The first time I heard a teddybear song, I didn’t know what I was listening to. Those connections you make when you hear a familiar sound (like “this is so Michael Jackson,” or “you can tell they ripped off Jack White”) just weren’t coming through. Instead I found myself juggling so many unrelated names—Drake, Bob Dylan, Patrick Stump, T-Pain…
Time after time, teddybear creates a sound that crosses out so many conventions it might transcend any label. Somewhere between a break-up song and a meditation on his failures, teddybear’s “Nevermind,” produced by Hudson Alexander, takes a radical approach to stretch out what a genre can be. He’s found a rare niche of untouched territory and gone all-in.
But what really sets teddybear’s music apart are his lyrics. The rapper/singer/songwriter is so vivid and explicit that you can’t help but feel like you’re overhearing him talk to a close friend or reading his private journal. Full of thoughtful musings and gritty details, Nevermind is a perfect introduction to the dynamic artist.
I’d do anything to feel a little bit closer,
and if the high feels sober
it almost feels like closure
It’s a chapter in the concept album Bread and Butterflies, the first time teddybear’s taken on a project of its size and scale. I spoke to teddybear about his songwriting experience, what it was like making the album, and how he sees himself as an artist. And to get a comprehensive take on how the songs come together, I also talked to Hudson Alexander on what it’s like working together.
So listen to “Nevermind” and decide how you see his unique approach to music, and keep reading to hear all about it from teddybear himself.
When did you start writing music?
Teddy: I was probably 18/19. I was rapping just for fun. I never thought that I’d really take it anywhere. I was just doing it because it was more fun than doing school at the time. I was in my first/second year in college, and I was not really vibing with it. It was really a preppy school, and I just never really felt like I fit into that. So I spent a lot of time by myself, just smoking weed and writing random songs.
I wanted to write stuff that I thought was just fun and cool, and I never would show anybody past my really close friends. It was this thing I did in secret. But then my third year I kinda half dropped out. And, I just half-assed the dropout because I was still kind of in classes, and still was technically in school, and I started doing a few shows around school.
But then when I was in my third to fourth year, I went back and I decided I was going try to take it more seriously, and that’s when I started incorporating more melody and doing more song writing. It became more of a challenge to me to try and write a really interesting song. And try to touch on concepts more honestly. I started writing shockingly honest stuff that I just really liked and look for in music. Then I fully dropped out. I was spending all my time just writing songs, learning how to make beats. And, yeah, it was super fun for me. It’s just something that I love doing.
When you’re writing a song, what comes first to you?
A lot of the time I have overarching concepts of things I want to talk about in music. It usually comes from a beat first and then I can take and repurpose a lot of these ideas or pick which idea I want to go with that beat.
But I’ve written songs before with no instrumental. Like my song “Show and Tell.” Last year, I was deliriously tired and I just started seeing the chorus in my head and I made a voice note, wrote down the lyrics, and then just fell asleep.
And then the next day I met [my producer] Hudson and he played me that beat and I was like, “What the fuck?” It just made that song. So, I don’t know, it’s kind of different. I didn’t want to make the same song twice. Sometimes I just make songs, just treat them as practice until I get to the next thing that I was really trying to do.
But Bread and Butterflies is something I’ve never really done before because it’s a full concept album and there’s a story involved. So I just had to connect different parts of my life and learn from experiences, understand different experiences that I went through.
[To Hudson Alexander] You and teddybear work together a lot. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as an artist about building a creative partnership?
Hudson: I met Teddy in a session with my friend Smrtdeath, and I think we both felt like we had a good connection right away. We made the song “Show and Tell” that night, then I pretty much sat down for the next few months and made a bunch of beats, trying to adapt my style to Teddy’s because the stuff I was making before had a more typical trap vibe.
This process definitely made me a way better producer, it got me experimenting in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise, and being able to show him a beat, watch him write to it, then record and mix it all in the same day taught me a lot about the process and what my role as a producer needs to be.
I really like working with Teddy because his lyrics and themes are so relatable to me. That’s something I look for in all the artists I choose to work with. I’ve always made music as an emotional release, so I really like when I make something then Teddy comes in and makes it that much more personal by voicing a thing I’ve felt or dealt with or whatever, but never really knew how to put into words. It makes these songs like “Not in a car!” and “Nevermind” feel that much more special to me.
[To teddybear] What made you decide to make a concept album?
Teddy: I felt like it was the next step in my song writing. It was something that I hadn’t done before. I just felt like it would be really challenging to write something that’s more of a story and write something that was entirely cohesive, but every song sounded different.
I just really wanted something I wasn’t finding in music…and then I had the concept of Bread and Butterflies. It came out of nowhere. I was watching Alice in Wonderland, and there’s a line in it where she walks in to the garden where the flowers are, and the flowers are singing “You can learn a lot from the flowers.” And then she walks in and she’s like, “Oh, butterflies.” And this caterpillar pops out of nowhere and he’s like, “No, look carefully. It’s bread and butterflies.”
And they all line up into a loaf of bread and all their wings are bread. And, I’m like, “Damn, that is so beautiful.”
I just saw it right there. I want to make a concept album that’s inspired by the fact that a relationship can feel like Wonderland in a way. And how you leave, and you don’t know what’s real. But, when you look back, things are always changing in your mind, forgetting and remembering at different points. I just thought it was a really nice comparison.
I didn’t realize it would take me two years to get it right or get it to the point where I was comfortable with starting to roll it out. But, I’m happy that I took it on because it’s something that I’m really proud of, and I want to make something unique.
The Bread and Butterflies album is not told chronologically. What made you make that choice as a songwriter?
