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After years of playing with Here We Go Magic, Kristina (Teeny) Lieberson set off on her own with a new band, TEEN, comprised of her sisters and friends. TEEN released its first album, In Limbo, earlier this year to great acclaim, and TEEN has been one of the most refreshing break-out bands of 2012. We spoke with Teeny about the band’s creation, her songwriting practices, the band’s recent tour, and her plans for the future.
All Photos: Paloma Lisa Photography
I have a couple questions I hope you might be able to help answer. So I know that you just finished a tour with TEEN, and I was wondering, was this your first tour?
With this band, yes, it was. It was our first tour.
Great, well how did it compare to touring with Here We Go Magic?
Well, we’re sisters, so that’s new. It was actually really chill. Touring with Here We Go Magic was always really fun and I was a little nervous because some of the girls in the band haven’t really been on tour before, but it ended up just being fun too, so we’re all pretty into being on the road, which was nice.
So is it easier working with your sisters? Is it easier to write music with them?
Yeah, it is very easy, in the sense that our taste is really compatible. Nobody ever really does anything where we’re like all screaming over it, you know, it’s pretty easy to write parts and come up with stuff because we all come from the same kind of background and like the same things.
What inspired you to start TEEN?
Well, when I started it I had some time off from Here We Go Magic and I just started writing music, kind of on my own, and I made these recordings and then I wanted to play them live, and so then I guess, I was just like, okay, well I need people who can sing and I want to use my good friends and my sisters, and then it just kind of took off from there. I had to start paying attention to it, because the girls were really enjoying it and I felt like it just had some momentum behind it so, it just kind of happened.
The songs that are on In Limbo are really well-crafted, and a lot of people have been noticing that the form is kind of loose but the melodies and the lyrics are really tight and really sharp, and there’s this very lush, hyper-textured sound. So could you tell me a little bit about your songwriting process, like is it organic and improvisational or is it really carefully planned out?
I think it has both sides actually, I’d sort of been alone with these songs before going into recording, and when I write an actual song it’s very spontaneous and on-the-spot. But then, when it comes to developing the sound that’s where simple chord structures are really helpful because you can really do so much with having simple songs as your base. So we tried a lot of that kind of arrangement stuff after the fact, so we do both, that’s for sure.
So is it really a group effort then?
It’s becoming more so that way. In Limbo was more me, because I had written the songs over a couple years, so some of them were like three years old, and we would come in and, you know, do a track with a rhythm guitar and drums and then just layer and layer, and layer on top of it until we go the textures that we wanted.
Which of the songs on the record do you feel were the most successful in terms of what you set out to write for the album and in terms of what you set out to do as a band?
That’s hard to answer now because it’s so different from what I feel now, it’s so different from what I felt then. I think “Electric” is the most obviously successful for me as a writer and just for how it came out. It was very easy, and moving forward, and it just felt like everything lined up and it was very clear how that needed to happen. And as far as like who we are as a band, too, I feel like we really enjoyed playing that song and it’s kind of more of an example of what we’ll move towards in the future, I think.
Haha, you’ve actually pre-empted my next question. I was just going to ask, what do you think is next for the band? How do you think the band is going to evolve, how are you looking to further develop your sound for the next album?
I think we’re definitely trying to. On In Limbo, because we layered so much, it was very difficult executing some of those parts live, so I think now we’re trying really stripping down and to just record what we do live, rather than the other way around. So I think it’s going to feel much more like a live band, and that’s our main goal, is to really capture that kind of live feeling just like a real rock band.
So how do you think that TEEN fits in with the contemporary music scene, in terms of what you said about being more of a live band?
You know, I don’t know. I think…I hope it’s refreshing. People come to see us because we’re four women, and I think we’re four women doing something a little different than what a lot of all-female bands do, and I hope it’s fresh. To be honest, that’s a very difficult question to answer because I have no perspective.
Thank you for trying to answer anyway, that was actually really helpful. So I’ve heard a lot of people talking about what they see as influences on TEEN’s music, and usually they say The Velvet Underground. On songs like “Better,” “Charlie” and “Roses & Wine” there’s some kind of maybe retro thing going on, so I was wondering if you feel a connection with any specific artists from the early alt-rock or psych-rock movements?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, The Velvet Underground is very correct, because I was listening to a lot of it when I recorded that, and I’m also really into krautrock, I was listening to a lot of Moy and Can, and you know, at the time I was really into The Velvet Underground, and it was especially appealing because he writes, you know, there’s not so many chords in the songs, but then it’s just really hypnotic, this kind of storytelling thing, and it also gives room for all these great melodies to happen. So that was definitely, I mean, I love The Velvet Underground. It’s strange a little bit now, I’m definitely getting into more psych and more kraut.
Well, going off of that vibe, you mentioned “Electric” before. The video for “Electric” is pretty fun, there’s these mind-bending visual aesthetics going on, even though it’s a pretty serious song, lyrically, and there’s so much choreography. Was it fun to make? Did it take a while to learn the movements?
Yeah, I mean, we definitely had a couple rehearsals. Megha [Barnabas] who choreographed it was totally amazing, and we were all really nervous going into it, but it was fun to make. The day we were shooting we were just like, we couldn’t even believe what a production it was. We couldn’t even believe Sam [Fleischner], the director, got all these people to put their time and their money into the project, we were just totally astonished. I couldn’t be more proud of something, that video is amazing.
What do you think 2013 holds for TEEN?
Well, we’re going to record some more, so hopefully we’re going to have a release somewhat soon, and we just want to tour, that’s really the main thing that we want to do. So we’re going to have some new music out. And some videos, too.
Great, well we’re looking forward to it!
All Photos: Paloma Lisa Photography