Premiere: Teeks’ “Remember Me” Is Unforgettable

The poignant video accompanies the singer-songwriter’s unparalleled vocals.

2020 brought a whole lot of “I didn’t ask for that.” But challenging times are often not without their silver linings, with a tendency to spawn some of humanity’s most memorable art (and artists, for that matter). New Zealand’s Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi, better known as Teeks, is a rare glimmer of beauty in an otherwise (but hopefully temporarily) downtrodden world. As we’re thrust into a new era, the show-stopping new talent is bound to be one of its most noteworthy voices.

Deep and soulful as he performs, the Māori singer grew up with a musically-rich and unfamiliar background for many of us in the States, who aren’t as acquainted with Teeks and his culture as those in his native land across the Pacific.

Today on VMAN, the artist is releasing his powerful and first self-directed video for “Remember Me,” a moving ballad birthed from ever-familiar feelings of uncertainty and love. Less than 24 hours after the exciting new talent’s 27th birthday, VMAN met Teeks over Zoom to discuss the video and life in the fast-lane towards true stardom.

Can you tell me about your earliest memories of music?

Growing up, I’ve always been surrounded by music and singing and performing, because it’s such a big part of my culture. In my culture, “kapa haka,” which [means] performing arts, it’s a cultural dance and a performance. We sing songs and we perform, and that’s something we get thrust into right from an early age. So my whole life, I’ve always been around people who could sing. My father, in particular, would write songs in our language, and I would be around that and watch him write.

It wasn’t until I got to high school that I started to put my own hand to song writing and learning more about composition, trying to expand my musical vocabulary.

Was there a clear turning point when you realized that you wanted to do music as a career? 

It was a gradual build-up. I’ve always loved to sing. Ever since I can remember. But in high school, I think that was a turning point for me when I joined a band with my friends and we entered into competitions. That forced me to write more and be more conscious of that world and what that might look like.

For the “Remember Me” music video, you had a big hand in directing it. Did visuals come to you as naturally as music did?

I’ve always had an eye for aesthetics. I used to paint as a kid and kind of release my creativity in other ways. But at this point in my life and in my career, I’ve just felt the urge to put myself through every aspect of the art that I make. So the music is one part of it. The visuals are just an extension of that music. I write the songs. I felt like I was the only person who could bring that exact imagery to life in terms of what I could see and what I could feel writing the song.

You want to be your own Creative Director, of course. I think every artist wants that but not necessarily everyone has the confidence for it.

That’s so true. I definitely had my doubts about myself and I wasn’t 100% sure when I made this decision, and I kept going back and forth. I kept wondering if this was the right thing to do. Instinctually, I just felt it in my gut.

A lot of the music you were around growing up was written by somebody else. With lyrics, when you’re talking more about yourself, is that a weird transition for you?

That’s a good question. In my early stages of songwriting when I was a lot younger, I wrote more for the activity, and more for fun. So the material or the subject matter was more fictitious at that time. I wasn’t really drawing upon experiences that were necessarily relevant to my life experience. But as I got older and as I matured, that kind of changed and shifted. Now, I need to have a connection or some point of connection to what I’m writing about, and it has to reflect my experiences in some way. I guess when I’m writing, that whole process, I don’t really think about it.

I definitely agree, it’s a vulnerable thing to write all your feelings on the page and record the song or release it out to the world, but I think at that moment, during the composition process, I’m just not thinking about where it’s going to end up. Once I record these songs and I release them, that’s it. I kind of disconnect from them and let them go. I did my job.

I often think about how if an artist writes a song about someone in particular, that person’s going to know that you wrote this song about them.

I try not to think about it. Maybe some songs I do want them to hear, and I kind of wonder.

For “Remember Me” in particular and the video, can you tell me what the song is about as well as the visuals?

I’ve heard different interpretations of the song but I think it’s quite obviously about unrequited love and feeling very strongly about a person, and not being confident or sure about expressing that to that person, and kind of in that state of trying to build the courage to tell them or to just die with this feeling inside [laughs]. It’s a love letter to someone. Again, almost hoping they’re going to hear the song really. I guess in terms of the visual ideation and the conceptualization of the video, that was something that kind of came naturally in terms of what I wanted to see and the aesthetic. I didn’t want to suggest too much of a linear narrative because I just wanted the song to speak for itself really. I just wanted some sort of visual to accompany the song without pulling the listener out from the music and the experience.

I thought about what that might look like and what types of characters I could introduce. For the most part, it’s a performance-based video which is definitely something that’s natural to me. Singing and performing is the anchor of the video. I worked with a cinematographer whose name is Ray Edwards. I think moving into this next phase of my career and the creative projects that I’m working on, I want to be more inclusive of my own people. The whole production of this clip was all Māori. I’m just trying to be conscious of that moving forward, making art with my people. Because I know we are perfectly capable. We come from generations and generations…you know, our ancestors, they were artists and composers and our art form is such a big part of who we are.

What’s it like knowing now that people are starting to listen to your music, which wasn’t necessarily where you were with your career before? Does it make you more self-conscious or more confident?

I’ve definitely grown a lot and matured as a person beyond my career and myself. I’ve gotten a lot more confident. I think the biggest thing was believing in myself and believing in my own ability, and that’s something that was a gradual thing. Early on, I wasn’t even sure what the possibilities were in terms of what I could even do. Now, with the team and the label, they’ve kind of taken on this understanding. It’s a more recent thing. The good thing is that they trust me and so we have this great relationship and I can turn to them for advice and they definitely support me in a lot of ways. At the same time, it’s a lot of pressure and sometimes it can be a little bit overwhelming. Because I have to make all these decisions. This is everything outside of making music and art. You have to be confident in yourself to be able to do all that. I’m definitely in a better stage than I was back then, and I think I’m just going to keep getting better at it.

Teeks’ debut album is slated to come out in February, 2021. In the meantime, you can stream I wherever you listen. 

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