To be honest, I wanted to do it all chronologically initially, and I did the first four chapters totally chronologically, but I skipped chapter five because didn’t wanna put that part of the story out yet, kind of wanted it to be something you could go back and find that part and put it all together, since I’m rolling it out single by single. I just wanted to do something weird and different and not have any of the songs lost in translation.
You released your music under a stage name and persona. Do you find that that helps you be more vulnerable, or does it allow you to separate yourself more from the music?
A little bit. I definitely feel I can just say random things that maybe I don’t feel like I entirely relate to. I can draw from other people’s experience and catch a lot of those stories and feelings. But it’s still so closely related to the person that I actually I am that it’s almost like I can be as vulnerable as I really wanna be, because I still don’t feel like I’m completely anonymous with it. It’s a fine line there between Teddy and who I really am as a person, because it’s very real. This is not fiction.
Have you ever had to cut something out because you thought it was going too far or getting too personal?
I mean, sometimes when I’m writing songs, I’ll put a bunch of ideas down. And some of it is like, “Yeah, I don’t need to say that one line.” Or I’ll find a different way to represent the same emotion where it’s a little bit less obvious.
I think this music is more than ever for myself, I’m trying to veer away from abstract, in a way. But I don’t like to cut stuff out. I don’t overthink, I just trust myself in whatever it is. I’ve changed names before, or I’ll try to be gender neutral to make it more accessible. But that’s maybe the only thing that I’ve gone back and edited, it’s just so that it’s more accessible like that.
How do you know when a song is done?
I could keep working on it and could keep refining it, but at some point I just have to step back and say, like, “You know, it is what is.” There’s perfection in the imperfection sometimes.
When I recorded Nevermind, I was super fucked up and it was the middle of the night, like four in the morning, and Hudson and I were just both super exhausted, and my voice was completely gassed, and I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna try it again and we’ll see if this is the one.” And it ended up being this take that was just extremely raspy and just really messed up, and I wasn’t even hitting all the notes.
But I actually went back and I recorded it again on a different day when my voice was better and cleaner, and I listened to it, and I was like, “This took something away, the honesty of the track.” Because when I wrote it, I was really going through all those lyrics and living that. I had smoked a pack of cigarettes that day and a ton of weed, and my voice was actually really broken up, and so when I said that line it was just coming from a place of honesty, and I think going back and editing that again, I realized that sometimes that you can do too much.
You can really hear on the track just how broken your voice was. It has this really weird Bob Dylan meets T-Pain kinda sound to it. It’s unrefined, but auto-tuned. Have you ever felt a pressure to make it more universally approachable?
I mean, I’m always gonna try to do better and be better as a person inherently and learn from different experiences. So I’m always trying to improve my singing, for one thing. That’s one thing I think will be never perfect, you know? I think improvement with vocals just comes with time, and I like it when artists that I listen to don’t stay the same. They’re growing and evolving, so I always let myself do that to a degree.
But as far as making things more universally acceptable, I think there’s a point in time when I became really comfortable with the fact that my music isn’t going to be for everybody.
I became more comfortable with being more niche and being like a cult type thing for the fans that I do have. Just trying to foster the listener base that I have right now, rather than trying to do collaborations or features or try to reach for promotion that’s not organic. I think that it takes something away from it, and I’d never want to isolate my core listeners. I’d rather one person listens 100 times than 100 people listen once.
Who are some of the artists that have influenced you?
There’s a few artists that I’ve really gravitated towards or will listen to everything that they do. I’m from Toronto and I like a bunch of Toronto music like The Weeknd and Drake, their song writing approaches and the way that they’ve shown growth in their music is something that I always looked up to.
I really like Bob Dylan and I really like Neil Young, and I like hearing artists that don’t have traditional voices. Because they let me focus more, made me more comfortable with focusing on taking a songwriting-first approach and saying, “You can write a good song without being a traditionally great singer.”
When you’re writing a song do you think that lyrics or sound is more important, or is it about combination of both?
Yeah it’s definitely that combination, but for me I’d be more willing to sacrifice sonically perfect vocals for something honest and something that’s real in that moment. And definitely for me I think lyrics take a little bit of a step forward always, but that’s just my own taste coming through, I guess.
If “Nevermind” is the first teddybear song that a listener hears, what do you want them to come away with?
I’m not really sure I know how to answer that question because I don’t ever think of my music as a listener first. I don’t think of it as what people are going to really think. I think if anybody would want to know something about that song, it would be like I was trying to just, I’m always trying to make my favorite song over and over again.
I mean doing the concept album, I was forced to think about the way that people would understand it, more than I have ever had before. But it’s just something that I never really know until you put stuff out.
Do you see yourself more as a recording artist or a live performer or both?
I think of myself as a songwriter, to be honest. I think doing that comes with all aspects of music, like the live performance thing where you can say the way like you feel about this song, or you can add variation or change the way that the story is told a little bit through the delivery.
But yeah, I definitely look at myself as more of just a songwriter, in general, because I like music that’s universal and can be repurposed. Like different genres or being covered or other people sing it and think maybe in a different genre and it sounds completely different. It’s great song writing.
What’s next for teddybear?
We’re trying to set up a show in Toronto. I’m going to announce that soon and I’m going to focus a lot on building the collective that I have. We started a collective called 6000PLUS, which is based on hard work and positive energy in the city. And just fostering the relationship between all of us artists and moving things forward.
I’m working really hard on that for the past year, just to make sure that it was something that I really liked and I didn’t want to do it too early. Bread and Butterflies is finished for me, so I’ve been working on what’s to come after that and that’s pretty much almost done now.
There’s a lot more music to come and I have a lot of things planned out so I’m just really excited to keep sharing.
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