'LillyAnna' Gives Teddy Geiger Space To Express Herself

Nov 16, 2018
Originally published on November 17, 2018 10:51 am

Back in 2005, with soulful blue eyes and an acoustic guitar, Teddy Geiger was a teen heartthrob. The Rochester, N.Y.-hailing artist had a soft rock hit, "For You I Will (Confidence)."

But by her 20's, the artist decided to step out of the spotlight and start writing hits for other pop stars like One Direction and Shawn Mendes. Last year, she publicly came out as transgender, and now, the singer-songwriter has an album of songs penned under the moniker teddy<3.

LillyAnna, out now, is a collection of songs performed in teddy<3's own voice. These are personal songs about her own experience — things she would never ask other artists to sing.

"There was a lot of music sitting around and demos and songs that I'd loved that weren't necessarily going to be cut by anybody else just because they're very personal to me," teddy<3 says. "I wanted to get that out there."

teddy<3 wrote LillyAnna over the course of a couple years, mostly before her transition. The songs chronicle her journey of self-discovery. "They definitely are speaking more to my state of mind before coming out and really coming to terms with who I am. I don't think I could have finished it without having come out," teddy<3 says.

The album's title track gives listeners a particularly intimate glimpse into teddy<3's transition. "LillyAnna" surveys teddy<3's battle with gender dysphoria. The singer speaks to the feminine side of herself and the shame she felt surrounding her identity.

But not every song on LillyAnna references teddy<3's femininity. She decided to keep gendered lyrics, such as "I'll be a good boy" and "This dying boy would love to see," despite her transition. Instead of making a sharp break from the previous chapter of her life, teddy<3 has chosen to display the full scope of her identity.

"It's like those moments where you get that freedom and you get this whole other level of space that you can explore," teddy<3 says. "And that also obviously relates to what I've been going through now with the transition and having all this room for me to express all the things I've wanted to express."

teddy<3 spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro about the journey of transitioning and making LillyAnna. Listen to the entire interview via the audio link and hear teddy<3 perform "LillyAnna" live in-studio.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Teddy Geiger was a teen heartthrob with soulful blue eyes and an acoustic guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOR YOU I WILL (CONFIDENCE)")

TEDDY GEIGER: (Singing) I'm going to muster every ounce of confidence I have and cannonball into the water. I'm going to muster every ounce of confidence I have. For you, I will.

SHAPIRO: In her 20s, she stepped out of the spotlight and started writing hits for other pop stars, like One Direction and Shawn Mendes. Last year, she publicly came out as transgender. And now she has an album of songs that she wrote, performed in her own voice.

GEIGER: It's just me in a room - basically is the idea.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFE GOES ON")

GEIGER: (Singing) And where you fall and where you are free.

SHAPIRO: These are personal songs about her own experience - things she wouldn't ask other artists to sings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFE GOES ON")

GEIGER: (Singing) Stones from the cemetery.

It's really just all about me. And it kind of - there's a little more room to just explore and like go down rabbit holes and like mumble stuff into a microphone and like lose track of time and not feel like, oh, there's somebody here. And like, let's make sure we're taking care of other people.

SHAPIRO: You wrote a lot of this over years - mostly before you transitioned.

GEIGER: Yes.

SHAPIRO: And so does it feel like these songs describe your current psychological, emotional, physical state of being? Or do they describe a person who's no longer really here?

GEIGER: The latter - they definitely are speaking more to my state of mind before. And I don't think I could have finished it without having come out just because it took that to like really go back and reflect and be like, oh, OK, that's what these were all about.

SHAPIRO: Give me an example.

GEIGER: The real one, I guess, is LillyAnna.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LILLYANNA")

GEIGER: (Singing) Where does it go, LillyAnna? Is it in your arms, LillyAnna?

Well, it's just me talking to the feminine side that's buried. And I'm kind of allowing it to come out in these like little spurts here and there - not really understanding what that is and like talking to it and also being like a little ashamed of it and like - or maybe very ashamed of it and just trying to like wrap my head around what all of that is.

