Reaching the national spotlight at the end of 2002, pianist Vienna Teng had been an important part of the California singer/songwriter scene for a few years before then. A pianist since the age of five, Vienna took piano lessons before moving on to improvisation. Writing feverishly throughout her youth, she eventually had a full album's worth of instrumentals by the age of 16.
Going to Stanford to further her education, she released an EP while going to school and recorded most of Waking Hour before she graduated. After releasing the record independently and taking it on the road with her, she scored an agreement with Virt Records and got national distribution in the fall of 2002. Comprised of many intimate songs that detailed the issues of a young adult, her music fell between the uptempo approach of Ben Folds and the theatrical chamber pop of Rufus Wainwright.
She followed up in early 2004 with the matured and critically acclaimed effort Warm Strangers, which charted on three separate Billboard charts.
Touring with musicians like Joan Osborne, Shawn Colvin, and Patty Griffin over the years, Vienna next worked with producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux) for her next album, Dreaming Through the Noise, issued in July 2006. After relocating from California to New York City in 2008, Vienna began work on her fourth full-length album, Inland Territory, which was released on Zoë/Rounder in 2009.
Vienna walked away from her music career in 2010, to pursue a graduate degree in environmental studies and business. She returned to her art with greater urgency and a renewed love of the craft. The result was Vienna’s latest recording, Aims, released in 2013. Stepping aside from music has brought fresh meaning to her writing, all informed by her recent years immersed in studying sustainability at the University of Michigan.
Her wide-ranging curiosity imbues the lyrics, exploring topics as diverse as online surveillance, shipping routes, and the Occupy movement, all with her signature subtlety and warmth. But it’s really the music, with its addictive rhythms and melodies, that takes the lead on Aims. Vienna’s deft keyboard work and sultry vocals are still front-and-center, and the arrangements still make ample use of physical instruments, particularly drums.
But now these sounds are augmented, whether dramatically and invisibly, by software and other digital devices: a seamless marriage of the human and the electronic. A world away from the solitary, piano-based songwriting that defines her comfort zone, she’s put the unlimited possibilities of technology and collaboration in the driver’s seat. Welcome to Vienna Teng 2.0.
Aims has gone on to win in four categories of The 13th Independent Music Awards, the most any artist has received in a given year.