Spencer Teeter is a Canadian born actor, singer, songwriter, and composer currently based in Vancouver BC.
Most notably working on Bravo’s “Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce”, recurring on Discovery’s “Twisted Tales of my 9 to 5”, and working on various other music video and commercial projects. As a composer, he’s just recently finished work on a rock/alternative musical, and as a songwriter has written for artists throughout North America.
conducted and edited by Christine Bissonnette
What drives you as an artist?
I don’t know if it’s so much a want, as a need. When I was really young, I tried to avoid it… but I’ve always been making things. Songs play in my head that aren’t actually songs yet.
If I’m not creating, I feel like I’m going to burst. I have to be constantly letting things out, because the new things coming in don’t just stop because the tank is full. So, whether I like it or not, I need to be making things and working on creative projects.
And if I don’t… well, I guess it’s been a long time since I wasn’t working on something, so I don’t know-
When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
I definitely knew it as a kid, but then denied it for most of my teen years.
I think the first time I realized that this was what I wanted to do was in 10th grade. I was 16 years old. Up until then, hockey had been my whole life… but I didn’t fit into that crowd.
In high school, I started making friends who were creating music. I started teaching myself to play guitar so that I could fit into their crowd.
I was really terrible in the beginning, and then things started to click.
How long did that take?
It took about 3 months. And how I know that, I don’t know…
Do you remember that day?
Yes. Because from then until about now – in some respects – life has been a blur.
Once it clicked, I almost had no life for the rest of high school. My Friday and Saturday night’s from then on were spent in my basement playing music, and figuring it out. It started off with the realization that I could play this song that I like; I could do what they were doing (these musicians I really respected).
And then came the realization that ‘if I take this bit and this bit, I can make my own song.’ And they sucked at first! My songs were so bad when I started, but I didn’t give a shit because it was the most insane feeling in the world.
I was so inspired that I started writing all the other instruments in my head, and I couldn’t even play them! I couldn’t play drums or bass or anything like that, but as I wrote these songs I could hear how the other instruments were supposed to be. Every time I tried to have a band with other people in my high school, I’d think ‘no, that’s not right.’
So, I eventually started teaching myself other instruments, like piano. Eventually I decided I had to learn to sing too. Other singers that I’d tried working with weren’t good enough.. I wasn’t a good singer either, but I was really determined to get good.
How did you teach yourself how to sing?
By mimicking people. I started covering songs with my little brother (who I had conned into learning the drums – which he ended up loving).
So, as we covered these songs, I’d try to mimic the way that these singers I respected were singing their songs, and eventually, over the course of a lot of years (during which I also wrote my own songs), I started to find my own voice. I started singing the songs the way that ‘I’ sing them.
It was a gradual thing, but I think I had found my voice awhile before I noticed that I had. The moment I did notice, I just got this feeling.
Were you ever afraid that singing might be a skill you couldn’t learn?
I liked singing as a kid. I don’t know what happened, but somewhere around six I reached a transition where I wouldn’t have sung to save my life. Even if I was home alone. I wouldn’t even go to the basement to practice singing because I was afraid someone might come home and hear me.
I was so self conscious. When I finally started singing in my late teen years… I guess I just sucked it up and gave into it.
I also didn’t put myself in a place to perform live, or experience outside negativity, until I was well ready.
How did you know you were ready?
Well.. I had probably been ready for two years before I ever let myself perform.
What was your first performance like?
I recorded this whole EP with a single microphone in my basement when I was younger. The first handful of shows that I ended up playing were filled with friends who knew and liked all my songs, so I was very lucky to have lots and lots of support. And just zero self doubt. That was a better case than I could have ever hoped for.
In the young years of pursuing something artistically, it’s a very sensitive time. If you get shut down the first time you put yourself out there… I think it would be hard to keep going.
But, people have done it. People do it. But I think it would have been a different story for me if that had been the case. So I was lucky.
What do the following sensations feel like in your body.
I feel fear in my throat. It silences me, and I feel like I get sort of… I guess it depends on the fear.
Are we talking about immediate fear (like a shark coming out of nowhere), or something you’re afraid of doing?
Good question. I’m talking about the latter: the less rational fear.
Fear feels like frustration. I feel that in the sides of my throat, up the sides of my face, and in my jaw. Fear feels like frustration because I feel hated.
