Teresa jenee: Keeper of the Flame

by Justin Price

We were absolutely sure that we put together an incredible shortlist of local artists we wanted to reach out to perform at our inaugural MOTH showcase at Old Rock House. Ironically, we were able to get the top 3 names, and one of those was the ubiquitous Teresajenee. I’d been introduced to her music by a write-up in the always-on-point Riverfront Times A to Z blog, and upon reading the description of the sound I bought her album The Ecklectic with no further deliberation. Now, in this economy, that doesn’t happen very often. She’s a unique artist that’s rooted in a genre that (as a majority) couldn’t be further removed from the principles on display in her music. She’s keeping that fire, that fearless sense of innovation and exploration, alive in her sound. And she’s not alone: she’s one of the many outstanding artists in Saint Louis (many of who are branded as being a member of The Force) who are re-calibrating our collective perception of 21st African-American music in the most fantastic way possible: But putting out progressive (and exceptional) product. We corresponded via e-mail, on the eve of her performance alongside Solange Knowles on January 21st, about writer’s block, The Ecklectic: Part Two, and touring.

I’d like to talk to you about how you approach songwriting: How many hours a day do you write for, and would you say it’s mostly a solo endeavor, or a more collaborative experience?

For placements or work for hire its collaborative & definitely about writing a song on the spot. Usually, I have to finish a tune in 5-10 minutes. As far as MY music goes…It’s funny cause I have a very random way of writing music. I write solo, I dont write on paper, and I take my time; as I’m inspired I slowly put a song together in my head. Sometimes it’ll take days for me to write a song for myself…and sometimes it can take months.

What do you if you get writer’s block?

I seriously wait it out. I cant write when Im in a block. I mean, I can put a song together…it just wont be great…to me .

In a recent interview you mentioned that some of the material that you’re working on for your next record that will feature live-band versions of songs previously released on The Ecklectic. I was curious to ask you about the creative process of reinventing songs over a period of time – What factors influence how you approach the material?

I hear it in my head first…like literally hear the arrangement in my head. When I first thought about having a live version of the EK, thats how it began. For songs like “Tortoise vs. Hare”, which my brother Mike ‘Wildmann’ Rainier helped me  produce. I heard the music first. I heard the guitar riffs, drum rhythms, even the different keyboard synth sounds. I worked it out on my  piano them drove over to his studio and played it out for him. He took it, hopped on each instrument and executed my vision. Artists don’t do that much anymore, that live sound…not in my lane they don’t. I wanted to stir things up a bit this time around for the album.

Would you say that its similar to translating the songs from record to a live setting?

Definitely. For me its like gravy on the potatoes. Im just taking something and perfecting it.

It’s also noted that the follow-up that your working on was billed as a second part to The Ecklectic. Was it always your intent that this would be a two-album arc? Are there certain themes or concepts that are carried over from the first?

It wasn’t always my intention to do a part two, but after 2 years the album is finally getting nationwide attention. Once I’d seen this,  I  knew I had to extend its life. The main theme of this upcoming album is the same as in part one; which is really no theme at all…no rules…right down to the spelling of the album’s name.

What’s been your experience playing live in Saint Louis? During your set at the MOTH show at the Old Rock House you had a very tasteful transition between playing solo & incorporating Lamar Harris’ various talents of DJing and live instrumentation. Has this versatility helped you play a variety of different venues and shows?

Most times St. Louisans who see me for the first time dont even think I’m from here. I often get asked “Where are you from”? Its very weird. I work so hard on being versatile, to be able to connect with any crowd…anywhere. At the same time, I don’t consider what I do to be so different to the point that I’m not recognizable as “hometown” by my hometown. When I hit the stage here, I set a goal for myself. The goal is to get past the first song with the crowd. If I can get past that first song, its usually smooth sailing from there. So far it has worked.

How has the involvement & support of The Force helped influence local music in Saint Louis? What have been your observations on this?

I think The Force has tapped into a lane that hasnt been tapped into here yet. The Force collective are prime examples of versatility; some have their music in heavy rotation in venues like the Loft and on Hot 104.1. Others are veterans at SXSW and have rocked stages overseas in Europe. If any lesson is to be gained from watching these guys, its that you can be from here and go national, international even. Content-wise lyrically, they’ve proven through their accomplishments that its okay to break all the rules, or to go the route less traveled. You can still be a success going against the grain. You’re in the process of booking shows around the country.

What’s been your experience touring thus far, and what expectations do you have for the live shows you’ll be playing this year?

Touring has been incredible! Hitting the road has done so much for my project…it has done so much for me. The crowds have been energetic and warm, alot of my fanbase now are people who have attended my shows while on the road. The actual traveling can be long hours and living out of a suitcase can get tiresome, but its all worth it to connect with someone through your music. Im looking forward to more awesome experiences while on the road this year.

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