all photography by @physical.media
A lot of things tend to get lost in technological translation. But to say there was anything remotely opaque about the 90-minute facetime call we were fortunate enough to have with Toronto artist, teddybear, would be a statement as devastatingly unjust as saying a similar level of opacity exists in his music. Teddy, as we came to learn, is a person and an artist of forward honesty and wholehearted openness, who approaches music the same way that he approaches life – uniquely head on with a remarkably wide lens.
Undoubtedly part of the increasingly popular movement of crossover artistry bringing sledge hammers to the party of traditional genre realignment, teddybear finds himself today a proponent and a creative mind of music that ranges in classic definition from pop punk to hip-hop and back again. But truly, the best way to define his sonic texture, is simply as his own. You see, he, like many artists in the modern sphere, is not necessarily fond of or reliant on labels.
On the cusp of releasing a new album, Bread & Butterflies – a raw concept project of particularly emotional breath, we connect with Teddy in a calm and meditative mental place of reflection, creativity, and near-finality before the gates open and all are welcomed into his hauntingly fantastic garden.
RNGLDR: A lot of people reading this will know you already, but for many, this interview will be a first introduction to your person and your creativity. So, would you mind giving us a quick background on who you are, what you do, etc?
Teddy: I’m teddybear. I’m a songwriter from Toronto. I’ve been working with a lot of different artists over the past few years, but I’m more focused on my solo stuff now and moving forward.
RNGLDR: Regarding your sound, you have a really interesting thing going. Especially if you look at where music is – predominantly in more mainstream hip-hop – there’s a big influence from rock – an obvious blending between those two styles. It’s interesting because, if you look back to even your earliest work, it’s the kind of approach you’ve always had, and now the more mainstream sound seems headed in that same direction.
Teddy: I feel the same way lately. It’s kind of strange, but I’ve felt that shift happen really slowly. More specifically than rock, for me it’s pop punk, jazz, and blues that are the main influences. Realistically, I think it’s just that people have become more open to this type of music that I’m very comfortable making and have been for a while. At the same time, now there’s more competition in the same genre, and the only thing that it’s made me do is become more niche and more focused on creating something that’s unique. As a listener, that’s always been something I’ve searched for.
RNGLDR: Sometimes, with the hip-hop circuit especially, some of the artists that seem to be trending towards that Warp Tour era of alt rock and pop punk, have a difficulty crossing over between the sounds. Some of it feels pretty unauthentic.
Teddy: If you’re even a little bit uncomfortable with yourself, and you try to do any genre that you’re just trying to cash in on for style points, it’s going to come out inauthentic in one way or another. I’ve definitely seen it in today’s scene, but it’s not new at all. People are going to do that with every new wave. But I think this (wave) is here to stay. People thought that drill music was going to come and go, but now people are still making the drill hits, you know what I mean? Most music is aggregate off other inspiration. The way it’s changing right now is that this genre is having more of an impact on what popular rap is as a whole.
RNGLDR: The idea of crossover artists is really interesting because you in particular have a transcendental sound – you can’t really be defined by any traditional sphere of genre. So, how is that as an artist? Is it difficult to be transcending styles or does it come naturally to you?
Teddy: From my perspective, I just want to love what I’m making… make my favorite song. My favorite music has qualities I’ve never heard before; Something that I think is challenging on one level or another, that is centered somewhere familiar while bringing something new to the table. It’s really just about trusting my own taste, and saying “this is what I like,” then making something. Then I can look back and ask myself, “is this up to the standard of what I like?”
Crossing over, mixing genres, blending styles is just something that happens by accident. Maybe I hear this specific beat, but I want to do my thing on it. So sometimes I do some pop punk stuff over a really heavy hip-hop beat, and it ends up seeming like a crossover track. But it’s not a conscious thing. It’s just me making my favorite shit – sometimes it sounds one way, sometimes it sounds another.
I’m not trying to hold myself back or define myself. I think that once I start to hold myself to a specific sound or brand, then it becomes less exciting for me and the people listening. I always want to have that freedom of creativity, and luckily, I have supporters who like my music for the risks I take.
RNGLDR: You’re a young artist but you’ve collaborated with so many people, so you have this really diverse canon. Whether it’s work that you’ve helped to write, produce, or whether it’s your own personal music, your collection goes through so many different sounds and styles. Something we didn’t know about you is that early in your career, you had a really popular series of collaborations with your sister, BLANKTS. There’s a certain population of fans like us that have discovered you through your recent work and failed to make the connection that your sister is also a well-known artist and that you played a heavy role in her early music. But when we go back and listen, it’s obviously you, we just were never able to make that connection because you and your sister’s music is obviously very different.
Teddy: More so now than ever with the directions that both of us have gone. It’s really interesting though. There are a lot of people now asking me if I ever went by a different name. I recently rebranded from Teddy to teddybear, but I’m still Teddy.
The work with my sister was what broke a lot of genres for me. That music, more than anything – it’s so wholesome – when we were making it, I wanted it to have this timeless quality that we could still enjoy years down the line and it would still make sense, be relevant in some way. In order to make music that lasts a long time, genre doesn’t matter.
That old music has a very special place in my heart.
RNGLDR: Like you said, I think it still does hold up. It’s still relevant. That early work with your sister and Tülpastill sounds really modern. Songs like 2 Yrs Late – that track was everywhere.
