Teni Rane talks new single “Meet Me In Stockholm,” inspirations, guitalele, and holiday music

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I’m a Tennessee girl, even though you may not hear too much twang in my voice! I grew up around music, singer-songwriters, and listening rooms, and looking back on it now, maybe it was inevitable that I’d end up trying my hand at it eventually. I have a little bit of an old country, story-telling style, and my main instrument is my voice, even though I pick a little guitar too. The people and stories I’m most drawn to center on kindness, and I deeply believe that music and singing (especially in the shower and the car) are tools of catharsis.

I’m a folksy Americana lady, and I love the quiet chaos of a garden growing in the summer and the leaves changing color in the fall. Most of my writing inspiration comes from the scenes of my everyday life and the emotions that are present in them or from the easy pace of nature unabashedly cycling through its seasonal dance.

If you see me playing live, I’ll probably be wearing sparkly clip-on earrings — they were my grandmother’s, and even though I never knew her, it helps me feel safe and connected to my family when I’m wearing them. I also love a bit of glitter and shine, and a few rhinestones never hurt anybody!

I live pretty much in the center of my brain most of the time, and the mathematical and logical beat of music (left brain) paired with the emotive side of lyrics (right brain) feels just right to me. If I had endless resources, I’d live in a recording studio to keep both sides of my brain happy all the time.

My 2020 Heart in Tennessee EP started the wheels rolling, and I have four singles coming out in the fall of 2022 and designs on a bigger project for 2023. My first name (Teni) comes from an Armenian story that inspired my mother and ties me to her heritage. My middle name (Rane) paired well with it because “it just sounded so nice — like The Beatles’ Penny Lane.” She tied me to music the day I was born without even realizing it.

Tell us about your new single Meet Me In Stockholm’ and the inspiration behind it.

Six years ago, I had a chance to continue my soccer career for a season after finishing my university eligibility (go Razorbacks!) on a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea called Gotland. It’s a very beautiful place, and I enjoyed so much having the chance to be there and meet new folks and learn to love soccer again. At the same time, I was really quite homesick, and I struggled with the dichotomy of feeling really lonely and sad while I was having this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing semi-pro soccer abroad. I felt so guilty because often the narrative in our world is “you should be so happy” in whatever experience or place you are in — especially if it is something like getting to live and play a sport abroad.

In a lot of ways, I was really lucky to know that my family was going to have a chance to come to visit and that my then-partner-now-spouse was also going to have a chance to visit. I was counting down the days!! The chorus of the song bubbled out first (I was going to travel to the mainland to meet Jonathan in Stockholm and then travel back to the island with him), and I was really hesitant with it because I thought, “well, it’s totally silly to put Swedish in one of my songs — I barely know ANY Swedish.” After a while, I allowed myself to lean into it, and the feelings of distance and time separating me from the homey and familiar feeling of being wrapped in my best friend’s arms and accepted playing with the language. Even though the song has a longing and melancholy note and feel to it, it became a really sweet and amazing memory of my individual experience there and also our time there together. I’ve since gotten a bit better at Swedish and have enjoyed learning more of the language over time. In the chorus of the song, there are two simple phrases — jag älskar dig means “I love you,” and kommer du is a question: “are you coming?” So you get a song and a Swedish lesson 🙂

What was the songwriting and recording process?

Once I allowed myself to run with the chorus (it had already written itself with the help of my very sparse knowledge of the Swedish language), the rest of the song tumbled out pretty quickly. Holding that idea of knowing how far away you are from someone in time and space in a given moment holds the verses together and keeps that idea in the front. That was six years ago, though! Once I was back in Sweden and had secured a chance to record some tunes at Sandkvie Studios AB, I knew this one had to be included. It was really full circle to record it while back in the same place where I had originally written it and while experiencing that same division of emotions — being so grateful and excited and happy to be back and getting to do something so incredible and also feeling very lonely and separate and down sometimes. I try to be pretty prepared when I show up to a studio (and I’d had six years to let the ideas percolate), so we were able to get my guitar part in one take and the vocals in just two rounds. Roger gave me the encouragement to lean into a more melancholy tone in the choruses, which I had been hesitant to do (again because there is always a pressure to “be happy” even when we are talking about tough and real emotions). I gave Roger (Gustafson) the melody I was hearing in the instrumental bridge areas for steel and “bum bum bum bummed” out the feel of the bass line. Roger’s longtime recording, mixing, and mastering experience was invaluable in itself, and he is also an accomplished player, so by the end of the day, we were moving on to the next track. Roger was a great partner to work with, and overall it was a very successful time and collaboration — he even said my Swedish pronunciation was “pretty good”! Our styles complemented each other well, and I love how he interpreted and brought to life what I had in my head and my heart for the four songs we worked on (three more coming later this fall!). Sandkvie is such a cozy and creative space. I hope I’ll be back there someday!

What do you hope your fans/listeners take away with them when they listen to your music?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the balance of emotions in life and wondering how I can successfully navigate the really overpowering feeling ones. For me, music and writing have helped me get some of those overwhelming ideas out of my head and into a different perspective. A lot of my writing also seeks the small moments of joy that might otherwise pass me by totally unnoticed. I hope that my lyrics can remind anyone who is listening that we all have emotions and feelings and that they are not always logical or even distinct — sometimes, it seems like a big ol’ mess of spaghetti! It feels important to me to allow space for myself to process what is going on around me through song, greet those emotions (the highs and the lows), and get still enough to feel. Everyone has their own journey, and maybe those big themes and connector points — feeling lonely, feeling love, feeling anger, feeling joy — can help others notice what they are feeling and join me in learning to be okay with the mess. Emotion in life is such a universal experience, and translating it through songs and music is one of the most common art forms cross-culturally around the world. I want to feel and navigate skillfully and share that with everyone that is listening.

