Eli Teplin On Music Theory, His Upbringing and The Piano
TIDAL spoke to Eli Teplin about his upbringing, what led him to crafting his debut single “Could It Be Over?” and his relationship with the piano.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your upbringing as a kid?
I grew up in a town called Needham, about 15 minutes from Boston, MA. I lived two blocks from my best friend, Greg, and 4 blocks from my other best friend, Nate, so we’d always walk to each other’s houses to hang. I’m the third of four boys in my family, so there was always this energy circulating in my house growing up. Some of my most vivid family memories are of us (and my parents) jamming together in our living room, singing our favorite songs and making fun of my oldest brother’s guitar playing (which was horrendous). I can honestly say – and thankfully so – that I had an upbringing that any kid would want. I felt free to express myself, to be weird, and to explore. I think it was my upbringing that paved the way for me feeling comfortable enough to be a songwriter and artist.
How did music find its way into your life and what was it like crafting your first songs?
I started playing piano when I was only 4 years old, but I’d be lying if I said I remember my first piano lessons. I’m just taking my parents’ word that that’s when I started playing. Until high school, all I ever played was classical music – Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms - all the greats. I practiced every single night. For me, music was always the ace up my sleeve. Not many people knew how deep I was into it, but it always made me feel unique – that I had something to offer that was all my own. Once high school rolled around, I got dumped by a girl for the first time, and I remember that same day, I sat down at the piano and I wrote my first song, called “Crater and Comet”. One of the lyrics was “I was the crater and you were the comet, burning me into the ground”. Super deep stuff. I put that song on Myspace, and a few days later heard from some of my friends that the girl who it was about had heard the song. I remember that sensation of knowing she heard it and that maybe she now understood how I felt- it was such an electric feeling. From them on, I was hooked on songwriting. Everything that’s come after, up until this point, is just a continuation of that story.
In such a noisy and chaotic mainstream music world, do you find anything comforting to have your piano as this singular musical guide?
I find a lot of comfort in knowing that I’ve spend years and years studying the piano and what it can do. One of the most poignant things Quincy Jones has ever told me is that music is half soul, half science. You either have the soul or you don’t, but you need to work hard for the science. For me, I’ve always been intrigued by music theory – how chords work, why certain songs are catchy while others aren’t, and how to find hip new harmonies in the way chords are voiced. At the end of the day, all I want to do is direct my authentic emotion through the prism of my musical knowledge. That’s how songwriting works, and I feel thankful that I’ve spent so long playing music that the act of songwriting is sort of just one fluid action at this point.
Is there anything you satisfy personally by making the music you do?
I feel like if I didn’t make music and write my own songs, I would feel really misunderstood. Sometimes when I finish I song, I have this distinct feeling of “Yes! that is ME right there.” It’s a feeling I can’t really summon by just explaining myself in conversation. Theres also a feeling of rebellion that I feel when I write something that I think is great. I’m a naturally competitive guy, so it feels good to stumble upon a melody or lyric that I know no-one else has grabbed yet. Its like this cosmic race for great stuff, where no-one really knows where any of the ideas are coming from, but everyone can generally agree on whats’ cool and what’s not. There is no time that I feel more alive than after I’ve written a song – I’m wired. Just knowing that out of pure imagination, a song now exists that didn’t when I woke up this morning is such a cool feeling to me, and one that I bet I’ll never get tired of.
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