This is an interview I conducted with TEE-M, an unsigned rock musician who grew up in Karachi, Pakistan.
TEE-M has been deemed Music Connection Magazine’s 100 Hottest UNsigned Artists 5 years in a row. He can be heard worldwide co-hosting with Mike Stark on WPMD’s “TEE-M’s UNsigned Music Show.”
TEE-M has toured for Starbucks, and is featured in a short film, The Ultimate Song, along with Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Wayne Kramer (MC5) Tom Morello, Ice T, Steve Earle, and others. The film has been shown at Farm Aid and SXSW.
TEE-M recently completed his first album, titled “EARTHIOTIC…songsfromaoneroompalace,” which made its worldwide debut on the “Rock 50” internet radio show on WPMD.org. The CD has received great reviews.
You can view the recent music videos on YouTube for one of EARTHIOTIC’s songs, “Disappeared.” You can also watch a video for another song, “Aao Aao Aao.”
Thank you for your time TEE-M.
I know it’s an abbreviation of your name but why did you choose the name “TEE-M” over, say, something like the “Artist Formerly Known As…or just “T”?
TEE-M: When I first arrived in the States from Pakistan, I said to myself, well, how can I make things simple for everybody as far as my name was concerned. So I started using TM, (Tariq Mirza) my initials, it’s easy to remember, but then when I started performing in America, I thought I’d make it more like a performing name and added two ee’s to the T and hence TEE-M. And now when I look at it, it just fits my EARTHIOTIC…ambitions. TEE-M could be from anywhere and everywhere. Besides Prince, ‘Artist Formerly Known As” wasn’t around when TEE-M was coined. (laughs)
Don’t take this the wrong way when I say that when I first heard about a Pakistani rock singer, named “TEE-M”. I was afraid that you would have a heavy accent but you don’t one at all in your music. Did you make an effort to lose your accent in your English-speaking music?
TEE-M: I left the heavy accent in the talking, somehow with singing it was just a natural process, not any major effort to lose it. I do write and sing Urdu (spoken in Pakistan and India) songs also. In fact, one of my song from the album EARTHIOTIC, “Aao Aao Aao” (Suji Ka Halwa) is kinda like half in Urdu and half in English. It’s generating a lot of interest around the world,
a big hit on YouTube.
Where do you get your ideas?
TEE-M: Just from simple daily things, people, food and life in general. For e.g. I was at a wedding in L.A. when “Spunk” was born. There was a girl out there full of energy and a worldly vibe and the rest is songwriting process and craft.
For two or three days I was waking up in the middle of the night with a numbing sensation on my fingers that gave me the idea for “Time To Wake Up.”
I used to walk by this car covered with newspaper on the windows in this particular parking lot near where I used to work. I never saw the owner till after about two or three months, when one day, the front door was propped open and there was a woman sitting on a chair outside…just blew my mind, I mean this was in one of the rich neighborhoods of Los Angeles. That’s how “She Lives In A Car” came about.
Which is more satisfying, writing songs or actually performing them?
TEE-M: They are equally satisfying in their own way. Although I tend to perform more then write. Once an inspired song is finished, then to record it and play it live and be appreciated is the ultimate joy. Once the fruit is plucked, one has to enjoy each and every bite to its fullest.
There’s a school of thought that one must write every day. I have more respect for song-writing than that. I wait for the inspiration to kick in, that’s why I’m probably the slowest song-writer on the planet!
Why have you decided not to become signed artist or are you just waiting for the right moment to sign, as I’m sure some big labels would sign you in a heartbeat?
TEE-M: Thank you…you would think so right?, that’s what I thought, why would any major label have any problem signing TEE-M with an album like EARTHIOTIC…songsfromaoneroompalace. At this time of my career I should have already had a worldwide multi-platinum selling album, neck high in debt, and I should have been out of the Betty Ford Center, recovering. But I guess all of that is still ahead. (laughs)
In all honesty, I’m really enjoying this organic adventure of my music career and where it’s heading to. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, and that’s important to me, let the chips fall where they may.
You say that one of your biggest influences is the Beatles. I do hear a bit of Beatles (a bit of McCartney) in your music. Tell us more about those bands that have influenced you?
TEE-M: The Beatles are the main culprit in all of this. While growing up in Karachi, they really kicked me to pick up the guitar, write and sing. Their songs were a joy to listen to, even now when a song of there’s comes on the radio, I learn something and I’m self taught. You can say I had the best teachers in rock n roll, and it was all free.
That’s why it was truly an honor for me when I was asked to sing at John Lennon’s 25th Memorial at Capital Records in Hollywood, where I also lit the first of the twenty five candles.
There were a couple of instrumental bands, The Shadows from England and The Ventures from the States were very helpful in my early guitar playing. Bob Dylan’s output and mastery of the English language is just amazing.
