TSHA’s Debut Album Has Arrived, But She’s Still Dealing With Imposter Syndrome
It’s all perspective, isn’t it? London producer TSHA‘s name is often preceded by “fast-rising,” but to her, she hasn’t made it. And while there are many future achievements the producer, born Teisha Matthews, will claim, for her, it’s not about that.
“I’m trying to not think about that stuff. I’m just trying to be happy,” she explains.
But to be clear, TSHA has made big waves in the four years since her first release. BBC Introducing named her the “Star of 2020,” the same year she signed with her dream label, Ninja Tune. In 2021, she was named BBC Radio 1’s January “Future Artist,” made her Essential Mix debut, and was a Mixmag cover star. This year, she graced DJ Mag‘s cover, released a fabric presents compilation album, has had a residency at Ibiza’s famed DC-10 and a busy U.S. and European tour.
Her DJ sets are energetic and joyful, showcasing her upbringing on house and garage, and her endless curiosity for dance music, particularly emotive records like those made by Bonobo and the ones she herself now makes. (Bonobo’s music inspired her to produce, and he’s now a supporter of hers.)
TSHA’s productions are emotional, thoughtfully layered, and expansive, applying pop and R&B songwriting sensibilities to dreamy house and garage rhythms. When not on the road, she’s busy in the studio, crafting her intricate club and headphone-oriented tracks. There was the Moonlight EP in 2019 and Flowers in 2020, along with a string of singles that have led to her much-anticipated debut album, Capricorn Sun, dropping tomorrow (October 7) via Ninja Tune.
Hanging poolside at the Soho Warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles, looking effortlessly cool and approachable per usual while rocking a dark brown romper with white chunky Balenciaga sneakers and her long wavy hair down, TSHA says she didn’t feel pressure to make a big statement with the album. Instead, it’s altogether a declaration of who she is as a person and an artist: multi-faceted, creative, detail-oriented, anxious, positive, loving.
Capricorn Sun includes a collab with her long-time partner, who’s also the left-field dance music producer Mafro, as well as additional tracks alongside GRAMMY-winning Malian icon Oumou Sangaré, with U.K. duo Nimmo, and two powerful “get your feels out on the dance floor tracks” with Brighton dance singer/songwriter Clementine Douglas. TSHA wrote this music primarily during the pandemic, capturing both the darkness and loneliness of lockdown and the relief and joy as things opened up in 2021. But even in the difficult emotions, there’s a sense of lightness, of presence and acceptance, that feels cathartic as a listener.
In between her energetic set at This Ain’t No Picnic in Pasadena in late August and an opening gig for Flume at the Santa Barbara Bowl in early September, we caught up with TSHA to chat about the album and its collabs, her rise (or whatever you want to call it), and astrology.
How are you feeling about having your debut album coming out?
Good? Yeah, I’m excited to get it out the way and over and done with. I finished the album in March, so for me, I’ve heard it a lot of times, so I’m ready to move on. [Laughs.]
What different emotional spaces were you in or working through while making Capricorn Sun?
A lot of it happened at different periods of the pandemic, so some things were a bit more about anxiety or just being in a dark place. And then when things started to open up, things were a bit more optimistic and positive. There’s a range of emotion from that couple of years. A few songs were written when things had just opened, so I was getting more inspiration from being out again and DJing and seeing people. When you don’t have any sort of stimulation outside of your house, it’s very hard to create.
What was the one “you’re back out in the world again” song?
There’s a song called “The Light.” I think that was when things had just properly opened back up in the U.K., and I was back DJing. I guess the name says it.
Did you miss DJing? I can imagine at first it was nice to have a break and slow down, but then did you feel a gap in your life?
It wasn’t fun. At first, it was like, “Cool, I got nothing to do.” But I did end up having a lot to do anyway, because I did a lot of remixes and writing. And then it got to a point where it was a drag, and then a bit depressing, because you do miss playing out, and you get used to getting your highs from DJing. Most of my socializing actually happens from work. I do see my friends when I can, but because I’m traveling, my socializing is done when I’m at a gig.
I wish I was one of those people who, if you had a job in the U.K., got furloughed. People got paid while at home, so that was like a holiday for them. Obviously, when you’re self-employed, you don’t get furloughed. There was no government assistance for musicians. So I had to just work.
What was it like collaborating with your partner Mafro on “Giving Up”?
It was good. We’ve always worked together on things, but this one was a full collaboration. [We made] it during the pandemic as well. That was a tough time, where you’re on top of each other, because we live together. There was a lot of bickering for a bit, and it was just intense because you’re not used to being on top of each other like that. We were sharing an at-home studio, so we were both in there, trying to work around each other. Obviously, there was no other place for us to go.
And then it just happened: I started something, and he was hanging out and he just jumped in, and the song just happened. It feels like it relates to us a lot at the time. I’m glad we made it through that period, because it was difficult, and now we’re engaged.
