It’s hard to turn the entirety of Axelrad into a dance rave –ample seating, coveted hammocks, and Luigi's pizza in the beer garden’s sprawling outdoor area make sure of that. But on a sweltering Saturday night in early June, a journey up the building’s vine covered staircase lands at an upstairs patio crowded with Houston creatives from all corners of the community. Photographers, journalists, producers, DJs, and local recording artists gathered in close quarters, overlooking that now iconic neon tree with the baby mountain range of a downtown skyline in the not-so-far-away distance, buzzing in support of local electro-pop act Tee Vee’s Tempest record release show.
Inside the building, Tee Vee, and everyone in the audience, is sweating up a storm. The angelic cyborg soprano’s shimmering synths and heavenly melodies turn the narrow, gunshot performance space into a devilish sauna dance rave. Clad in a custom made black and white checkered skort, she braves the heat alone onstage. Her one woman show finds her singing, playing synthesizers, whipping out a guitar - a level of multitasking not for the faint of heart. If Houston ever wondered what it might have been like to see
Lady Gaga Stefani Germanotta perform at The Bitter End in New York City circa 2006, this was it.
About a week and a half after the benchmark performance, Tee Vee is sipping a vodka soda (“But it’s a nice vodka.”) in the backyard of Montrose mainstay Poison Girl. She squeezes juice from her drink’s lime wedge onto the wooden planked tabletop before rubbing the lime into the table; a circular motion creates a darkened citrus moon. Mosquitos are out, and it’s as hot on this Tuesday evening as it was at Axelrad.
“In a weird way, I kind of liked how nasty and sweaty it was in there. Like, I’m sure it was way worse in the crowd – no I’m not. There were so many lights up there, it was super hot, yeah.”
As mosquitos feast, she recalls the recording process of her full length effort. Her grueling schedule, which began in Fall 2018, daunted her with balancing a day job in the morning and assembling a pop album in the afternoons and evenings. She lost sleep, something she says is not good for her mental health, and on her days off, she would work on her creative project. Though exhausting, the hard work paid off.
Tempest, Tee Vee’s first LP, is a refreshingly cohesive effort, impossible to not dance to, and decidedly human. It walks the tightrope of glossy pure pop with a DIY spirit through a series of song storms that tackle themes of madness, forgiveness, questioning versions of reality. The songs' harmonic progressions give way to elusive sonic horizons of satisfaction through memorable, symmetrical melodies, and masterful, reiterative songwriting techniques.
Proud of her perfect attendance throughout her album cycle, the self-proclaimed workaholic seems relieved to reveal she finally took a day off recently, though it might not have been under the best of circumstances.
“I took a break the day after I played the show. That was the one, my first break. And I think I only took it ‘cause I’m pretty sure I had a concussion that night. I hit my head so hard loading up,” she says, likening herself to a robot that can’t compute. “The rest of the night, I felt like I was malfunctioning, but I just thought I was tired. I was like ‘Damn, that was hot and tiring.’”
Just as she does the mosquitos devouring her arms and legs, she brushes off the possible head injury.
“Heat stroke. Minor concussion. No big deal, man. No big deal. Fuckin’ still alive. Yeah. It was fun.”
The East Houston native, known to family and friends as Teresa Vicinanza, began her musical journey when she was seven years old. She took piano and guitar lessons, sang in church with her dad, and joined choir in middle school. Midway through her fine arts curriculum at UH, she resumed playing guitar and retaught herself music theory. Her first project was with local act Rosette, but she eventually began making music under the solo moniker Tee Vee. A stripped-down performance of her solo work at Poison Girl opened up the doors for a set at Houston’s now defunct Day for Night festival. When asked who she listened to religiously growing up, she lets out a sigh.
“Oh man. A lot of fucking girl pop. I feel like a lot of stuff. A lot of weird shit.” She delves into less stigmatized genres like rap and R&B but quickly reclaims pop music, confessing she’s been listening to some deep ‘90s cuts.
“I’ve also been listening to,” a laugh intercuts, “lately, this is, this is funny. Not the one hit, but the rest, some of the other songs that’re on the album Aquarium by Aqua.” She phrases it as a quasi-question, but the twinkle in her eye suggests she knows exactly what she’s talking about. “It’s so good!” her voice rising in pitch, elated. “I’ve been listening to them, like these songs are tight. Did everyone forget about Aqua?”
A second round of vodka soda becomes the table’s centerpiece as she recognizes pop music’s pitfalls for her psyche, despite her innate love for the genre.
“If I’m in a really low space, pop music can actually be a really negative thing for me. Because I - so I have OCD. So, OCD is like, you’re cycling things that happen. You do things over and over and over. So pop songs, that’s what they do – they repeat.” She adds: “There are certain times where I have to listen to classical music, like, something that is not this. Something that doesn’t repeat that keeps going so I can get out of certain cycles, you know?”
She says that assembling a record helps with her compulsions, obsessions, and decision making – something she realized after releasing 2017’s Soft Spot EP.
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“It was an outlet that I was able to use well and I felt like I was actually giving something from inside and not like in art school trying to impress people.”
When asked what she hopes people gain from hearing her music or seeing her perform, she says: “Obviously, as a musician, as an artist, you want to touch someone in some way. And I want everyone to have a good time, and I’d hope that it’s not meaningless. It isn’t for me, so hopefully it isn’t for someone else as a viewer or as someone experiencing the music.”
You can catch Tee Vee Live at Satellite Bar with STOO, TC Superstar, and Yip Deceiver on Friday, August 30. Doors at 8 p.m. In the meantime, stream her new album Tempest below.