Spilling the (Cannabis Infused) Tea with Greentea Peng

Greentea Peng isn’t messing about. With her first album, Man Made, the artist wasn’t going to put anything “wishy-washy” out. It’s a debut album that does and doesn’t play like a debut. It’s confident and expansive like a longtime pro’s work, yet experimental and fresh with a new artist excited to try her hand at everything she can. 

It’s an 18-track opus that can’t be put in a box. Neo-soul, jazz, RnB, and hip hop are present in Man Made, yes, but it’s a light and heavy melting pot with a vast sea of influences. At the end of the day, according to Peng, the “intention was for it to be a gift of peace and healing.” 

Man Made vibrates with feelings, which were amplified in the studio by a consistent enjoyment of magic mushrooms and cannabis. Now that the well-received album is out in the world, what’s next for Greentea Peng? Who knows, as she says, but she sure would like to have a strain named after herself one day. 

We’re days away from the album coming out. How does it feel? 

I’m so excited. It’s been a rollercoaster, and now we’re coming to the end. I am really just excited to get the album out, man. I feel like I’m overdue, a baby. I’ve been asking the baby to get out, and the baby’s like, “No, I’m not,” now finally, the doctor said it’s time to induce. The baby is ready to come.

[Laughs] I like that analogy.

That’s what it feels like.

So, how does the baby compare to what you first envisioned?

Oh, man. The baby is much less disciplined than I thought the child would initially be. It’s coming out an alien compared to what I thought the baby was going to be coming out. It’s definitely changed; it’s transformed many times along the way. It’s been a process. A real process. You can’t really prepare for making an album. You can think, “Oh yeah, I’m going to go make an album like this,” but actually, when you’re in the thick of it,and you’re in the zone, it’s uncontrollable. Just is what it is.

More instinct than calculation?

Definitely, especially the way we made it. We went to the woods, so there were mushrooms. We locked ourselves in the forest for a month with just instruments and musicians. We were playing music 12 hours a day. It was very experimental and very free. It was a very free process, which was what was important to me. I needed it to be free and expressive.

With most debut albums, you just get a taste of what an artist can do. This album is sprawling, though, but focused. Was the scope of Man Made a part of how it evolved?

Yeah. It definitely went off on tangents, but we always bought it back. It was important for it to be interconnected. It was meant to be a conceptual body of work. At the same time, it needed to explore the myriad emotions and states of consciousness that I was experiencing and going through at the time. Not even just me, but the collective. 

There were so many emotions and moods and narratives. It was like, wow, a real paradigm shift you could really feel. I wanted the album to reflect that. I didn’t want it to just be one sound because it wouldn’t be true to me if it was just one sound.

For me, an album is not a joke. When I realized now it’s time for the album, this needs to be a true representation of me. I didn’t want it to just be like a taster. No, this is the first album. I want to be able to look back on this for the rest of my career and be like, “Yeah, I’m happy with that.” It’s not just an amalgamation of random tunes I’ve been making in studios; it’s actually about a space in time or period in time

It feels like, especially since you didn’t know if you’d ever make a second album while making Man Made, that you wanted to try everything. Is that accurate? 

One-hundred percent. Yeah, I hear that. I think, especially for me, I never imagined myself being in this position. I never thought I was going to be doing music professionally or making music that anyone would be listening to my voice, let alone even my thoughts and conflicts and realizations and reasonings. I didn’t ask or expect any of this. 

I’m riding the wave. Things change; I change; we all change. Who knows if I’ll have the energy to make a second album? Like I said, it wasn’t like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to make an album now. It’s time for an album, for two EPs and I’m going to do an album.” It was like, “Oh shit, now I have no other choice but to make an album because I’ve got so much to say right now.” So, who knows when I’ll ever feel like that again?

For a lot of musicians, music was their life’s focus until their career started. You had such a wealth of experience outside of the music industry, though, like living in Humboldt County and Mexico. How do you think those experiences outside of the industry influenced you as an artist? 

I’m very grateful for that. I’m blessed to be in that position. Music is just another element of life and another experience, another mad experience to be experiencing. It’s not like, “Oh, my whole life I’ve been striving for this.” I’ve never been an ambitious kid. I’ve never been a huge dreamer. All I know is that I want to travel, you know what I mean? I want to see shit, and I want to meet as many people as I can, and I want to do as much as I can. That’s always been my kind of thing. 

The idea of being a singer or being a performer, I don’t even see myself as that. I’m in a fortunate and appraised position that I’ve been put in. I’m in a position where my thoughts have been projected into the collective. But other than that, it’s just another episode in my movie.

How was life in Mexico?

It was a life-changing experience. I was vibrating, such a low vibrational creature, and I needed to escape. I needed to rise up, and I couldn’t do that where I was. There were too many temptations, too many patterns that I involved myself in here, and I needed to switch up everything. Going to Mexico changed my life, really. I did a lot of learning there, a lot of experiencing, a lot of shedding, a lot of transformation.

Ultimately, that experience is what brought me back to music. Watching, going through all of that, whilst working on a self-help retreat, was just a helper. I was meant to be there. Even all the hellish things that I went through, I want to say it brought me clarity and understanding. Music was a huge part of that. Mexico brought me to that. So yeah, Mexico was a mad experience for me. My heart is in Mexico, I always say that. It remains there. It’s a part of it.

Now, you live in the countryside. How does getting away from the city in the United Kingdom and being in the wilderness inspire you?

