Piano pop singer-songwriter Vienna Teng has written love songs in the past.
But after three years spent studying sustainability through the lens of both business and environmentalism while working on her master’s at the University of Michigan, she’s writing new kinds of love songs.
“I didn’t want to write about relationships. It wasn’t where my head was at,” says Teng, who plays McGlohon Theater Saturday. “But how do I write songs about capitalism and climate change without writing terrible songs? It seems like recipe for disaster. How to make those songs engaging and fun and emotionally powerful? It had to do with trying to find the love story in it.”
The last track she wrote for the album tackles “the gifts a market economy brings us,” she says.
“I hear people in the environmental field saying, ‘It’s so horrible that we’re using all this energy.’ But the reason we do these things is because it makes our lives amazing. I thought, if I wrote a love song between humanity and capitalism, that actually would make sense to me,” she says. “It became this duet about how I appreciate you taking care of me all these years, but I realize there’s a price to (that).”
On another track, “Hymn of Axciom,” she addresses the juxtaposition between marketing companies (and presumably the government) spying on a willing public and the people’s increasing need to be recognized and their willingness to share personal information online.
“Some of us are privacy advocates,” she says. “There’s a lot of people who feel it’s fine for you to know my location. We do want to be known and understood. Whether we should be looking for that in machines – that’s a question that we’re grappling with. Maybe we should allow ourselves to be monitored because the trade-off may be worth it. But you have to keep your eyes open.”
Her new album, “Aims,” will be released in late September, followed by a fall tour that may be her last for a while. She’s accepted a position in her new home of Detroit in her new chosen field, but promises she won’t abandon music.
“Going to grad school made me realize how much music is a vital part of my life and gives me energy to do everything else,” says Teng, who compares it to her songwriter friends balancing kids and career.
“One of the reasons I went into sustainability is I’m not an angry person. I don’t like yelling. I needed to find another way to engage with all that stuff. A lot of the classes have to do with the communication in changing human behavior. The real problem is there is no outside enemy. It’s actually each of us and the things we want to have and have gotten used to.”
For Teng, the changes in her life are gradual, from eating more plant-based food and reducing the time she spends in a car or plane to helping decrease her carbon footprint (pulled pork is her vice) to moving to Detroit (school was in nearby Ann Arbor).
“The dominant story is about this dysfunctional failing city, but there’s all sorts of fun stuff going on,” she says. “The people I was introduced to in Detroit were inspiring and role models for me. With a city full of role models, I kind of want to live there.”
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