Interview with Teeny Lieberson of TEEN

TEEN is a Brooklyn-based indie rock/synth pop outfit consisting of three sisters Kristina (“Teeny”) (synth/guitar/vocals), Lizzie (synth/keys/vocals), and Katherine Lieberson (drums), as well as Boshra AlSaadi (bass/vocals). Their newest album, Love Yes, was released on Carpark records on February 19, 2016. You can catch them live in Washington D.C. at the Rock and Roll Hotel on June 22nd.


Interview conducted by Erica Lashley


Erica Lashley: What are your musical influences (both in general and specifically for the new album)?

Teeny Lieberson: Well, lots. For this record, Kate Bush was a really big one; I’ve been listening to her a lot before I wrote a lot of the material. And her sort of unwillingness to compromise artistically – I think she’s just inspiring also in that way. I was listening to the Kendrick Lamar record a lot while I was writing this record. I mean, he’s just amazing. I feel like he’s one of the only people I actually care about that’s making music right now.


When I write, I don’t like to listen to that much music because it can be distracting in a way. I was listening to the Clark Sisters too; they’re gospel. I listen to a lot of gospel.


EL: Describe your songwriting process. I know you write a lot of the songs, and Lizzie also wrote a couple, but what is the process like?

TL: Lizzie and I tend to write mostly alone, and once we have sort of a sketch of an idea, we’ll bring it to the group, and then it’ll become a “band song.” I guess we both try and limit our own ideas and projections of what we want the song to sound like because it’s bound to change with the band.


EL: How/when did you start playing music? What instrument did you start with?

TL: I started playing piano when I was very young – 5 or 6. I started playing classical piano.


EL: What about your sisters?

TL: Lizzie also played classical piano and she played a bit of flute also when she was very young.


Katherine played a little bit of piccolo, funnily enough, but she was an athlete, so she didn’t play as much music growing up.


EL: So how did you guys decide to form a band?

TL: I wrote some music on my own and then I basically just asked my sisters to play some shows, and then it kind of became more serious. We had a different bassist for about 2 years before she quit. Boshra had actually just quit another band, and then she wrote me like that night – my friend Mike had suggested that she join the band – and it was perfect. She was the only person we auditioned, and it just felt really compatible.


EL: And this was after your time with Here We Go Magic, right?

TL: Yes, it was.


EL: Did you quit Here We Go Magic in order to spend more time playing music with your sisters, or did it just happen that way?

TL: No, it was because I wanted to pursue TEEN, 100%. Here We Go Magic was just so busy, and when you’re in a band that’s doing that much, it’s impossible to do anything else. I loved being in that band, so it was a very difficult decision, but I wasn’t writing any music for that band so it sort of felt like this is something I really needed to do and it was time for me to do it.


EL: That’s awesome! I also heard that you’ve played in Harrisonburg before with The War on Drugs. How did you get involved with that?

TL: That was through Here We Go Magic! It was a festival; ages ago before The War on Drugs were massively huge.


EL: It was MACROS festival, right?

TL: Yes! I think so. That’s the festival where you play in a bunch of different places in that one little strip, right?

EL: Yes! Exactly.

TL: Yeah, it was something like that, and I think they were about to release their second record or something – maybe a couple of months after that – I don’t really remember. It was before they were the massive band that they are now, which is so funny. But I’ve known those guys for a really long time; they’re really great people.


EL: What was your favorite live show that you’ve ever played?

TL: Hmm…that’s tough; there are so many. Well, you know, festivals are always really amazing, especially when you get to go to Europe or places that you’ve never been before. Here We Go Magic got to play a festival in Portugal. It was really small, but it was summer, and people were swimming, and the show was really fun, and all these really great bands were playing. Those opportunities are really exciting and I hope that we get to do more of those.


EL: That sounds amazing! So in terms of the new record, I noticed while listening that the sound is much more synth heavy and less focused on guitar riffs. Is there a specific reason for that or were you just more inspired to play synth? Do you feel like the synth-heavy stuff is more of TEEN’s “sound?”

TL: It’s funny – I think synthesizers are just easier for me, and I love them. I do think that sometimes I feel like it makes more sense for there to be a synthesizer in a certain place than for there to be guitar. I do love playing guitar but it’s not my first instrument, so it might be that that’s the reason that there ended up being more synthesizers on the record just because I don’t tend to write on the guitar first. I tend to write on keyboard first, and then if I can come up with guitar line, then great. I love accenting things with guitar, but it’s not my principal instrument.


EL: You guys recorded the new album in Halifax, right?

TL: Outside of Halifax, yes, in Riverport, Nova Scotia.


EL: What made you decide to do that rather than record in New York?

TL: Well, first of all, it was because three of us are from Nova Scotia, but also because we wanted to take a longer time and we knew recording all of the material live was going to take a longer time, and anything in the New York vicinity is pretty expensive.  This place was more affordable, so we were able to spend more time there and really relax. Also, a place like that in Nova Scotia is more remote, and you don’t have the same kind of distractions that you would have other places, which we really wanted to do.


EL: Do you feel like being there influenced the way the album turned out?

TL: Yeah kind of! We had already rehearsed the material so much in order to record it live, but I think the fact that we were happy where we were, we were comfortable, we liked the studio, we liked the town, so we were able to focus.  And I think that that feeling is definitely in there – of just it being a good time, and not just troublesome.


EL: Do you have any advice for young, non-male artists?

TL: Well, I do feel like, unfortunately, as a woman, we still do have more hurdles than if you are a boy or a man.  That’s just sort of our reality and the way that the world is still. But, I think that makes it all the more important for women to be making music and to be fearless about making music.


I think the most important thing is to just make the sounds you want to make. Experiment. Try things out. Don’t be afraid to not fit into some box because a lot of people want it that way. I think sometimes it can be scary for women – I mean, I can only speak from my experience, but sometimes it feels like it’s harder to try things out because you’re being evaluated on much more of a micro level than men are.  But, fuck it, you have to do it anyway, you know? The main thing is, you have to work really hard; it’s really, really hard work. Just make sure you stay true to what you want to do, and try everything that you want to try.


EL: Wow! Thank you so much! My last question is a little silly: If you were a chair, what kind of chair would you be, and who would sit on you?

TL: Huh. I like questions like this, actually.  Well, I’d want to be something kind of comfortable, but I wouldn’t want to be too grandiose. I feel like I’d be a comfortable reading chair.  Something big and sort of cushy – where you’d want to sit and you’re comfortable sitting there, but it’s not too fancy. Maybe a really bright color, maybe a little garish – like maybe not the most attractive chair – maybe a loud pattern. I would love for a little kid to be sitting on it – a really cute kid. Or it could totally be a dog! Or maybe even a historical figure. No, I’ll stick with a dog. I’m going to stick with a really cute, raggedy little dog (laughs).