We speak with the Brooklyn-based band about how awesome the internet is, and girl band stereotypes.
Teen is the latest export from New York's underground. The family band is comprised of three sisters — Teeny, Katherine and Lizzy Lieberson — and their close friend Kate Herships. Teen's songs are like psychedelic dreams which combine haunting rhythms and twinkling harmonies. We spoke with charming frontwoman Teeny about forming the (almost self-titled) Brooklyn-based band, how awesome the internet is and girl band stereotypes.
Melissa Kenny: 'Teeny' — That must be the single cutest name I've ever heard. Is that your nickname or were you birthed as Teeny?
Teeny Lieberson: My name's Christina but I haven't gone by Christina since I was a kid. I'm Teeny. I've always been Teeny.
So is that kind of how the name Teen originated? Is the predictable explanation the right one?
Yep, that's the right one!
So you're the boss then?
Bemusing! I didn't want to call the band Teeny so I was kinda like, 'OK, let's take the Y off'.
Googling you guys wasn't the most straightforward thing. I got heaps of Imperial Teen, some really awful YouTubes, and this article on wikiHow called 'How to Start a Teen Band: 5 Steps'.
Oh my god. I'm just better off saying that was my intention. Just for people to have the weird Google experience. I think just googling the word 'teen' in general...
Well under step three, which is called 'write a song', the article notes "your song should be catchy and something someone would want to put on their iPod." Do Teen consider iPod playability when songwriting?
No, I don't really. I think there are certain songs where it just happens and it happens to kind of catch but most of the time I'm not thinking about that. If something flows good, if something resolves in a good way or if it comes back around to the beginning idea then I'll think, 'OK that's the way it needs to go'. But then again that would incorporate a great hook. If it doesn't feel good then it's probably not sounding good.
I just saw the clip for 'Electric' which was awesome. The song itself is a little sinister, kind of urgent, but I like the contrast with the fun choreographed stuff and the mod geometric backdrops. How did all that come together?
It was a series of a lot of different things. Sam and Megha [the directors of the clip] really wanted to get to the core of the song like, what the meaning was. It was written right after my father passed away so it was written at a time of total mania. I was worried about how I was going to be treated after it happened, and being kind of scared of going out into the world. It's essentially about how people treat you when you're vulnerable. We were trying to come up with a concept of how to convey that and we went with a sort of a weird ritualistic idea and I showed them 'The Rite of Spring', the original choreography that Stravinsky did and it was very modern... A very modern kind of simple movement. I know Megha was into my idea. He's this amazing filmmaker who incorporated very simple movements to express emotion, and then Sam wanted to take it into 'electric world'.
What about the album title, In Limbo?
We were all going through transition. In the beginning of the band, I wasn't fully available, because I was still in Here We Go Magic, which created a lot of pull and we all experienced that. We're all sisters, working a real job, our father passed away — everyone was really in this state of not knowing what was going on, and only more recently have we felt like 'this is happening, this record's going on' so In Limbo is kind of like the perfect expression of what was actually happening in all of our lives.
I keep seeing the album title In Limbo and my brain reads an amalgamation of Radiohead's In Rainbows and King of Limbs. It keeps happening and it really bugs me out.!
Uh huh, uh huh, I know! I actually thought about that. That's funny!
Your first release was a digital EP; would you say that the internet was super important in those initial stages, in establishing yourselves as a band and all of that?
It's definitely a really useful tool. It's pretty great. You can just post music, people can hear it, people can buy it from you and there you go. It was a big help in getting shows.
Do you get a lot of dickheads wanting to typecast you upon you're an all-girl band?
Yeah, unfortunately it happens a lot. I don't really know exactly what it is yet, I'm still trying to figure it out. It feels like they try to put us into a category to make it more understandable in some way. I think maybe our music is — well, I'm assuming it's different to what a lot of women have done in the past. I'm sure there are lots of girls out there making music like us now... I don't know, it's really interesting. The internet is great for a lot of reasons but I also think it can create a lot of a negativity so I'm trying to figure out if it's because we're women or if it's just kind of happening in general.
Everyone has an opinion but the internet can facilitate that bad energy — anonymous bashing is easy.
Yeah, and it feels like most of it is negative. It's kind of this evil thing — the people who have really negative things to say are always the most adamant about it. People who are positive don't feel like they need to reinforce it all the time.
I guess your sound is kind of hard to pin down so, as you were saying, it's a way of categorising that. Perhaps it's the genre bending thing that you do that leaves you open for all these interpretations?
A lot of comparisons to Vivian girls and Warpaint seem to be drawn.
Do you agree with those similarities or like those bands?
Yeah I love Warpaint, I think Warpaint are an amazing band. I like Vivian Girls a lot too. I don't think our music is similar, though, I think the only thing that is similar is that we're women. We get compared to Haim all the time and the music couldn't be more different, and it's only because we're sisters. I guess that's the part that's frustrating. You're not going to be be like, 'These four dudes sound like these four dudes because they're four dudes'. I'm not saying that sounding like any of those bands is a bad thing because I like all of them very much, but it's just interesting how that happens. I guess it's because there are not that many all-female bands.
Totally. What are you doing with the rest of your day?
I'm watching documentaries at home. I'm watching the Up Series. Have you seen those?
No, I haven't actually.
I think there's seven of them, and they started when these kids were seven-years-old in England and it documents them until they're 49, every 7 years. It's social commentary, it's really upfront. I like it a lot.