what they're doing you can really get any of those things treated in a focused and holistic way. I’ve also been trying to make certain changes in terms of tech and how I use technology and what things trigger my arthritis pain. I hardly ever type on my phone now and have switched over to doing everything on my computer, because that hand movement can be especially painful.
For me, my mental health is really tied into my physical health. I like the times when I felt the lowest was when my physical health was not good. But obviously there are a lot of stresses and anxieties that are hard to deal with in a career like this. There's a lot of like existential anxiety with creating stuff and putting it out into the world and then having to like make that your career, and like existential fears and anxieties about commodifying yourself and turning yourself into a product.
There’s also so much that you have to deal with, because being an artist is essentially like starting your own business. There's so much in that that is like really stressful: you're dealing with a lot of different people trying to be involved and a lot of people giving you different opinions and different input. You have to wear a lot of different hats and be able to steer a ship while also having people around you that you can trust and that you don't have to be micromanaging. You have to be completely certain about yourself and what you want. That's a really hard place to get to if you're not already a super confident person. I struggled with a lot of feeling insecure in myself and in my abilities in feeling like ‘I deserve this.’ But recently I have gotten closer by continuing to do what I do and just focusing on getting better.
When I first started making music, I was working really closely with a couple of people and was really afraid to venture out of that circle because I didn't feel confident in myself. But then I started forcing myself to not be dependent on those people and started forcing myself into situations that were scary, where I was working with new people. Leaving my comfort zone helped me get more comfortable and figure out how to stand on my own. I was able to meet some people that I really liked working with and that I really got along with and that were really supportive of me. That only helped me grow my confidence and my certainty about myself more and more.