Tealights rekindle the flame

When the four members of Tealights — the revamped and reinvigorated incarnation of electro/modern-classical act One Hand Loves the Other — discuss why they parted ways with vocalist Lou Rodriguez, tension hangs in the air. “We had administrative differences, but there were musical differences as well,” says cellist/bass player Mary Knight in a tight-lipped and painfully restrained diplomatic tone. “It came to a point where we had to say, ‘We don’t get along.’ We went one way and he went the other.”

After Rodriguez’s departure, Knight and fellow One Hand alumni Mikey Johnson (electronics, guitar) and Nancy Shim (keyboard, vocals, guitar) reinvented the group, along with new addition Brett Kelly (drums, electronics). Though they still work within the parameters of electronics, brittle strings and ethereal pop tones, the nature of their sound has changed in fundamental ways. “We were a lot more confined with Lou,” Knight says. “I was only allowed to play cello, Nancy was the only one allowed to sing back up. Now we’re all singing and writing and bringing individual contributions to the songs.”

The shift in songwriting dynamics has contributed to the most notable difference in Tealights’ sound. In the past, each song was tailored to fit Rodriguez’s dramatic R&B vocal inflections. Stripped of that once dominant element, the group’s efforts summon a deeper, richer sound that culminates in slow melodies and a broader palette of beats and textures over haunting strings and female voices. The addition of a live drummer gives a song such as “Passport” a stronger kick, while the further expanding tempos of “Wasted Fingers” and “Exit” from Tealights’ three-song demo capture an image of a freer, happier band.

“Writing and playing music is just a lot more fun now,” Johnson says before Knight chimes in: “We can’t be too hard on Lou,” she says. “He was instrumental in bringing us all together. We wouldn’t exist without him.”