I’m a big perfectionist, and I’ve always had the mentality that if I want to do something… just do it. Just go get it. And a lot of times in my life it’s been that easy. When I’m afraid of something, a bigger part of me knows better… that I shouldn’t be afraid of it, and should see opportunity in it.
If I can’t see opportunity in it, just let it go. Fear just feels like frustration, and being angry with myself.
A success you weren’t expecting?
I’m doing that scene in the movies where someone almost dies and their whole life flashes before their eyes. I’m scanning right now. This isn’t an everyday question.
Okay, this is going to contradict what I was saying before… songwriting has been a success I wasn’t expecting. I’ve never had too much doubt when it came to my voice, but it was different with songwriting. There are lots of times when I second guess myself, or become very conscious to the point when the first time I perform a song in a live setting I will purposely have terrible pronunciation with my words.
You know sometimes you listen to a song, and you can’t really understand what they’re saying?
I’ll do that on purpose with new songs, because I’m too afraid to expose what I’m saying. Even if I know the melody’s great and that it sounds nice, I have to ease my way into making my words clear.
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I have a lot of songs that no one has ever heard because I keep them to myself. To this day.
The first time I got a google alert on my name that people were searching for guitar taps to my songs, I was like ‘wow.’ My music hasn’t achieved success on any type of scale, but when I get a positive response… that’s something I wasn’t really expecting.
That brought a great deal of confidence… but not to the point that I don’t still get scared every time I’m writing a new song. I never look at a song and think ‘yes, it’s complete.’ I’m never satisfied, but I am happy when I can play a new song from front to end.
If I could tell myself ten years ago that I would be writing songs for myself and other people – and that other people were going to pay me to write songs for them – my 16 year old self, sitting in this chair, would say that was a very unexpected success.
And what does that experience feel like?
Like a very thin tension in my chest. And tension isn’t the right word. It’s very neutral as far as temperature. Like a positive overwhelming feeling. Short of breath in a good way. Almost like an anxiety from being overwhelmed with excitement. It feels like the best version of anxiety.
I don’t really get angry.
This is going to sound fucked up, but I think when I do some more personal growing… I might get angry more. For some reason, I let go of things very quickly… which sounds good, but I think in some cases I let go of negative things before I’ve processed or experienced them. I’ve identified them as being harmful and negative, and sent them on their way before I really examined them.
I think a fear of mine is that fragments of these things have been left behind.
They’re still inside of you?
Yes. And if that’s not the case so far, I think that might become the case at some point.
It’s good to not let things get to you that aren’t worth your time, but I think that’s one kind of emotional area that I might need to open up a little more… if I want to capitalize on everything I can convey, so that I can do my best work.
If I’m being completely honest, I close myself off. I make a joke and send anger on its way.
Something I can only handle in very small doses.
I experience something that I think is love in the morning when I’m having a coffee. I associate that word with being completely grounded in gratitude.
But at its most extreme, love is something I need in moderate doses. That extreme version is overwhelming: crying and being happy, and being almost unable to function. It’s kind of… you can’t live in a state of love. It’s too much. I feel it behind my eyes. In my gut. In my chest. And maybe in my sinuses [laughing].
There’s something else that plays on the same team as love that I can hang out with all day, but I associate the word with ‘love’ with an extreme.
If you ask me tomorrow, maybe my answer would be different. Love is a hard word. And happiness… I could go on and on, and the more I talk about it the more I would learn and maybe change my mind about it, as I talk myself through it.
Was there a failure in your life, which, you think, brought you where you are today?
My greatest failure was getting too tied up in this idea of who I needed to be, and what I needed to be doing as a career. I thought I was getting too old to pursue something else and start at square one.
When things weren’t moving at the pace or in the direction I wanted, I was getting more and more frustrated.
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and labouring at something I used to do because I loved it
It got me into a bad place. I was really depressed. I needed to make something out of this career so I wouldn’t embarrass myself.
What do you mean by embarrass yourself?
I guess, I was getting to a stage where some of my peers were doing some really great things – by comparison. One guy I used to play hockey with as a kid started playing in the NHL.
I started questioning all the choices I’d made and the things I was doing. I was really afraid of getting to a point where everyone around me had gotten their shit together, and were experiencing some sort of success, while I was this guy who was trying to make a career out of music, and was getting nowhere.
I was also in complete nonstop panic mode, and my urgency was making it worse. I wasn’t getting anything done. Nothing productive was happening.
You know when you worry so much and are so overwhelmed with things that you feel like you’re a lot busier than you are? And you feel like you’re so busy that you don’t know which thing to do first? And then hours have gone by and you’ve done nothing? It was like that all the time.