When did you first pick up the guitar/guitalele, and what drew you to that instrument?

I took piano lessons first when I was younger, but then one day, I ended up having to switch instructors, which was a huge bummer because our instructor was incredible! So I started with a new instructor, and about three to four months in, I told her, “you are evil” (I literally said this to the poor woman’s face — my mom was SO embarrassed), and I told my mom I wanted to quit. For a long time after that, I was really only interested in singing. I would sing along while my sister played piano (she did not have the “evil” instructor), and then when she started guitar lessons, I would tag along to those also. I was still really little, so first, I tried ukulele, but it never really stuck.

Fast forward several years, and my dad (at the age of 60) decided he was going to learn to play guitar. One year we were visiting family in Canada, and I was at this awkward age of all the cousins where I was the youngest of my cousins but also much older than any of their kids (awkward teenager stuff), and so I asked him to show me some chords so I could entertain myself and also be able to claim that I was busy and could not babysit… he showed me a few chords and gave me an electronic chord finder that day. That was that — I was off learning chords and songs from the internet chord charts. He always jokes that he taught me how to play, but I don’t joke when I tell people that he DID teach me how to play!

My interest in playing has mostly always been to be able to accompany myself while I am singing, so I kept learning and eventually also started writing my own lyrics. I have a good friend from my university days from Brazil, and she comes from a musical family. She had a guitalele, and I was super intrigued by it. It is essentially a quarter-sized classical guitar crossed with a baritone ukulele. It has a bright, happy sound and I fell in love with it, so I asked for one for my birthday. I spent most of my college years writing on it because it was pretty portable and relatively inexpensive, so I could bring it with me on soccer trips easily-ish. Most of the songs released on my first EP, Heart in Tennessee, were originally written on my guitalele, and I’m re-falling in love with the instrument again recently. Honestly, I also love the little thing because it is generally a good conversation starter as people aren’t usually familiar with it, and it gives me a chance to talk with and connect with people over something interesting and (in my opinion) very cute.

Who are some of your musical influences?

I grew up listening to a huge variety of genres and artists. Staples on road trips were John Prine, Carole King, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Nancy Griffith, and lesser-known but incredible writers like Buddy Mondlock, Pierce Pettis, Beth Woods, and Cosy Sheridan. Some of my favorite musical memories growing up were visiting Charles and Myrtle’s Coffeehouse in Chattanooga, TN, on Saturday nights to have a front-row seat in a really intimate listening room venue to hear touring singer-songwriters from all over the country play. As I grew up I enjoyed other great writers like Guy Clark. I once went to two nights in a row of Alison Krauss and Union Station Live at the Tivoli Theater in Chattanooga!

My influences are a bit all over the map in that I also love Lady Gaga — her talent is so deep, and she has an incredibly high versatility as an artist across mediums and genres and appears to be a very brave and kind person. Someone once told me that the sound that any artist creates is really just a summation of all the inputs and sonic experiences they’ve had. In that vein, I often find myself channeling for the vocal strength of Gaga, the finesse of Norah Jones, and the vulnerability of Amanda Shires. I love the gritty uniqueness of Natalie Merchant and the honest tone of Gillian Welch. I love the open vocal tones of 1995 Jewel and the earthy western twang of Brennan Leigh. I could go on, but that’s probably enough for now! I’m still assembling my voice, and I hope that I will go on searching and learning and refining forever.

What’s next?

This fall is really exciting for me because after “Meet Me in Stockholm,” I have three other singles coming out! They are all original holiday tunes that have helped me capture and hold a little bit of what is important to me during that time of year. The holidays can be incredibly stressful for folks, and I have often struggled to find my place in the narrative — especially around Christmastime. I am usually such a scrooge and REFUSE to listen to any Christmas/Holiday songs until AFTER Thanksgiving, but this year with these three tunes on their way, I am feeling very connected and excited to claim my space in the season. The first of them was released on November 4th (so I am absolutely breaking my own listening rules here). Then November 25th (safe by one day!) and December 9th (squarely in Christmas music territory). Very much to look forward to for me right now, and I am excited to share them with the world really soon. I’ll be doing some promo associated with each release which includes a chance to sit down with JP Parson at Radio Bristol for Appalachian Travels on November 4th to talk about “Cozy Inside,” playing The Redbud Venue in Chattanooga, TN, on November 25th as part of Be the Change Youth Initiative’s Concerts for a Cause Series and to celebrate the release of “Rosemary & Evergreen,” and playing another holiday gig at Tumbling Creek Cider in Abingdon, VA on December 9th in conjunction with the release of “Tennessee Snow.” I have several recording projects in mind and hope that in 2023 I’ll have a chance to release another full album or EP project. I’m really leaning into music at this point in a way that I’ve not allowed myself to in the past, and I’m apprehensive but also very excited to see how the journey goes. Next year will also bring more live shows in and around east Tennessee!

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