Teira Lockhart Church was only 14 when she stood on stage and belted out “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” in front of more than 1,000 people.
The 2016 UCLA alumna began performing gospel music at family gatherings when she was five years old, and now works in Los Angeles as a professional singer-songwriter. Though she has sung jazz and gospel music for most of her life, Church said she no longer defines herself as a jazz musician. Instead, she considers herself an interdisciplinary artist who experiments with combining jazz, R&B, soul and indie in order to create music inspired by her experiences as a woman of color. Church has four songs set to be released this year and is working on an EP for release in early 2018.
“For as long as I can remember, music has been in the house, and I’ve been singing,” Church said. “I don’t think I’ve ever stopped singing.”
Church’s friend and collaborator, Aaron Provisor, said he has witnessed Church’s style shift from gospel and traditional jazz to her current experimental, jazz-based sound throughout the nine years they have worked together. When he and Church create music, Provisor said Church is able to pull seemingly disparate elements and blend them together to make a distinctive sound.
“She’s definitely sort of a chameleon,” Provisor said. “She doesn’t sound like a full-on R&B soul singer, but she doesn’t sound like a full-on jazz singer.”
Church said she learned at UCLA how to write songs in odd meters and better understand rhythmic patterns, which opened her up to a world of music outside of jazz. In her song “All My Tomorrows,” her distinctive voice and heavy piano scales feature jazz roots, but her cover of “Rain” by SWV sounds more alternative because of its synthetic beats. Though she no longer focuses on jazz, Church said the genre still influences all her music.
“Studying ethnomusicology really opened me up to all of the sonic possibilities that exist in the world,” Church said.
Church said she also tried to include her individual, lived experiences in her lyrics to match her distinct sound. Her music is about sharing her own narrative as a Black woman and using it to uplift others who share the same experiences, she said. She was inspired to write one song, “Consent,” after feeling like her personal space was disrespected at a party.
“I just have to tell the truth when I take the stage, and all of the music that I write is very transparent,” Church said.
Church said her experimentation and distinctive sound mirrors the changes in the Los Angeles music scene. Jonah Levine, a 2014 alumnus and Church’s collaborator, said the burgeoning interconnectedness of the music scene is a sort of renaissance. Music genres are now less strict, and the industry allows for more collaboration between different genres, he said.
“(Church)’s very aware of everything, and all that sort of finds a way into her own unique style,” Levine said.
Church said she also experienced musical genres mixing together while growing up in Los Angeles. As a child, she often heard genres that influence her current style, like salsa, rap and traditional jazz, playing in her neighborhood. Her song “Transparency” mixes hip-hop beats with slow, soulful vocals, while her cover of Demi Lovato’s song “Confident” transforms the pop hit into an R&B song by altering the original beat.
Church said it is still difficult to get her music out to a wider audience, however. To spread her music, she said she has to build relationships with venue bookers and support other local artists.
Church also uses social media to promote herself as an artist. On her Instagram, she regularly posts videos of herself singing and mixing beats. Church said people often message her on Instagram saying they’re going to attend her shows after watching her Instagram videos.
Church said she perseveres through the difficulties of breaking into the music industry by reminding herself that she still has more experiences to talk about in her music. And after working with different professors and sounds, she said she has the technical skills and the confidence to share them.
“I feel like it’s taken several years for me to feel comfortable with my voice and feel comfortable telling my story as a woman of color,” Church said.