It was really self destructive.
I specifically remember a phone call I had with my mom. I told her: “I can’t wait until I hit rock bottom. I want this to get worse, so then it can start to get better.”
What did your mom say?
I don’t remember exactly what she said… but I think she laughed. Even though it was a serious thing I was going through, I think she laughed because it made sense to her.
And I don’t really remember a specific moment when that shift happened, but I sort of woke up one day and thought: hey, let’s try some of those other things that you’ve always wanted to try (with no pressure about results).
I convinced my head that maybe I could do a bunch of things, and maybe the universe would tie them all together in some pretty bow down the line. Maybe looking back, they’d all fit together in some strange way.
So I said ‘fuck it’ and I gave up on these preconceived ideas of what I thought I had to be. The process of getting to a really good headspace was pretty gradual, but very freeing.
I let go of caring about what I looked like on paper, or what I looked like to other people. I started caring about being happy and enjoying every minute of every day.
I have no intention to pursue to career in football, but I like to go outside and throw a football around everyday. So, I’m going to do that. Instead of sitting inside and banging my head against a wall trying to finish a song that I didn’t even feel good about when I started, I’m going to go outside and throw a football.
Something happened, and I don’t know exactly what… but I gave myself permission to just enjoy myself, and not to beat myself up over where I thought I needed to be.
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Maybe it was that phone call that sparked it? Releasing that fear from my being was probably the start of turning things around.
And from there I discovered acting, and started writing songs for other people.
What’s your perspective on fate or destiny?
I used to be a very big skeptic of this topic, but now… I think I need it.
I don’t like using the word need… but it’s not something I need in a ‘needy way, it’s more that I’ve developed a trust. Now when things don’t go my way (and I really wanted that ‘something’) I almost get excited because I believe something even better’s going to happen. When I look back and compare all the things that didn’t go my way and the things that did… the things that did go my way couldn’t have worked out if I hadn’t ‘failed’ first.
And that’s been repeated over and over. Faith – or whatever word you want to use for it – is deeply rooted inside of me. I live every minute of my life with no doubt that I’m going to end up where I’m supposed to be.
But you’ve let go of trying to decide where you’re supposed to be?
Yeah. I can’t decide that. How the hell am I supposed to know?
I thought I was going to be a pro hockey player, then a professional skateboarder, and then I thought I was going to be a rock star. Now I don’t even like performing music. I just want to write it for other people.
I’m also acting, which is the most fascinating thing in the world to me right now. Years ago I never would have thought that. You can’t predict these things, and I don’t try to.
That’s what got me into a hole before: trying to decide ahead of time where I needed to be.
So I trust it. I follow the signs. And I feel like when you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you get help. There’s so much synchronicity. You start catching breaks, and little things start to add up.
I try to pay attention, and not put on the brakes.
Are you happy? What does happiness mean to you?
Happiness is a weird, huge, confusing topic. Happiness to me is… I think there’s a few different kinds. There’s short term and ‘in the moment’ happiness, like when your favourite hockey team wins the Stanley Cup… or when you book a role on a TV show. But that’s a completely different kind of happiness than being happy in general. Because the most miserable person in the world could have these things happen and be happy in that moment, and then…
But I think being happy all the time would be the worst.
I think… I want to invent new words. These topics are so huge. If I had to answer: Am I happy, yes or no? I’d say yes. Because I experience a whole array of emotions on a daily basis. Things are up and down and inconsistent, and I never know what the hell is going on… but I enjoy my life. If getting out of bed in the morning is not a chore, and you don’t go to bed stressing about the next day, then I think you’re pretty lucky. And I feel that way. Life is really great, and a lot of it might be perspective: Giving myself permission to be happy, and not waiting for things to be a certain way before I can feel that way.
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How do you dream?
I spend a lot of time daydreaming. I don’t do it because I think ‘I need to visualize this’ in order for it happen. I just do it. I’ll be writing a song, and be only a third of the way done and be really feeling it, and I’ll find myself in a trance. I’ll stop my work and start daydreaming about the different stages of the work.
I’ll daydream about what it’s going to sound like when it’s done, and the response people are going to have to it. I’ll fast forward to this montage: playing it in a coffee shop, standing on stage, winning a grammy. It all feels crazy vivid and realistic when I’m doing it. And then I come back to reality, and I’m like ‘oh yeah, but I have to finish writing the thing first.’