Did you feel like working on that track together was cathartic for the stuff you were going through?
Yeah, definitely. Because we were bickering at the time, but we still were able to work together. I think it’s nice that we managed to create art together during that period. I guess it is a testament to our relationship. [Smiles.]
How did the track “Water” with Oumou Sangaré come together?
That one is a long story because I actually made that song pre-pandemic. I finished it when I was in L.A. pre-pandemic — I was here in March 2020 when COVID happened. I’d booked a tour and I did two shows: CRSSD Festival [in San Diego] and a show in San Francisco. All of a sudden, s–t got canceled. I got the last flight out of the U.S. back to the U.K.
I had sampled Oumou Sangaré[‘s “ko Sira”] in the song. I couldn’t clear it at the time because she had something going on about her sample in Beyoncé’s Lion King soundtrack [on “MOOD 4 EVA”]. I don’t know what the story was, but I couldn’t get sampling, because they were very focused on sorting that situation out. I couldn’t put the song out — but that’s what sparked my interest in Malian vocals. I started researching traditional griots and how history is told through songs. It’s such an interesting culture, I think their voices have such a unique tone; I love it. That’s how I ended up with my song “Demba.”
And this year, finally, [Sangaré’s team] was ready to talk about “Water,” and I managed to get the sample cleared. I was really happy that she was going to be a feature, because she’s amazing. She’s also an activist for women’s rights, and a GRAMMY-winner, so I was super gassed.
Do you have any dream collabs that you would love to manifest?
I always wanted to work with FKA twigs. She’s amazing. Who else? I have one that’s already kind of happening, so I’m not gonna say it.
There’s lots of people I would collab with that I think are amazing. But when it comes to writing music, I’m better off on my own in the room. Most of the time, if they’re in the room with me, it’s because we have a rapport, and I know them and feel comfortable. It’s hard for me to be like, “Oh, I’d work with this person” — because then if I got in the room with them, I might s–t myself.
How do you usually start a song?
I usually start with drums and then build from there. I haven’t been in the studio in a while because of touring, but usually I make a bunch of drum loops as starting points because it makes it a lot easier. When I’m writing, I’ll drag different drums I’ve made before and see what works.
You’ve done a lot in the last few years and have had so many different accolades and cover stories. How has your rise felt for you?
I don’t know. I don’t feel [like I’ve had] a rise, it just feels like I’m going through the motions. It sounds bad, but that’s how it is, it’s been a whirlwind of things happening very quickly. There’s not been much time to pause. When I try [to pause and reflect], I still don’t really feel it. I think it’s actually the same for most people; I don’t think that’s like a unique thing to me.
I still don’t feel like I’m doing very well. I have impostor syndrome. I’m always thinking something bad about it. So I’m trying to not think about that stuff. I’m just trying to be happy.
If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
That’s true. I think that’s when balance becomes a key. I was reading a book called Essentialism that talks about weeding out things and focusing on what’s important and making certain things a priority. It was realizing I’ve got a lot of things going on, but maybe not everything is actually essential to my happiness, essential to my goals.
I love DJing, but I don’t know if I love DJing at this volume. So next year, I will DJ a lot less — and I’m excited to do the live show, because that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Things that also make me happy are being at home with my dog, cooking dinner, being with my partner. At the moment, I don’t have those things. So it’s trying to find the balance between DJing, traveling, writing music — which I enjoy and haven’t been able to do either, because I’ve been on the road so much.
What’s the live show going to look like?
I don’t know, because it depends how much money people give me. [Laughs.] The more money you have, the better the show will be. I don’t think people realize that. It’s really expensive to do a live show. I have big dreams about what I want it to look like. I love lights and visuals and things. I’m hoping I’ll have enough money to create something special not just for people to hear, but to see on stage as well; to be immersive. And it would be with a band, I want live instruments.
What was the song or artist that really sparked your love for dance music?
It depends on which part of dance music, because I was always into house music. But to make music, Bonobo was the person that made me really connect with emotive dance music. I would say he was the biggest factor in inspiring me to do what I do.
What role does astrology play in your life?
It doesn’t play an important role. It’s just fun. I’m not into astrology in a way where I take that stuff seriously — I just find Capricorn memes really funny. When I was creating the album, I had the idea of relating myself to a goat, because that’s the symbol of my star sign, and I think I am quite hardy and resilient. When I was doing the album cover, I was like, “I like the idea of loads of goats that represent different parts of me.” It’s like calling the album TSHA, but in a different way.
What elements of being a Capricorn do you feel like feed into your creativity or your art?
Creativity-wise, I’m super sensitive, so I think that allows me to write more emotive music. Then on the other side, I always know what I want. I’m always super scheduled. That’s a very Capricorn trait. I think that’s how I’m able to have gotten to this point maybe a bit quicker than some people in my life, because I was always making plans and executing them.