I always enjoyed Doors music, when I was a kid, a friend of mine had passed along their Strange Days album. There’s a song in there called Horse Latitudes, whenever I was at home at night listening to the album alone, I would skip that track, it used to scare the hell out of me.
James Brown’s music touched me in a lot of ways, you may be surprised, but his influence is hidden all over EARTHIOTIC…I even wrote a song “Thinkin’ Bout James Brown” in the early 90’s when he was having problems.
Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar were singers from India that I used to enjoy listening to, I’ve re-discovered them recently. I’m also a big fan of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan…the qawali man from Pakistan, just an amazing singer.
You have had a long journey to get to where you’re at now in your career. For prospective musicians, tell us some of the most important things that you’ve learned in the music industry?
TEE-M: Tell me about it…I would really like my story to inspire a whole generation of up-coming musicians and songwriters.
First thing that I’ve learnt is never give up, no matter what the industry wants or is going through. One has to believe in oneself, because if we don’t, then nobody else will.
Now a days with YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, independent artists have a lot of different channels to spread their gospel. You might not be making a whole lotta money but you can pass your music far and wide. Keep your spirit going, because once we lose that, then it’s all over.
What is your favorite song you did and why?
TEE-M: I don’t have a favorite song of mine, they are all favorites. (laughs) However I did record and cover a Beatles song after George Harrison passed away.” Don’t Bother Me” was George’s first song on a Beatles record that he wrote. In fact, it was on their second album ‘With The Beatles.’ An album that was given to me by a cousin of mine in Karachi. I used to listen to this record over and over again, this is the one with a black and white cover showing half their faces. The reason that I really appreciate my version of the song is that it does not sound anything like the Beatles. I took it somewhere else which I was very happy with. I had big help from my co-producer Geoff Tyson who played the slide guitar, sitar and bass. Geoff had not heard the song, which I thought was great, and I hadn’t heard it in a long time either. I just said to him let the inspiration take us where it may. This was the first song that Geoff and I did, before embarking on the journey which is now
known as EARTHIOTIC.
Explain what your record, EARTHIOTIC…songsfromaoneroompalace, is all about and why that title?
TEE-M: Well, I was thinking as oppose to patriotic…patriotic seems too small, these days with all the problems that we have going on, on the planet. It’s like, okay, you’re suppose to love this part of the world and I’m suppose to love the other part and in the meantime we forget about the big picture.
I just love the sound of that word…EARTHIOTIC…I think it’s a beautiful word, yet powerful. In any case it’s my little thofa (gift) to our planet, and I hope one of these days they’ll put it in the dictionaries. Whether it’s one room or twenty rooms, wherever you are, that’s your palace. Again songsfromaoneroompalace, it feels and sounds good to me. It balances the EARTHIOTIC thinking, the big and the small.
I guess I was trying to give small this grandeur feeling. If you notice on the record, one minute I’m stuck in Paris, while thinking about Bollywood and stopping for some halwa in Karachi, the next I’m hopping on a plane to New Orleans and back ending very peacefully by the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica.
What does the future holds for TEE-M?
TEE-M: We just released the video for the song “Disappeared” on YouTube, which is the fastest rising single on there for TEE-M. The video was put together by a great bunch of people. It was directed by Chris Jean, Ray Van Ness was the producer, Kelly Jones was the director of photography, the actress was Brittany Shaw and edited by Brian Zargoski and Will who put in a lot of time, because we had three days of shoot material.
Now we’re getting ready to have the “Disappeared” video release party at The Venice Whaler by the ocean on March 28th. The Whaler has the distinction of being the only place on the planet to have two EARTHIOTIC..cds in two of its jukeboxes! I’ll be doing a live performance with Gregory Leon on guitar and Al Reyes on upright.
There are some directors here in the States and in Pakistan who would like to make some more videos from EARTHIOTIC…in the near future and I’m looking forward to that. I hope to be touring Pakistan later in the winter, which could be a lot of fun.
I also have a radio show “TEE-M’s UNsigned Music Show” with Mike Stark on http://wpmd.org where we play a lot of unsigned indie music. Mike gets me there once a month and we usually have a couple of artists for a live performance also. The show can be heard ON DEMAND 24/7. His other guest once a month is Bill Ward, the drummer of Black Sabbath. Mike is also the author of Black Sabbath: An Oral History.
Where can we hear and buy your music?
TEE-M:EARTHIOTIC…is available from any part of the globe at http://CDbaby.com/teem
In Karachi at the Second Floor Coffee House http://t2f.biz
You can also listen to TEE-M music at http://myspace.com/teemrocks
and at Last Fm http://last.fm/music/TEE-M
You can get in touch with TEE-M at http://tee-m.com firstname.lastname@example.org