I do it with scripts too. And audition sides. I’m a very visual person. Even if I can’t see it in front of me, I can see it in my head. A lot of times I’ll have these vivid day dreams, but my eyes are physically open. Shouldn’t I be seeing what is actually in front of me? But it’s like the lens has flipped.
I visualize everything. But I don’t predetermine where I’m going to go… I just let the daydream take me.
Has anything you’ve visualized ever come true in that way?
Yes and no. The general thing happened, but the phone call wasn’t worded the same way. There have been some other freaky things where I’ve predicted the future with my lyrics – especially when I was younger. A handful of times, that thing that I wrote about that was not personal to me, happened. It came to fruition in my life. Which is a bit freaky.
Maybe you could credit it to manifestation. I’m spending so much time with that song – writing and editing, and singing it – that it gets deep inside my head. Crazy coincidences have happened. They happen a lot.
What does the child in you believe about the world?
That it’s never ending, and that the skies the limit with lands of opportunity and amazingness. A Wizard of Oz land. Whatever you can imagine. I’m not even thinking luck, but just this endless possibility. My inner child believes that the world can be whatever you make of it, that it’s a good place… that it’s misunderstood.
I think if someone told my inner child that the world was a bad cruel place, he would stand up for it. He would know better.
What does ‘flow’ feel like to you?
I have four different versions of flow for the things that I do.
Two of them relate to acting, and two of them relate to music.
I’ll start with the acting ones
1. Flow in script analysis
When it comes to script analysis, sometimes I’ll be looking at a script and doing my thing, and things will start to make sense. I’ll want to take my script and wave it through the air like it’s a golden ticket to the chocolate factory or something. Look what I figured out! This is amazing. That’s what it feels like for script analysis.
2. Flow with performance
With acting, I feel it when I’m experiencing a moment of being physically connected to everything in that world I’m in (the story). It feels like being underwater. Being underwater and moving your hand, and feeling the way you’re connected to all the water that’s around you.
Whenever this happens I feel very grateful, and I feel inspired to work harder so that I can achieve more moments like that.
Then there’s the flow I get with music.
3. Flow with writing lyrics
With music – when I’m writing lyrics and I’m in the zone, It’s like it can’t come out of me fast enough. I might not even be able to write legibly because it’s flowing so quickly. It’s crazy.
It doesn’t happen all the time, but when I’m have a really in the zone moment, the entire song will basically write itself. That usually leaves me a little exhausted, but it’s a good feeling. When I’m in the zone with writing it’s a very exciting thing. It just flows out so fast. The danger is getting there, and then trying to stop and correct what’s flowing out.
4. Flow with composing music
The last flow happens to me when composing and writing music – specifically when I’m writing music for other people’s projects and I know loosely what has to happen (what we’re aiming for). When I’m in flow in this moment, I experience the weirdest thing.
A lot of the times I will be stuck and banging my head against the wall, hating my life, wondering why I do this (I do that every time). “This isn’t fun. I hate this feeling.” And then something will click. I’ll try something new, and then it will start to flow. I might even black out. I shit you not. I’ll black out and when I come to… it’s done.
It will be so hard and so hard, and then something starts to click, and it’s like my mind knows exactly what needs to be done.
You let go of yourself?
Yeah. It has happened so many times that I don’t really recall what happened between being stuck and being finished. It’s freaky.
What, in your opinion, are the qualities that make a great artist?
What I think I know about people who I consider great artists, is that they have an ability to let go of their ego. They allow themselves to do their work without judgement.
This is another cliche that I know is in a lot of books (a lot of people say it), but I really think it’s true.
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Sometimes I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll have a song playing in my head. I’ll think ‘oh man, this is a great song’ and then realize: ‘oh… that’s not actually a song yet.’ I’ll rush to find a pen and paper, or an instrument, or a quiet place to make a voice memo (humming instrument noises) to log it. I can’t take credit for things like that. They just comes. And I’ve heard stories like that from a lot of people.
Then again, what I’ve experienced with music is that when it’s flowing out of you, you’re getting this free source of creative ‘something’, and if you stop and edit (criticizing, and judging, and thinking that it’s not good enough) before the ‘draft’ is done (before you’ve heard the whole story) you’re sabotaging the creation.
I think great artists check their ego at the door, and they don’t allow themselves to get in their own way and interrupt their creative flow. They don’t second guess their work. And they don’t… what’s the word? Identify? They don’t take their work personally.
