Cerebral songstress talks about new album, moving to DetroitWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Gorgeous melodies, cool rhythms, and thought-provoking lyrics — that’s “Aims,” Vienna Teng’s disc due out Sept. 24.
In its 11 songs, the singer-songwriter explores everything from daily motivation and online surveillance to the Occupy movement and shipping routes.
“This is the first time I’ve felt unreservedly excited about an album,” the pianist said during a call from San Francisco.
That may be due to her interest in sustainability.
Three years ago, Teng walked away from music to pursue a graduate degree in environmental studies and business at the University of Michigan.
“Music and I had gotten to this weird place in our relationship, and I needed to step back for a little while,” she said.
“When I started working on this album, I was so excited and it was such a joyful process. I totally forgot that making music could be that much fun.”
Her joy is heard in the beat of “In the 99.”
”I think I was listening to a lot of Kanye West at the time, and I came up with this beat where I was clapping and stomping in the shower, and that was actually the first piece of the song,” she said.
“The Hymn of Acxiom,” a sacred ode to Big Brother, had a more familiar beginning for Teng.
“I sat down at the piano one evening and started playing lullaby-sounding melodies, and I was immediately bored,” she said and laughed. “So I thought well, this is pretty, but what can I do with it? How can a lullaby be creepy? So I started to think about ways in which you’re rocked gently to sleep by something that actually doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
“And I began thinking about data collection with the NSA stuff going on, especially in the last election,” she explained. “You have someone watching you, figuring out what you want and what you need, and it turns out it’s a database.”
“Level Up” opens the CD with Teng singing, “If you are alive/Give more.”
“That song actually felt like the key to the whole album when I was writing it because I wrote it when I was in a difficult place. I wasn’t actually depressed, but really struggling with the idea of what is the point of being hopeful about anything.
“If you look at a lot of the facts about some of the challenges that we’re facing as a society or even as individuals, sometimes it can feel overwhelming,” she said.
“I can believe that environmentally we might be doomed or that collectively we’re going to be fighting wars and doing horrible things to each other, but that doesn’t change the fact that I can get up every day and try to be as a good a person as I can be.”
The singer’s been waking up with that attitude in Detroit, where she moved after graduating in May.
“The rest of the world thinks Detroit is a dysfunctional place; there’s a lot of truth to that, but that’s not the only story,” she said. “I’m really inspired by the people who are drawn to Detroit and make their home in Detroit, and those are the people that I want to be near.”
Teng will play two sold-out shows Sept. 26 and 27 at The Ark in Ann Arbor.