TSHA: “No matter how Capricorn Sun was received, I’ve grown quite proud of it”
MusicTech’s 2022 Producer of the Year on her production techniques and the importance of self-indulgence when crafting an album.
Image: Nicole Ngai for MusicTech
TSHA’s career as an electronic music producer is running on overdrive, thanks to the reception of her acclaimed 2022 debut album, Capricorn Sun.
Listening to the record, you can hear why accolades are piling at her feet. Full of intricate sound design and emotion, it’s a brilliant collection of human-sounding electronic tracks that earned her MusicTech’s Producer of the Year award in 2022.
- READ MORE: MusicTech Awards 2022: Producer of the Year
“It’s unreal to win this,” TSHA, real name Teisha Matthews, says on receiving the prize. “I’ve had some awards for the album but this acknowledges my skills as a producer – and my technical abilities are not something that I get recognised for too much.”
That’s surprising, considering how satisfying the record is to immerse yourself; rich in meticulously lean sonics, it’s an aural treat. TSHA is modest when it comes to her achievements on a deeply personal album that ripples as much as it raves with an array of moods and emotions.
“Putting the album together was probably one of the most stressful periods of my life,” she laughs. “You worry whether anyone will actually like the music and go through these waves of thinking everything is terrible. But once I had it mixed and mastered and we got it back, there was a point where I was like: ‘this is all right’. No matter how it was received, I’ve grown to be quite proud of it.”
The past 12 months have been a period of burgeoning success for TSHA. Alongside recording and writing, a relentless touring schedule has seen her DJ everywhere from Glastonbury to Ibiza’s Circoloco with her name on the lips of myriad tastemakers for some time. Ninja Tune’s release of Capricorn Sun has more people talking about her music than ever before.
TSHA’s route into rave was opened up via her brother, a DJ. After a year of learning the rights and wrongs of mixing through her sibling, she took the plunge and ventured into making her own music. Initially using Logic Pro, TSHA took to Ableton Live and started using online tutorials to help her build “basic dance music tunes,” she says. It was at this point that she heard the music of future Ninja Tune label mate Bonobo – and her approach to music changed forever.
“His mixture of organic sounds and live instrumentation with technology just blew my mind,” she says. “I’d never heard anything like it and started obsessing over his music and live performances.”
From here on in, TSHA began delving more deeply into music-making, getting to grips with musical theory, learning how to play keys and continuing to enhance her creative toolkit via YouTube lessons. A subsequent Bonobo show in Brixton galvanised her into further action to put together an EP.
“Sacred was the first track that really was where I wanted to be,” she says of her early releases. “I started off wanting to sit next to Bonobo but I’ve since definitely grown into my own sound now. Sacred was where I felt like I’d found the right balance and created an emotive form of dance music. It had enough hooks and melodies in there for me – and it really broke my music and helped my career take off.”
The warmth in TSHA’s music is one of its most appealing features. According to her, this stems from a combination of software and plug-ins alongside an arsenal of hardware featuring a Sequential Prophet-6, Roland TR-909 and Behringer Neutron. The Prophet’s influence is all over Capricorn Sun and a piece of gear she says she couldn’t live without.
“I love putting effects through it and it instantly creates something unique,” TSHA says. “With the Prophet, the presets are so good, it’s easy to use and I can always find something great quickly when experimenting with it. It sounds so lush too.”
It’s among these pieces of equipment that TSHA has managed to open herself up and tap into a channel of mesmerising music-making that is hard to resist.
“Certain blends of sounds make people feel different ways,” she continues. “Some sounds and samples really tickle your ear. I feel like I’ve naturally moved into my own space but I’ve also learned it from breaking down tracks for a while before I started making my music.”
Capricorn Sun landed in October 2022 and followed a string of EPs such as Flowers and OnlyL that started emerging in 2018. Her ambitions were always aimed at stretching her ideas and sounds out into a longer form through different sonic styles and genres. Album highlight Water features Malian singer Oumou Sangare and marries traditional folk vocals with synths, while Giving Up is a more energised mix of drums and bass. The album was written and made amid the carnage of COVID-19 and was pushed back until the moment felt right to share with a wider audience.
“I wanted to use a variety of sounds and bookend with an intro and outro,” TSHA says on pulling the record together. “I had to give the album an arc with a beginning and an end. I love the whole album now, and I’m pleased that when I get old, I can point to it as a personal achievement.”
Much of the record is based around what TSHA has been through and her own experiences over the last few years. Rather than title it with her own name, Capricorn Sun is a way of more obliquely anchoring it to her.