SHAPIRO: Where does the name LillyAnna come from?

GEIGER: Basically me going online and, like, being a woman online in this like very secretive way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LILLYANNA")

GEIGER: (Singing) It comes out every night. My child, it's gone away from me. Where has it gone? LillyAnna, come take me.

SHAPIRO: So many people who come out as trans make a really sharp break from the person that they were before. You've instead chosen to take these songs that you wrote before you came out and perform them now. Why not just put it in a box and say that's the past - I'm now going to start something new?

GEIGER: I think just because it's a part of who I am. And to kind of like close off that chapter is important for me. I mean, like, I'm proud of the songs. And I love these songs. So it's - I kind of just want to let them live their life.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEDDY GEIGER SONG, "GET ME HIGH")

SHAPIRO: One of a sort of darker, more anguished songs on the album is "Get Me High."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET ME HIGH")

GEIGER: (Singing) I should wait, bite my tongue. Even up, I'm looking down.

I was smoking a lot of cigarettes and weed for years. And it got to the point where it wasn't doing kind of what it used to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET ME HIGH")

GEIGER: (Singing) And I'm scared. I'm touched. And I know that what I'm on won't get me high anymore.

You know, it was just kind of like keeping the emotions at bay. And the day that I came out to my close friends and family as trans, I was like, hey, I want to explore, like, what this means and see a gender therapist and maybe take hormones. The day that I came out and kind of like accepted all of that and expressed it and let go of that shame attached to it - you know, a few days later, I thought about smoking again and was like, oh, my God, I never want to smoke again.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEDDY GEIGER SONG, "GET ME HIGH")

SHAPIRO: I know a lot of transgender women have a complicated relationship with their voice because they feel like their voice doesn't sound like the feminine self that they identify as.

GEIGER: Yep.

SHAPIRO: And as a singer, your voice is front and center.

GEIGER: I know.

SHAPIRO: So how's that relationship going?

GEIGER: It's kind of weird. I've been working on my talking voice a lot, and it goes up and down. But it's something that you have to work on if you want it to change. It's like a lot of the other things. When you're on hormones, things change. And you don't really have to, like, try. But the two things that you have to, like, put in a lot of work for, I guess, is body hair - like facial hair and all of that - removing that and changing your voice if you want it to change, which I definitely do. And singing - yeah, singing's weird. Like, even these songs, you know, I have to sing them a certain way.

SHAPIRO: Do you hope that over time you will actually change the key to the songs and be able to sing them in a different register?

GEIGER: I don't know. I mean, at a certain point, it's probably like, write new songs.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WAS IN A CULT")

GEIGER: (Singing) I was a soldier under the despot, born in the summer - all that I wanted.

SHAPIRO: Tell me about the first single you released from this album. It's called "I Was In A Cult."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WAS IN A CULT")

GEIGER: (Singing) I was in cult. I was in a tight groove.

It came really fast. It was one of those songs that just, like, kind of pops out. But it's basically, like, about any time, like, you're trying to fit who you are into this smaller space. You're kind of having to play by the rules, but you're really this other thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WAS IN A CULT")

GEIGER: (Singing) I want to look to now, now that it's real. I want to love tonight, now that I'm free.

When you feel free of that - like the first day of summer vacation - or like if you're in a bad relationship, when you're finally out of that relationship - or whatever that thing is. It's like those moments where you get that freedom, and you get this whole other level of space that you can explore. And that also obviously relates to what I've been going through now with the transition and having all this room for me to express all the things I've wanted to express.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WAS IN A CULT")

GEIGER: (Singing) I want to love. I want to feel. Hello, hello to my moment I steal.

SHAPIRO: Well, Teddy, thank you so much for talking with us about your new album and about your transition.

GEIGER: Yay, thank you for having me on the show.

SHAPIRO: Teddy Geiger's new album is "LillyAnna."

(SOUNDBITE OF TEDDY GEIGER SONG, "I WAS IN A CULT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.