Have you ever ridden a digital tiger down an infinite neon grid, with the horizon rushing towards you from the blackness? Ever hugged a sad cowgirl and slow danced on the moon? No? Well, yeah, of course not. That’s insane. Best way to get close to that is drugs, lots of drugs. Barring that, you could put your headphones on and drift off to Soraya Silene, aka IONNA – Richmond based and Gloucester/NYC grown chanteuse and musician. Soraya has been a steady staple on Richmond come-up stages and at art-y venues for a good year and a half. She is quickly collecting a following with each performance like lint on a lollipop and we’re here for it.
She writes songs at the liminal moment of emotion, gauzed in a stylized, synth/guitar arrangement, eager drums, and a Hope Sandoval-shaped vocal delivery. If you’ve ever heard a song that sounds like the equivalent of a lump in your throat or a precarious tear teetering on the inside corner of your eye, you know what we mean. Soraya’s music does have range though, one that flirts with dance pop and, on some older tracks, garage rock and New Wave. Mostly, it’s emotional and transportive tales of love, lust, longing and loss in the style of 70’s era singer/songwriters updated with synth atmospheres and desert rock tones when not nodding out a 4/4 drum pad beat, triangular neon sunglasses on.
Soraya is completing her debut album at the writing of this article and fortunately for us, she’s given RVA magazine sneak-peek access to it. For the audience that has been watching her churn out bangers during her live performances with her newly solidified band, there are a number of surprises. Her rock ballad, smoky desert jams that have fit her stage arrangement so far give way to tracks that feel from a different, more glittered, 16-bit era. When she delves into her 80’s inspired tracks – “The Seeker”, “Remember When”, “Supernatural” – she channels atmospheres and machine beats worthy of a John Hughes film, or at least something with a pouting Molly Ringwald in it.
“Deep Sea Diver”, and its sonic cousins “Easy Rider” and “Barely Breathing” – all live show favorites – seem birthed in Death Valley mirages. They line up in parallel to her breezy, beachy ballads like “Rockaway”, “Imposter”, and “Santa Fe Shore”. Her deep, well-rounded, well of styles serve all thirty-one Beach House/Depeche Mode flavors on “Cold Blooded Lover”, “Waking”, and “Ride”.
“Tiger” is her first single and music video. It was mixed by Landis Wine of White Laces and pushes the boundaries of her digital oeuvre further into stylized expressionism. The piece encourages visions of neo-Pagan ritual and has a darker threatening tone at counterpoint to her windy, lonesome nostalgism on the rest of the album.
Plus, she wrote a Christmas song. A really, really good Christmas song. It would not surprise us at all if “One Wish” winds up popping up numerous times on boutique playlists in your future gift shopping trips. Catchy and dreamy as all hell.
All in all, it’s hard to pin down Soraya Silene, or IONNA as she would have it, to one experience. She considers these monikers masks, to which she explains as a conduit to her truer self. She cites the freedom we experience when masked at a Halloween or masquerade party – to dance, express, laugh as we see fit without judgment or social limitation – as an inspiration to her poetry. She eschews using her given last name professionally to erase the power and burden of lineage and replace it with self-governed individuality. In the same way Batman would consider Bruce Wayne his alter-ego and not the other way around, she approaches IONNA and Soraya Silene as the selves that save Soraya Teschner. Like Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, we’ll see how many transitions and phases are in store for her.
To add digression to digression, she’s also a studied martial artist. She trained in NY under Shi Yan Ming, sifu to Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, John Leguizamo and Rosie Perez. She explains she derives body and movement confidence from this discipline.
Soraya comes from the riverbanks of the York River at the heel of the Chesapeake Bay in Gloucester County. She grew up in a household with a Philosophy professor father and entrepreneur mother, influences she cherishes. Her very talented family includes local celebrated filmmaker Dietrich Teschner, who shot and edited her Tiger music video, and her gallery-famous visual artist sister, Gabrielle Teschner. The youngest of five, she spent her teenage years writing poetry and dipping her toes into Richmond’s music scene.
She left VA for fashion school in NYC and started performing in the North Brooklyn and Lower East Side haunts many national acts have graduated from. It was there that she went all in – even hiring a vocal coach to bolster her confidence and conviction. She relayed to me an anecdote she considers the breakthrough moment for her drive to be a musician:
“So I was working in fashion and I had these terrible nightmare bosses. And I think it was because I was an artist, and I was being treated like an artist – which is to say, treated badly. So I went into real estate briefly. You know how you go to the absolute opposite edge of yourself before coming back to yourself? While I was doing that, and interacting with people, I was learning how to communicate better, though I was also suffering on the inside. My soul was suffering from doing something that was totally not me. And then one night I had a dream. I usually have very vivid dreams. A dream on my parents property in Gloucester. I saw a hummingbird that came to me, and that hummingbird was a very colorful hummingbird, and really sad. It was a hummingbird that had been put in a closet. And then the hummingbird died in the closet. My dad’s a philosophy professor. He used to teach a course on dream analysis. I had a really sad, awful feeling waking up after this dream so I called him up. And I remember I was like, in midtown Manhattan having ramen, calling my dad to interpret my dream. I told him about it and he broke it down for me. He explained to me that something colorful, often a colorful bird, is your desires, your creativity objectified. I substituted myself for the hummingbird dying in a closet and I was like, ohhhh, I really need to make a change. It was very obvious to me that I needed to totally pursue music, or that something within me would not exist. Would cease to exist.”
We have nothing but high hopes for yet another Richmond artist representing the RVA with style and drive. We’re glad she exists.