“I’m a Capricorn, so the title was a nice way of pulling it together, it’s a diary of emotions over this period of time, it’s very personal,” she explains.
While some tracks such as the escapism of Running are obvious headspinners, TSHA picks the wooziness of Time as her favourite moment from the record.
“I had so much fun making this track, and it came together very quickly,” she explains. “It’s not fast enough to DJ and it’s an instrumental so not really radio-friendly. It’s the most me song on the record without trying to please anyone or expending loads of effort on making sure it will get listened to or playlisted. It’s purely about indulging myself in what I like.”
TSHA’s studio adventures have taken her to a variety of spaces and places. Her Flowers and OnlyL EPs were made in the spare room of her previous flat. Then when she started work on the album properly, she landed a room at Ten87 in Tottenham and moved to the area too. TSHA spent six months recording and refining her beats in the studio before heading back to her new spare room to complete them.
“I need to feel like the space is mine and my gear is where it needs to be to be comfortable,” she says of her process. “I can’t really be creative or plug in my gear in other people’s places; I just don’t feel relaxed.”
At the moment, TSHA and her partner are working on converting their loft into a dedicated home studio so they can lay claim to their own creative environment. This sense of feeling comfortable is connected to working methods and the lengths she goes to capture the perfect mix.
“I like to go over the tracks a lot,” she explains. “I’ll get a draft of an idea, then get to a certain point where I hit a wall and have to leave it. I might bounce it out, download it, add it to a playlist. I will keep doing that with a list of songs and continually go back over them.”
“I realise now but when I started out, I was putting a bit too much in my songs,” TSHA continues. “I always like to create layers, add sounds and elements that keep it interesting so I go in on the song lots of times. I’ve since realised, maybe too much.”
Putting some distance between her head and music is one way of TSHA honing in on putting a full stop to her music. In recent productions, approaching a track with fresh ears has helped her get a clearer view of when it might be completed.
“You could go on forever if you’re not careful,” she explains. “When you hear it, anyone listening to the song will not realise how you might have changed the chord progression or arrangement. Only you will know that difference. I always like to leave my music for a little bit otherwise you can get stuck in a rut.”
When it comes to advice for aspiring producers, TSHA emphasises the importance of preparing to enter the studio. Being fully armed with ideas and concepts can enhance the creative process in the studio and make it easier to capture new ideas.
“My tip is to make loads of drum loops before sitting down to write and record,” she says. “It sounds simple but when you go into that writing headspace, you don’t want to be fiddling with making drum loops – it slows the process down. If you have a bank of sick drums that you like, then you can just keep dragging and dropping them in to see what works. Then when you hit the right one, you’ve found the heartbeat of the song.”
Although her music is full of layers and meticulously well-constructed, TSHA likes to avoid relying on any obvious samples. Instead of being deployed as a hook or melody line, these sounds are used as other ways to put colour in the cheeks of her music.
“It’s always been a nightmare to clear anything so I tend to use sites like Tracklib where the music is pre-cleared,” she says. “You can find some sounds there that add nice layers of texture. But I do find it a challenge.”
Creative blocks can impact the writing of any producer and TSHA is no exception. She likes to focus and experiment to grease the cogs and get the music whirring.
“If I’m struggling, then I will usually watch a tutorial online or perhaps write music without any purpose,” she says. “I might see if I can do a drum and bass tutorial which might get me going. I think it’s more important to keep going rather than worrying about whether you will use the music or not. This will usually help get me moving.”
Navigating the industry can sometimes be tricky for fledgling producers too but TSHA has built what she describes as a “great team of nice humans” around her.
“My label and management are great. I love Adrian, my A&R, and everyone I work with is proper nice,” TSHA says. “I’m lucky in that regard. Although I do find the media hard work as it seems like it takes away from being in the studio. I understand that we have to promote but sometimes it feels like I should be just writing music.”
As TSHA’s star ascends further, she might find the number of people wanting to quiz her on her music increases, particularly as the album has been bolstered by a well-received winter tour of Australia and New Zealand and smashing Colour Factory in London’s Hackney Wick for a sold out show. The rest of the year is full of musical excitement with a new live show presenting Capricorn Sun with a full band.
“My live show is the main focus and I’m hoping for a series of dates with the band,” she says. “It’s going to be so exciting to play the music in a different way. I don’t DJ my music so it will be interesting to show this side to what I do and only showcasing my music.”
It’s another great opportunity for TSHA – and if her past musical history is any indication of how she’ll take it on, it will be in her stride. In 2023, this Capricorn Sun is only getting brighter.
Visit tshamusic.bandcamp.com for more.
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