Of course you put a lot of yourself into your creative work, but what I’m trying to say without the words I need is that… they let the work happen, and they don’t second guess it until it’s finished.
I guess, just trusting that it’s coming from a good place.
As a creative, do you feel like you’re always gathering inspiration?
It’s not like I wake up in the morning and think ‘whatever the person ahead of me in the coffee shop has ordered, I’m going to write a song about it.’ It just happens. You can try to ignore the inspiration, but it’s not going to go away. It’ll just wait until you’re ready to accept it. You can be as stubborn as you want, and the second you let your guard down (and you’ve got the creative bug) it’s coming in.
Creativity… it’s the best/worst problem to have. It’s the number one thing that I get stressed about in life.
But life almost wouldn’t be worth living it without it.
That’s an interesting thought. I don’t know what life would be like without creativity. Boring. Oh my god. Just hearing you say those words… I got a flash of black and white. What would it be like? Who cares, I guess. I hope I never know.
How do you deal with doubt? And where do you go for support?
I experience doubt on a very regular basis, because my mind thinks way faster than time happens. When I’m pursuing something, and things don’t feel like they’re moving, I turn to my calendar. I’ve colour-coded it with the things that I have to do and the things I have done. If I’m experiencing doubt, I’ll sit myself down and I’ll give myself a reality talk.
Sometimes it take a few minutes to actually get myself to listen, but I’ll try my hardest to give myself that hard love advice that I’d give to a friend. Sometimes using my calendar (and sometimes just general memory) I’ll say ‘look: in the last 6 months, this is what we’ve done.’ I don’t lie to myself, but when giving myself a reality check I do make sure I know that it’s going to be okay, and that it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be in my head (with my emphasis on results).
I try to give myself a break.
“Not only are you not behind and failing at life,” I say “but you deserve a day off.” And maybe I don’t, but it helps. I’m really hard on myself, which I think is a strength… and a weakness sometimes too.
If you could write a letter to a younger self, what’s the hook you would start the letter with to ensure that you read until the end?
How about a self that was feeling a little bit overwhelmed, or desperate, or scared.
Does my younger self know that it’s coming from my older self?
Let’s put ourselves in a universe where this scenario is possible and it wouldn’t freak them out.
God how much easier that would be! Okay. I would start that letter with… I’m trying to find something funny to say here, but maybe it would be something as simple as ‘your life turns out really good. Read this to the end.’ Or ‘your life will turn out really good if you read this to the end’.
That or… am I allowed to lie to him? Because I might tell him that he’s going to have a yellow corvette if he reads to the end.
What’s the biggest piece of advice that you would give him in this letter?
Without a doubt… this is something that to this day that I have to continually remind myself of: Don’t get tied up in the trap of comparing your work to anyone else’s. People are unique. Every person is unique. And every piece of creative work is unique and amazing. There’s no way to compare a person to another person. I mean, you can… but it’s stupid.
People are unique pieces of creative art work in their own way, and you can’t really put two creative works beside each other and judge one as better or worse. They’re just different.
So the biggest thing I’d tell him is to not compare his work or his life to other people’s work or life. I think comparison is the biggest killer of ambition and inspiration.
Who are you? What is your identity?
Can I use a lifeline?
I am… a human being. As we know them. I’m just a weird human being who is comfortable with being a weird human being. I really want to avoid using labels, for a lot of reasons. I’m not an actor or musician. I wasn’t an actor 10 years ago, but I was still me. Parts of me. That’s a really deep question and it could be answered with one word or 100 pages. So I’ll give you the 50 page version [laughs].
My identity is… at least for the time being: a creatively influenced person. A genuinely well meaning person who is weird and strange and unique in almost every way, and is making a half assed attempt – because I don’t care that much – to understand what my identity is.
Any BOOKS would you recommend?
Awareness by Anthony De Mello
This book caused a 180 degree turn in my life, and in the way I think and view things. I’ve read it probably 5 times now. This was an important book to me. And I need to read it again sometime soon.
A couple other fun small books that I found really helpful in a creative sense are The War of Art (It’s a fun little kick in the ass) and Steal Like an Artist (a fun cute little book that is very helpful). Those books are great to pop into for a moment. Little touch up reminders. They’re keep going books for me when it comes to making things.
Another book I really love is The Celestine Prophesy. It’s an amazing fictional journey that is broken into 9 steps that teaches very deep and amazing real life lessons through this fictional story.
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