Cover Story: TSHA
Cover Story: TSHAOctober 24, 2023
It’s been almost three years since Beatportal met TSHA for our Introducing series – and a lot has changed in that time. Lockdowns ended, clubs reopened, festivals returned and, crucially, TSHA’s artistry has levelled up so much that the Beatport NEXT graduate has become one of the most exciting electronic music artists of her generation.
This is largely because the self-taught DJ, producer, songwriter, bassist and pianist’s workrate is unmatched. Since 2020, Teisha Matthews has released a critically-acclaimed debut album (Capricorn Sun), compiled a fabric presents mix, DJ’d everywhere from Glastonbury to Ibiza’s Circoloco, grown her own club night (Jackfruit), crafted a live show with a full band and, most recently, collaborated with megastars Ellie Goulding and Gregory Porter for new single “Somebody.”
It should come as little surprise, though, as TSHA – who went from gigging as a mobile DJ to signing with Ninja Tune’s sister label, Counter Records – has given her all to everything she does. “I’ve found my feet a little bit,” she reflects of the past year. “I started to really get in the groove of things and feel less stressed,” she adds… “about tour life and the industry, so it’s good now.”
While touring has enabled TSHA to build a fanbase beyond the online world, she has long felt a disconnect between her DJ sets and the music she makes. “It’s not quite the same, so I’ve built a DJ fanbase separate from my music,” she explains; “it’s interesting and cool but also a bit confusing.” While she says that plenty of people like and appreciate the differences between the two, there have been instances of people coming to see her (harder) DJ sets and wanting to hear her own (more emotive) songs. In many cases, TSHA has gone with her own instinct because she didn’t feel it was appropriate for the setting. “You don’t really want to drop ‘Sister’ in the middle of a club show. It doesn’t really make sense,” she considers. It is, however, something that she has been trying to rectify.
Photo by: Nicole Ngai
This keenness to find a solution and balance the two was partly why TSHA decided to develop her own live show – but it’s also something that she wanted to do from the beginning. “That was always the aim, but the pandemic got in the way,” she recalls, adding that another barrier was cost; “live shows are really expensive, and it takes a long time to even make money from it.” When the moment finally did come, TSHA formed a band (“one of my friends was the vocalist, and we all got on really well”), and the group played six shows over the course of the 2023 summer festival season.
“It was nice to travel around with not just yourself,” TSHA reflects; “it was a cute little adventure.” Having company while touring was a welcome change to what she had been used to, having previously spoken about suffering from anxiety. “It’s nice having a team,” TSHA says; “I think that’s the main difference because when you DJ, you’re very alone a lot of the time.”
Seeing people around the world resonate with her own songs has been transformative too. “It’s been amazing,” TSHA says, adding that playing Fuji Rock with the band was a moment she’ll never forget: “having a full tent with people singing the songs back… I didn’t even know that people knew my songs in Japan. It was crazy”.
Going from behind the decks to leading a band was a surprisingly easy transition, TSHA says. However, there was one obstacle to overcome – learning to play bass guitar, just months before she and the band started rehearsals. “That was the hardest thing for me,” TSHA says. “It was a lot of work because it was about getting confident in doing that, and then doing it on stage and in front of people.” But, once she got the hang of it, she loved it.
TSHA chose the bass because she wanted to play a guitar of some sort and loved the funky, groovy sound it creates. “I didn’t want to just play keys, and playing normal guitar would have been too complicated to do in a short time. The bass is a little easier,” she considers. “I thought to myself ‘I feel like I can probably do this’ and just ran with it. I love the bass, I think it’s wicked.” While she doesnt have any guitar heroes, TSHA cites her bass teacher as an inspiration. “He’s wicked; he’s a jazz fusion bass player, but he’s amazing at everything, so I look up to him a bit.”
Photo by: Joshua Atkins
Having previously suffered from imposter syndrome, TSHA says that playing the bass had a big impact. “That I could learn and then just do that, I was really proud of myself.” Over the past year, her confidence has improved in other areas too, especially when it comes to DJ’ing on her own. “I reframed a lot of things in my head this year about… just feeling privileged and grateful and enjoying it rather than stressing so much,” she explains. Being more present has been a key focus, too. “With DJ’ing and touring, you get to go to so many wonderful places. Last year, I was just really depressed and it was a lot harder,” she recalls, “but this year has been good to see some of the countries we go to and meet new people.”
Over time, TSHA has grown to believe in herself more – in terms of her sets and her own ability to “make sure people dance and have a good time.” And, when shows don’t go as well as she might have hoped, she doesn’t get as bogged down by it. “Now, I realise that not everything can be 10 out of 10,” TSHA summarises.
When it comes to her live show, she says that “everyone in the industry has been super supportive. I’m very blessed and lucky that people believe in me,” she adds, having been booked for her debut run of live shows without any promoters having actually seen the show. “Everyone that booked me for a festival or a lineup, they took a punt on me,” she says, including Primavera in Barcelona, Warehouse Project in Manchester and Field Day in London.
With expectations high, TSHA spent every penny she was given on the show. “I wanted to make sure that I didn’t let anyone down,” she says, “but it didn’t give me pressure… I knew I could make the show happen. I wanted to make sure that I delivered their money’s worth”. Having previously turned down headline shows, TSHA adds that she’s always conscious of “people putting money on my head to sell tickets. Everything I do, I think about other people and their investment in me.”
Nonetheless, the outside gambles seemed to pay off. “Everyone seemed really happy and very impressed with the show,” she reflects. “For my first run, I’m proud that I managed to produce a very professional, high-standard show, which is what I wanted. I’m so happy that I got to do it and put a show together creatively.”
