Forget pivotal I-first-picked-up-a-guitar-when moments. Joanna Teters had a microphone thrust into her hand at 14 by her middle school band teacher and was demanded to learn Me’Shell N’degeocello’s version of Smokey Robinson’s “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” to sing with the school rock and soul band.
You could say the interaction left a hell of an impression on her musical path.
“When I first started writing music, the music that came the most naturally to me, I started classifying as r&b/soul,” Teters tells Vanyaland. “The reggae obsession started in high school, when I first started listening to roots reggae and dancehall, and it’s something that I can’t give much context to — it always just resonated with me in a really interesting way. My first time performing reggae/dancehall was during my first year at Berklee, with some friends of mine from Puerto Rico. r&b and soul music have always been the music closest to my heart — my family introduced me to artists like Tower of Power, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder when I was very young.”
For every ten NYC up-and-comers, you can put money on the fact that at least one of them was groomed and sent into the world from a Boston music school. And that’s exactly how Teters, one of thousands of to go through the rigamarole of Boston’s Berklee School of Music, was ultimately prepped for the release of her debut album Warmer When It Rains, a steamy and rich melting pot of her musical influences. Teters brings the album to The Middle East in Cambridge this Thursday (February 1) as she skirts up and down the East Coast to share her new r&b-jazz-fusion tracks.
“Although I learned a lot about myself and music while studying at Berklee, I think the most impactful thing I learned was the art of recording,” she explains. “Having access to state of the art studios and top-notch production teachers really changed my life. While living in Jamaica Plain and studying full time at Berklee, I was also traveling back and forth from Connecticut and New York to play and tour with my bandmates, who at the time were with me in a band called Mad Satta. In addition to Mad Satta, I was involved with a number of different projects with friends and classmates at Berklee, genres spanning from hip-hop to folk to reggae to jazz.”
Teters holds a wandering and storied past from her four years in Boston, veering from kicking it at jazz dives to working as a bandleader, all musical facets that gain representation on Warmer When It Rains; “Midnights” and “Memories Remain” pulsate with retro r&b, “So Easy To Love” simmers in a jazzy stew, and the title track slinks with the sophistication of nu-soul and hip-hop.
“So many venues in Boston — some recently closed, some still open — hold lots of wonderful memories for me,” she explains. “Bigger venues like The Sinclair, The Paradise, and Middle East Downstairs stick out in my mind, because I was lucky enough to have opportunities to bill with some great musicians like Groundation, Sam Smith, Taleb Kweli, and Ozomatli during my years in Boston. But some of my most fond memories are at places like The Haven in Jamaica Plain, Church in Fenway, the BeeHive and Wallys.”
Her time in Boston also led to an exploration of her musical soul.
“The reggae scene in Boston in general is pretty small, but when I was there I made a point to be pretty involved with as many groups as I could,” Teters adds. “From 2012 to 2014 I was the lead singer for a reggae residency in Brighton called the HubDub, and we played every Thursday — that was the first time that I really dug deep into roots reggae classics and developed my own sound within the genre. With my friends from Puerto Rico, we played a lot of soul/r&b music that also dipped pretty heavily into dancehall and roots stuff as well, whether our band was going by the name Hi-Gate Sound System, Da Bone or LowTone Society. I also sang lead for a band called iLa Mawana as well, which was a folky/reggae group.”
But after years of collabs and side projects, Warmer When It Rains is Teters’ first album to be released under her own name. And with the amount of heat that eight-track package contains, the time is ripe to set that bugger free and watch it all this winter slush sublimate.
JOANNA TETERS + AUBREY HADDARD :: Thursday, February 1 at The Middle East, 472 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge MA :: 8 p.m., 18-plus, $10 in advance and $10 at the door :: Advance tickets :: Facebook event page