Indie-Pop Band TEEN on Gender, Sensuality and Wu-Tang
Sister act TEEN will open for fellow indie-pop adventurers Of Montreal.
First things first: The members of TEEN would really like you to stop comparing their band to Warpaint.
“People say, ‘They sound just like Warpaint!’” frontwoman Kristina “Teeny” Lieberson tells me from her home in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens. “And it’s like, I love Warpaint, thanks, but no, we don’t. We actually sound a lot more like other bands.”
She understands why people draw the comparison — both bands consist of four women — but she’s over it. In fact, the all-female aspect of the two bands is exactly where the similarities end: Warpaint’s haunting psych-pop odysseys are a far cry from TEEN’s plucky, ’80s-referencing indie-pop adventures. Warpaint aside, Lieberson is over the “girl band” label in all its sexist manifestations. “To even say ‘girl band’ is ridiculous, because we’re women,” she says.
Despite her justified disgust at the “girl band” label, Lieberson is all too wary of the conundrum many all-female bands face: wanting to do right by feminist representation while simultaneously being taken seriously as musicians. “It’s most frustrating when it becomes more about the fact that we’re women than the fact that we’re musicians,” she says. “But at the same time, I understand that things are not gender-neutral. So there is the wow factor of seeing four women on stage.”
TEEN isn’t just a group of women, however. This band is a full-fledged family affair. What started as Lieberson’s solo project is now a quartet — and three of its four members are sisters. (Bassist Boshra AlSaadi was added to the lineup prior to the release of sophomore album The Way and Color.) As all three Liebersons learned the hard way, being one-third of a sister act can get messy. “We have to be constantly conscious of how we’re treating one another, because we care about preserving our relationships. It’s made us much more mature people very quickly,” says Lieberson.
But as Lieberson tells it, sharing DNA with her bandmates also carries some major perks. “We have each other’s best interests at hearts,” she says. “You’re never worried about someone fucking another person over. And musical ideas can be easier to explore, because you’re not as quick to shut them down when it’s your sister.”
Though they’ve spent their musical career touring the world, neither Teeny nor her two bandmates-slash-sisters — keyboardist Lizzie Lieberson and drummer Katherine Lieberson — earned their rock chops while growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Starved for a DIY rock scene to join, Teeny spent her teenage years hanging with the local rappers. Her father was noted new-classical composer Peter Lieberson, but Teeny was “one of the skate boys” and a hip-hop head by age twelve, briefly obsessed with memorizing every Wu-Tang Clan song. (Her mother, she recalls, was more of a Joni Mitchell fan.) After graduating from high school, Teeny left Halifax to study jazz at the University of Miami, then relocated to New York because “it just seemed like the thing to do” for someone interested in pursuing music.
Her first stage dreams, however, involved the theater, an industry she now describes as “brutal” and replete with the “awful” auditioning process. Her youthful aspirations to become an actress eventually gave way to her knack for music, and she quickly transferred her stage chops to performing music.
Somewhat predictably, costuming and theatrics are now central to TEEN’s live show, mainly because Lieberson would be bored to death otherwise. “Standing there just playing your guitar does not interest me,” she says. “I’ve become much more of a performer and much more outlandish with what I wear and how I do my makeup. I can’t do the same thing over and over again.”
After releasing an EP, Little Doods, in 2011, and debut album In Limbo in 2012, TEEN garnered serious buzz as one of Brooklyn’s hottest new exports. It’s a label that no longer applies. Three out of TEEN’s four members now live outside the borough, and as a band, they’ve distanced themselves from the over-hyped scene that birthed them. Case in point: Teeny retreated to a lakeside cabin in Kentucky to write third album Love Yes, and Lizzie penned the album’s third single — a simmering, idiosyncratic synth-driven ode to their late father titled “Please” — in upstate New York. When it was time to hit the studio, the band retreated to a 1920s music-hall-turned-studio in Nova Scotia.
Love Yes emerged from said studio as the most upbeat and sleek record of TEEN’s discography to date, diving head first into feminine sexuality, the delights of the sensual world, and gross dudes ogling younger women. Across it all, the foursome’s tight harmonies serve as a constant source of pleasure and emotional depth, drifting and lilting and la-la-la-ing with winking charm and striking sonic precision.
Lieberson’s constant emphasis on the sensual world in her lyrics sprung from her self-described “experience junkie” tendencies. “It was about wanting to get outside oneself and say yes to things around you,” she says. For her, saying yes is an active engagement of the sensual world. “It’s about saying yes so you can fully engage in what the world and nature and music and food have to offer.”
Not that she’s expecting to consume too many sensual pleasures while on tour this autumn. The first thing that springs to mind when asked about her least favorite part of touring is — you guessed it — the food.
“Sometimes when you’re in the middle of the country, it’s really hard to eat healthy,” she says, though she’s quick to add that those greasy burger-joint stops aren’t so bad in the long run. “You end up feeling like it’s worth it because you’re playing to people,” she says. “And I like touring. All of us like touring.”
TEEN performs with Of Montreal at the Bluebird Theater on Monday, October 17, 303-377-1666.
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