While TSHA massively enjoyed the live gigs and bringing her debut album to life, there are no plans for a headline live tour just yet – “mainly because it’s so expensive. Live is ridiculous; I don’t think people fully appreciate how much it costs,” she says. That’s not to say she’s ruling one out for the future; “I will probably do a live tour for the second album, but it needs to be thought out carefully and things need to be in the right place.” For now, then, the live show is “retired”; it’s on hiatus”, she jokes.
TSHA has plenty to keep her busy though. In November, she’ll open for The Chemical Brothers at The 02 in London. “I’m excited. It’s gonna be wicked,” she says of her upcoming DJ set before citing the duo as a huge inspiration. “I’ve watched them twice already this year, at Coachella and Wilderness. They’re one of my favourites so I’m really honoured. It’s such a big venue, too, which is exciting.”
TSHA has also been expanding her own club night. Having already taken Jackfruit to Sound in LA, she’ll host a party in New York in December. “I’ve always wanted to have my own parties,” she enthuses; “I want to create an environment that is safe and inclusive, for people to be free”. Her ambition is to turn Jackfruit into a no-phones party “so it’s a place where you dance all night.” Another longer-term, goal is to have her own venue: “once I’ve got enough money, I’d like to have some kind of cool, headsy venue for people to play and come and catch a vibe… that’s my dream.”
As if that wasn’t enough, TSHA’s been making new music with some pretty huge names, one of whom slid into her Instagram DMs. Her first release since the album, “Somebody,” was born after popstar Ellie Goulding got in touch early last year. The pair went into the studio together soon after and found an instant connection. “She’s amazing, and she’s really nice and easy to work with,” TSHA says, adding that the pair spent the majority of the session chatting. “We listened to music and talked about life,” she recalls, adding that they found a natural relatability after sharing their own experiences of anxiety. Consequently, it wasn’t until the last hour that they made the song. TSHA continued working on the track at home and sent the updated version to Ellie, who recorded her final vocals at a studio.
However, as the song featured a male sample (the lyric ‘I really need somebody’), they felt it was incomplete. This led Ellie to suggest some vocalists that could re-sing it and take it to a new level. Enter: legendary jazz vocalist Gregory Porter. “Ellie suggested him and I was like ‘that would be amazing’!” TSHA recalls.
Photo by: Jake Davis
“I didn’t think he’d want to do it, especially because we were asking him to re-sing a sample”. Much to their surprise, and delight, Gregory immediately said yes. In fact, after the song’s release last month, he told Zane Lowe in an interview that he wishes he had been asked to sing a verse. “I didn’t even think,” TSHA laughs; “I thought we were just lucky to get him to sing it in the first place”; they’ve since spoken about it and the instrumentals have been shared…
Overall, she says the response to ‘Somebody’ has been great: “It’s a song that I really love and am proud of.” The track also found an unexpected fan in producer titan Timbaland, who shared “Somebody” on his Instagram. “He’s an OG”, she enthuses. “He soundtracked most of my teenage years. I was gassed that he even knew who I was, and really shocked! How did the song even reach him?”
While “Somebody” is sonically different to TSHA’s previous releases, it’s not entirely reflective of the new music she’s been making. “Yes, and no,” she ponders. “It’s still very eclectic in terms of tempos and sound… it is cohesive, but some of it’s a bit darker.” She adds that this is partly because of the newer artists she’s been listening to recently, however doesn’t want to give those specific influences away yet. TSHA does give one teaser though: “It’s been a bit ’90s recently, leaning that way… but we’ll see, things might change.”
While she’s again in album mode, TSHA isn’t rushing things. Going into the process second time round, she’s learned that making an album “is a long process and hard work… it’s not as easy as just doing an EP. It seems silly because you think ‘it’s just some more songs,’ but it’s not. It’s more complicated.”
Photo by: Nicole Ngai
Having been writing with her producer partner MAFRO, she says the majority of the tracks have been created at home – purely because she’s been playing shows so much. “I haven’t had as much time as I’d like because I’ve been on the road and I can’t write on the road, even though I wish I could,” she says. Nonetheless, TSHA says she has got “a decent amount of ideas and songs started” and plans to get back in the studio to work on them more very soon. She adds that she’ll “look for collabs eventually but is someone who likes to do stuff on my own for a while.”
TSHA’s also not giving herself too much of a deadline this time round – just that she would like to hand the record in to her label, Ninja Tune, in March, and that she hopes it will come out sometime in 2024. “But if it doesn’t get handed in then, it doesn’t matter,” she says. “It’s not the end of the world.” Her new outlook is refreshing for an industry where perceived relevance seems to be dictated by how often an artist releases new music; this is something that TSHA has come to understand and live with.
“There’s a lot of pressure to churn out music every month or something because ‘you’re gonna get forgotten’ or ‘you won’t get the streams,’ and it’s almost true to some degree,” she considers. “If you go away too long, people do forget about you, which is a shame because you can’t really be an artist who spends three or four years writing an album anymore. People don’t have the patience for that anymore.”
Despite the pressures imposed by the industry, TSHA is happily taking things at her own pace. And she’s not setting any big goals either. “If you don’t achieve them, that’s sad, and you’re adding more pressure on yourself,” she says. What’s most important to TSHA is very clear: “I want to enjoy making it, to enjoy the album, to like it, to be happy with it myself, and hope that other people like it. And if people don’t, it’s just one of those things,” she says confidently. “I’m trying to do things a little bit more for me this time, and hopefully people respect that.”