By Harron Walker
Teddy Geiger entered March of last year the same way she spends most of her time: squirreled away in the studio making music with other artists. She was playing around with some old, unfinished demos she recorded over a decade prior, back when she was living in Queens in the early years of her career. The band she was working with, the indie foursome Arlie, passed on the song that came out of those writing sessions — an echoey, guitar-driven pop track called “Sharkbait” about seeing the danger in what you want and going after it anyway — but Geiger held onto it, later releasing it herself.
“That’s how I was feeling [at the time],” she tells me over Zoom a year later. “Like, this is who I am. What else am I going to do?”
She is sitting at a table outside of Henson Recording Studios, on break from sessions with rising bedroom pop star Chloe Moriondo and the producer Evan Voytas, a longtime friend and collaborator. It’s a sunny day in Los Angeles on her end of the screen, so bright that the details of her pixelated visage occasionally disappear, leaving just a mouth, some black Prada frames, and dark brown bangs. Defying the desert weather in a Rag and Bone hoodie layered under a roomy Gucci cardigan (which is missing two buttons, she notes) Geiger is animated when she speaks, waving a lit Camel Blue in and out of frame every few seconds.
“It’s not like I was doing anything bad,” she continues. “It was just a bit of, like, following my own system of desire [even when others told me not to]. If there is a true desire, just because somebody doesn’t quite understand it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing for you to do. They might say, ‘Oh! No! You don’t want to do that!’ But, yes! Yes, I do!”
“It’s, like, good luck telling a trans woman not to do something she wants to,” I joke, knowingly.
“Exactly,” she says with a laugh. “Like, I’m sorry.”
What Geiger, 32, wanted to do in March of last year was get back out into the world. She had spent the previous fall in Madrid, crafting what would eventually become her forthcoming album, Teresa — a reference to her Instagram display name, as noted by Rolling Stone staff writer Brittany Spanos. Across the Atlantic, Geiger’s approach to her process changed. She got better at drawing a line between work and everything else, recording lo-fi tunes in her bedroom, then going out and having fun in a place where she could be anonymous. It was an experience she rarely enjoyed back in her industry bubble where she felt like “Teddy, the trans songwriter and producer,” everywhere she went.
Though she began her career in the spotlight playing the teenage heartthrob in the video for her 2006 Top 40 hit, “For You I Will (Confidence),” opposite reality star Kristin Cavallari, Geiger has long since settled into a more collaborative role behind the scenes. Her credits are impressive, speaking to her reputation as a “musician’s musician” among industry peers, as fellow songwriter Justin Tranter once described her to The New York Times. She captures the seemingly life-or-death stakes of experiences as technically survivable as a crush or a breakup with a tunnel-visioned intensity, which she has applied to songs as varied as Caroline Polachek’s cult fave “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” and Shawn Mendes’s “In My Blood.” The latter earned Geiger a Grammy nomination in 2019.
“The process is always mayhem in the best way,” Mendes says of working with Geiger. “Teddy is tapped into something purely magic. I’ve only ever felt it from her… If I hadn’t met Teddy, my world would be so different. She taught [me] not only to make music and love music but to trust and love myself. We’ve been through so much together. I can’t imagine it any other way.”
When she returned home from Spain in November of 2019, Geiger hoped to carry over and apply some of what she’d learned about striking a work-life balance abroad. She also planned to make an effort to “get out of work mode and just exist” in 2020. That, of course, did not happen, at least not how she hoped it would. Within weeks of her sessions with Arlie, much of the country went into lockdown in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, which was just then starting to wreak havoc in the United States. Geiger was stuck at home, out of work mode but not much else.
Unable to get back to the studio — physically, as she was legally prevented from doing so under state and municipal COVID-19 restrictions — Geiger had no choice but to focus on herself. She considered what she wanted going forward.
“Going through my transition, while I was working… It was a lot,” says Geiger, who disclosed her identity as a trans woman to the public in 2017. “So many things were changing for me, emotionally and physically, and it was just so much work with all the doctor’s appointments and processing. Between that and music, it was overwhelming.”
Unbound from her strenuous, highly regimented schedule, she slipped into new creative rhythms at home. She has also assumed a new creative moniker. Really, it’s an old one. She plans to release all upcoming projects under her full name, Teddy Geiger, instead of teddy<3, the pen name she has often used professionally.
“There was so much more time to just explore things,” she says. “Being a songwriter in L.A. who’s signed to a publisher, there’s so much opportunity coming through. Like, ‘Do you want to work with this person? This person?’ Like, yes! Just being in L.A. and being so close to everybody, it would get to the point that I’d have five different people coming in a week. It gets hard to remember what I’m doing. So, it’s been nice to spend time with the ideas and just have time to reflect on my own stuff, pop it open in the middle of the day, stay up late and ride this wave until four in the morning if I want to.”
Two of those ideas will soon see the light of day. There’s Teresa, which Geiger says is mostly finished. The album, her first since 2018’s LillyAnna, toys with moody, ambient instrumentals, which fit the lyrical themes of navigating complex, interdependent relationships. Unlike in most of her songwriting work, especially the tracks she has helped craft for bigger-name pop acts like Mendes’s “Stitches” or One Direction’s “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” the lead vocals on Teresa are airy and gently layered to the point of being indecipherable, positioning her more as a human instrument than as a discrete frontwoman. The shift was intentional. She saw the LP as an exercise in rediscovering her voice four years out from transition, what that sounds like, and what she wants to say.
The other idea is Teresa’s total opposite: a currently untitled dance-music EP packed with hooks, features, easily comprehensible lyrics, and a hi-fi vibe. “I wanted to let myself be a little poppier and not be afraid,” Geiger says. “If it’s good or bad, who cares. It’s turning out nice. When I listen to it, I get happy. A lot of my music before, I’d be sitting there thinking ‘Yeah, this is good, yeah, that’s great,’ but now I’d rather just be sitting there enjoying myself [while I listen].”
Geiger is back to collaborating with other artists, as well, like Moriondo and bassist Blu DeTiger. She tells me that she is beyond thrilled to be back in the studio — there’s nothing like “jamming in the room and feeding off each other’s energy,” she says. Still, she hopes to retain her newfound workflow and all the slower, more organic routines she fell into that allow her more time to simply live her life — if not for herself, then for the person she’s been dating on and off since last year.
“It’s awesome,” Geiger says of her open relationship. “She’s awesome. We’re both pretty bi.”
I ask if she’d like to name this mystery partner.
“Not yet,” she says, laughing. She leans back from the screen to take another drag of her Camel Blue as she comes into sharper focus.
This year, express your self-care and celebrate Pride mindfully. Visit www.MentalHealthIsHealth.us/PRIDE.