Teddy: Yeah, that’s still crazy to me. I never know the reach of that track, but so many people have heard it. Or even the Suicide, Part 2 stuff. I just never knew the reach. Whenever I go to LA, that’s what people seem to know me best for – Suicide, Part 2 & BLANKTS.
RNGLDR: So, musical family then?
Teddy: Actually, no. My sister and I are the only two that do music. I mean, my parents love music – they’re always playing it around their house and dancing, but they don’t play or anything.
RNGLDR: Did you grow up playing instruments?
Teddy: Yeah, I played drums first. Then did the whole trying to play guitar thing. Then I played bass in high school. Basically, I learned how to play all those instruments, and then started taking piano lessons when I was 16. I had always wanted to learn how to play piano and how to write songs, so I started taking those lessons really late, but looking back, it wasn’t late at all – it was really great that I did that.
But then, I had a really bad hand injury in college – either my first or second year, I don’t remember. I tried to open a window, the glass broke, and I ended up cutting my finger most of the way off. I went to the hospital, I still have my pinky finger, but I can’t feel it, so it makes it tough to play piano because I can’t reach. I can’t play guitar because it locks up.
So, I had to stop playing instruments and that was the point that I started the Teddy project and started to take this really seriously – take the songwriting and the lyrics really seriously.
RNGLDR: If you could collaborate with any name, who would it be?
RNGLDR: Being there in the Toronto scene, who are some artists that maybe people outside of the city haven’t heard of yet, but within it, people are really talking about?
Teddy: Off the top, I think Roy Woods’ Collective – UTU – they have some cool artists feeding through there, and I don’t think that has fully broken yet.
There’s an artist named 9TAILS. He’s gotten more of his popularity online and hasn’t done a ton of shows in the city, but he’s from Toronto and not a lot of people know that. I think he’s going to be an important artist moving forward.
Obviously, I believe wholeheartedly in the people that I work with and what they’re doing. But, without just putting on my friends and my homies, I would say those two are really intriguing.
RNGLDR: It seems like one of those cities where you can never discover it all. Every time we open up SoundCloud or somebody tells us to listen to something new, the artists are from Toronto, Chicago, Atlanta, or Brooklyn. There’s a never-ending stream of artists releasing music from all of those places.
Teddy: You have to know, the energy in Toronto is very conducive for creation. People are very open to artists. Especially where I live in the West End, is an artist community. It makes it easier to make something and share it with the city.
RNGLDR: So, it’s like an incubator for artistic and creative talent?
Teddy: Yeah, exactly. Lots of people are moving here from outside of the city. Even a lot of the people that I work with now – for example, Hudson Alexander – is from Winnipeg. It’s cool. It’s turning to that type of LA or New York vibe where most people, especially in the artist communities, aren’t necessarily from here. People who are looking to be inspired are moving here because it’s a different style of life.
There’s lots of different kinds of artists here. There are the full-time artists and then the type of artists that have a full-time job doing something else. It’s just a really cool balance.
RNGLDR: You mentioned Hudson Alexander. Between him and Cian P, I think your more recent work – everything since the RED TONGUE EP especially – has found a new grittier, darker sound, and that in a lot of ways, you’ve hit a new stride lately.
Teddy: It feels that way a little bit. I have a really good working relationship with Hudson right now. We met in September. He helped me finish up my project. He produced four tracks for the album that I have coming up. We made a lot of music together, and it was a newer sound for me.
I’m really thankful. Cian, Hudson, and Tülpa were the producers who took the time, gave me the beats that really challenged me to push it forward, and were patient and creative enough to take those chances. More than anything, with all those producers, I just really trust their tastes.
RNGLDR: Cian in particular has a really insane track record. When you look at the projects he’s put out and the artists that he’s collaborated with, he has a really impressive résumé to say the least.
Teddy: Yeah, he really stacked it up. But in my opinion, that’s just a testament to the way that his stuff sounds. He can make hits. He knows what sounds really good. That’s why it’s super fun to work with Cian.
RNGLDR: So, Cian P produced your recent track, Cheshire, does he have any other roles on your upcoming album?
Teddy: Yes. There’s one other track by Cian on this project. We’ve got a lot more music together for after Bread & Butterflies...
RNGLDR: On the subject of Cheshire and Bread & Butterflies are you some sort of huge Alice in Wonderland fan or what’s the influence there?
Teddy: Not even, honestly. Though I do think the book and the movie are great. I started thinking about how a relationship can exist in that sort of Wonderland state where everything is perfect, and you feel like you’re dreaming, but then you step away from it and you don’t know what was real… how if you look closer, things aren’t quite what they seem.
I’ve wanted to do a concept album for a while, and that whole vibe – that garden in Alice in Wonderland - I wanted to make music that makes you feel like you’re there in this near-cartoon world that’s scary and fantasy-like. There are more connections you’ll hear as it gets released. It was really the perfect concept to work with.
RNGLDR: Does the album have a date yet?
Teddy: It doesn’t have a date yet. But I’m at the point now where it’s going to happen really quickly. I don’t usually go with release dates, I just go with when it feels right - like how I released the RED TONGUE project.
I’m really excited to show people this. But at the same time, this project is so personal. A lot of the pause on it has been just to make sure that it’s being done the right way. It’s a very honest project.