The engaging Vienna Teng became a singer/songwriter after she tried a lot of other things first.
While classical piano training, a degree from Stanford University and a software engineering job at Cisco Systems Inc., might not sound like the red-dirt résumé one might expect from a folksinger scheduled to serenade The Blue Door, Teng isn't a typical crusading troubadour.
At 12, she started calling herself Vienna because of her love for classical music, and the piano is still her weapon of choice. While her technique has no honky-tonk and her clear voice doesn't haunt with careworn grit, Teng is an honest broker and a fine storyteller. Fans of Suzanne Vega and Tori Amos should be charmed by her sound while horizons may very well widen tonight for Blue Door diehards who value a good lyric above all.
The New York City-based Teng refers to her recently released new disc, "Inland Territory," as a "mixtape" album. The disc offers a fruit salad of styles, of which the career-rationalizing "Grandmother Song" may be her greatest departure. The loose, spontaneous, raucous hoedown isn't something that comes easily to the classically trained woman.
Vienna Teng plays at 8 p.m. May 6 at The Blue Door, 2805 N. McKinley.
"There are times when I read reviews and I agree with them when they say I sound a little too polite," she said. "I'm trying to let go and let some raw elements out. I'm trying to blur the lines between genres and trying to strike that balance."
She admitted that a surfeit of technique often sabotages a songwriter's best intentions. The ad-hoc choirs and tape loops of "Inland Territory" will " of necessity " be jettisoned in favor of a pared-down, economical approach she and her two accompanists take for live shows.
After touring in support of four albums, Teng is now something of a road warrior. She admits slowly coming to appreciate the immediate rewards of live performing.
"Now, I really enjoy it a lot, but the ego boost of it is really suspect to me," she said. "I like to think of it as just one big family gathered around, and it's like you get to meet the song in person and you don't know exactly what will happen. Recording is less about being impressive, and I enjoy the craftsmanship of that " the process of creating in the studio. A studio album is a really well-crafted portrait, like those portraits that rich and famous people used to have commissioned of their families."
The socially and environmentally conscious performer will meet the metro in a biodiesel Dodge Sprinter van, loosely packed with her two band mates and eco-friendly merchandise in sustainable, plastic-free packaging. And while every day might be Earth Day for Teng, she also tries to put in a good word for other worthwhile causes.
"This time we're supporting the Polaris Project. They try to stop human trafficking."
Teng might not sound like other roots-Americana acts, but she's fighting the good fight, just like a folksinger should. "Tory Troutman