I love nature. I love the city. I’m from the city, I’m a city girl. Obviously, I moved away from London at about 13. I moved to the seaside. I think that had an effect on me, obviously growing up half in London, half by the sea and in nature. It’s a big part of my psyche now; I need that balance. As soon as I got a bit of money, I bought a bit of land where I could start to learn how to grow vegetables and grow weed and have my little farm. Which is essential to me, for me to be able to operate in this work. I need to have a harmonious kind of sanctuary.

Sounds like a perfect bubble to create. 

Yeah, man. It’s funny though, because I do most of my career here in the city, where I’m feeling a little bit more anxious, a bit more angst, I’m rushing, and I’m translating my environment. Whereas, when I’m in the countryside, it’s just birds and bees; it’s not really anything. I haven’t gotten to that stage of my creativity yet where I can just write songs about birds and bees, but one day.

How’s growing your own weed going? How’s it turning out?

I’ve yet to see the final product. It’s still very much in the experimental stage. You realize when you move out to somewhere like that, in a rural area, how little you know about anything. Even about being human, you know what I mean? Like growing food, cleaning water, it’s just mad. It’s all a learning experience. Obviously, like you said, I’ve visited Humboldt, and I fell in love with weed even more after that, but in a different way. Obviously, I’ve always loved weed from a young age, but going and trimming and working on the farm, it changed things for me. Ganja farming really is my preferred profession.

Oh, yeah?

Yeah. I mean, that’s always been a bit of an ambition of mine. Even Greentea Peng and the way that started, I was thinking about weed. But when I came up with that I was like, “Yes, I’m going to have my own strain of weed. It’s going to be called Greentea Peng. It’s going to be delicious.” Obviously, I’m yet to come up with a strain in that, but it’s a journey.

That’d be such a great “I made it” moment when you see a strain named after yourself in a store.

Fuck me. I don’t need any awards, nothing like that for the music. Just my own strain.

[Laughs] I always get nervous about smoking weed in England, even though I hear, despite the laws, most police don’t care. How’s your experience been?

I’ve smoked weed for over half my life now. I’m quite comfortable in terms of my stance with weed and what I would say to someone if they said anything to me about burning a zoo. I feel more comfortable just rolling a zoo and burning a zoo in London than I would anywhere else. But saying that, I did get stopped for the first time by the police the other day. 

How’d that go?

It was all right. Obviously, it’s illegal, technically, but you get a slap on the wrist. I don’t think it should be illegal. I’m so confident in the fact that I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m more offended by someone walking down the road and blowing cigarette smoke into my face. I mean, that should be illegal, bruv.

How do you think smoking cannabis affects the voice? 

Oh, for sure. My voice is just getting deeper and deeper, bruv. I definitely contemplate and play with the idea of giving up Mary Jane, but it’s such an integral part of my life now. But obviously, so is singing and so is music, but I feel like they come hand in hand for me, anyway. 

I don’t want to limit myself to be like, “I’m always going to smoke, and that’s how I create, like, I need to smoke.” I don’t want it to be part of my identity. At the same time, until I really have to, I wouldn’t think about putting it down. Obviously, it has an effect on the voice, but so does everything. So does drinking, so does eating shit food, and so does breathing shit air. 

Well put. How did smoking and the mushrooms amplify the sound and emotions in the album?

It amplifies feelings. But, if you’ve created an environment, and you’re with your people, and you set an intention, it will amplify that. If we had just been in the studio in London, taking those mushrooms, then it probably would have come out different. But because I spent time creating the environment, perfect links, it was family. It also amplified that interconnectedness, and you can hear that in the music. 

There are certain songs that are just mad. Sometimes we’re all on different timings in our heads. It shouldn’t work, but it does. I think it brought the album together. I don’t want that to be the only thing people would take away from the album, obviously, because it touches on so many things, but I thought it was important also for me to pay credit. 

As you said, the album was always evolving, and you can’t really plan it, but what initial ideas remained?

I wanted it to definitely have a social commentary. Now, obviously, all my music kind of does. I always knew that I wanted it to sound interconnected and sound conceptual, and I feel like that has happened. I always knew I wanted it to be thought-provoking, but at the same time, spirit-provoking. I didn’t want it to be too preachy and too political, but at the same time, I wanted to touch on subjects that I felt needed to be spoken on. It was taking you into your heart space. I think we did that quite well. It’s a nice balance of lightheartedness, but then also, depth of lyricism.

You had so much time to explore, too. 

We made so much more music, but we had to take so much music off the record. It’s already a big record. But for this day and age, 18 tracks, an hour and one minute, that’s a long album for this day and age, apparently.

Is that something you have to fight for today?

I don’t have to fight for much in terms of, like, the label. I kind of have the last say, so it’s all down to me. I didn’t really have to fight anyone. Obviously, people mentioned it as, it could be tricky; it could be risky. People don’t really have the attention span these days, but I’m like, well, if you can sit and watch a whole thing on Netflix all night, you know what I mean? For the right people, the people who need that kind of vibration, not sound, then they will take the time if it’s for them. It was important for me not to edit my all for the sake of other people in a way because then it just takes away from the all in itself.

How did you find the right flow for those 18 tracks? 

It is always interesting because, obviously, it’s subjective. They were like, “Oh, why did you start with ‘Make Noise’?” For me, that was the perfect vibration to start on. The manifesto for the album. It was an interesting process picking up the order and the rhythm of an album because to everyone it’s going to be different or different moods, you know?

The crackling sound that begins the first track, it’s warm and inviting.

Yeah, I like that.

It sounds like you’re about to have a good time.

Yes. And we do.

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