Songwriter Vienna Teng, formerly of the Bay Area, has moved to Colorado after earning advanced degrees from the University of Michigan. (Courtesy Karen Shih)

Songstress Vienna Teng tackles the environment at her day job

Saratoga-bred keyboardist Vienna Teng doesn’t technically have a new album to promote — just her beguiling fourth effort from 2013, “Aims,” and the idea of a new concept record forming in her head. But she contributed a great deal on the latest solo outing from Alex Wong, her longtime percussionist, who once again will accompany her in concert this week in Berkeley. But Teng has been otherwise occupied, following a peripatetic path that led her from a solid Bay Area job at Cisco Systems through finally earning master’s degrees in science and business administration from the University of Michigan, to her recent relocation to Boulder, Colo. “And the short answer is, I followed a fellow,” she says, mysteriously.

So you followed your boyfriend Jacob to Colorado?

Yeah. He works for the Rocky Mountain Institute, which works on transition to a totally green future. I don’t work there, though, but I was doing other sustainability work through a global company, so it was fairly easy for me to say, “Hey, I’m moving to Colorado, because I just transferred to the Denver office. Now I’m working for its new nonprofit focused on sustainability issues, helping cities dramatically increase how much waste they recycle, and that includes organic waste into compost.

How complicated is that?

Well, what I’ve learned through the work that I’m doing is that a lot of it has to do with culture and social norms. And the way that you get these things to change is, you have people who are respected — the cool kids — who will say, “Yeah! Of course this is a thing that we should do! It’s something that I’m already doing myself.” There was a pretty big campaign in Texas, when they were having a big littering issue — they came up with the slogan “Don’t mess with Texas,” which of course caught on and started to mean all sorts of other things. But littering rates did go down by 70 percent.

How do you locate the cool kids?

Some of them are the younger people — the millennials, if we can use that term. Them going into old companies and saying, “Oh. You don’t have recycling?” If that happens enough, and people keep asking the question enough, eventually people will go, “Well, I guess this is a thing that everyone really does care about now.”

Is there aver any sustainability crossover in your songs?

Well, I find it hard to write on-the-nose songs about what I’m working on. When I was in grad school, a lot of my classmate friends were saying, “Oh, you should write songs about climate change and sustainability!” And I just found it really hard to write a song like that that didn’t suck.

IF YOU GO
Vienna Teng with Alex Wong
Where: Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 3-4
Tickets: $38 to $42
Contact: (510) 644-2020, www.thefreight.org

AimsAlex WongPop MusicVienna Teng

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