There are no teenagers in TEEN; rather, the name comes from key-board player and singer Kristina’s nickname, “Teeny.” Composed of three sisters from Halifax—Teeny, Katherine, and Lizzy Lieberson—and a friend, Jane Herships, from New Jersey, the New York-based band released their debut album, In Limbo, last week. As sisters, they seem very different; Katherine, the eldest, spent several years running a non-profit, while Teeny played in Here We Go Magic, and Katherine floated around a few different New York bands. When we asked the four members what band they wish they could have been in, their answers ranged from Nirvana and Hole, to Neil Young, Alison Krauss, and Gillian Welch. The result is harmonic, electric synth with a touch of toughness—their single “Better” makes a surprisingly good soundtrack to the ‘80s movie Quicksilver, starring Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne, as evidenced in the video below.
Interview recently met TEEN in New York to talk about sexism in the music industry, sibling dynamics, and stealing.
EMMA BROWN: Do you come from musical families?
TEENY LIEBERSON: Our father was a composer, and our mom was a musician also.
EMMA BROWN: And did you always know that you wanted to go into music?
TEENY LIBERSON: I did.
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: We all grew up singing, [but] I never thought that I would end up doing music as a career, it wasn’t planned. It was more of something that I loved and enjoyed, but I didn’t think about it really seriously.
EMMA BROWN: What about you Jane?
JANE HERSHIPS: No one in my family was professionally musical. I guess my father was for a time, before I was born. When he was young, he was a touring musician. It never really seemed like something you could do as a job. It was something that I always did and something that I always loved, but it never occurred to me that I could feed myself.
EMMA BROWN: Do your parents ever encourage you to pursue another profession?
JANE HERSHIPS: No, they’re always like, “Go for it!” My dad worked on Wall Street, and I remember I was shocked one day when he was like, “I hated my job, you should go for it.”
EMMA BROWN: Did you get along as children?
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: No, not at the beginning. Not until we were older. We fought horribly. I’m the oldest. Lizzy and I got along better because there was a lot more of an age difference.
EMMA BROWN: Do you have any other siblings?
ALL TOGETHER: No.
TEENY LIEBERSON: Jane, honorary.
JANE HERSHIPS: What? Oh yeah.
EMMA BROWN: Jane, is it weird being in a band with three sisters? Do you feel excluded?
JANE HERSHIPS: No, not at all. First of all I like to keep myself out of family discussions. I feel like maybe I lend an outside perspective so, no I never feel excluded in that way.
LIZZY LIEBERSON: It’s nice to have someone else you’re not related to in the room.
EMMA BROWN: Does it ever turn into, “Let’s see what Jane thinks?”
TEENY LIEBERSON: Jane’s really, really made an emphasis on “leave me out of it.” I tried to do it once. I was like, “Come on, Jane!” But she wasn’t going to go there.
JANE HERSHIPS: I feel like in a lot of other situations, in a lot of group dynamics, there is a lot of passive aggression—and that happens in families too. But you guys know each other so well that if someone has something to say to somebody else, it just comes right out, which is a good thing.
EMMA BROWN: How do you decide disagreements?
TEENY LIEBERSON: I’m always right [laughs]. No, I don’t know.
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: If there is a fight, we talk about it and agree to disagree. It always just works itself out. It’s never going to get to a point where it’s terrible.
JANE HERSHIPS: I don’t know, look at Oasis [brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher].
TEENY LIEBERSON: Are they not friends anymore?
JANE HERSHIPS: They like broke up and have two different bands now.
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: I don’t think we would let that happen.
TEENY LIEBERSON: I hope not. I think The Kinks had the same problem?
EMMA BROWN: Kings of Leon aren’t doing too well.
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: They’re brothers too. Brothers and a cousin.
EMMA BROWN: Sounds like you are pretty much doomed. Do you remember the first song you ever wrote, not as a band but just individually?
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: I’ve never written a song.
TEENY LIEBERSON: Yes you have, we wrote one together.
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: Oh that’s right! “Boo-boo.”
TEENY LIEBERSON: We don’t need to sing it. It was a song about my pet stuffed animal, my rabbit, and it was very doo-wop-y. I think we wrote that in the car. That was probably one of the first songs we wrote.
EMMA BROWN: How old were you?
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: Eight? Five? Three? We were little.
EMMA BROWN: You’re often introduced as an “all female” band, which is something that people never remark upon when a band is all male. Do you feel like the music in general or indie music specifically is male dominated?
ALL TOGETHER: Yeah.
TEENY LIEBERSON: Yeah, definitely. In my experience, I have played in other bands and it’s all been guys and maybe one other girl. But it’s the idea of needing to point that out all the time is kind of ridiculous. We’re just a band.
JANE HERSHIPS: It’s true, though. You don’t say that about race anymore, you wouldn’t say they’re an all-black band. You would never say that anymore. When are we going to get to the point where we don’t say it’s an all-female band anymore?
TEENY LIEBERSON: I’ve had a guy come to me after a show and, “When you guys all got on stage I was like, ‘Really? Oh Jesus,’ and then you changed my mind.” Is that supposed to be positive? That that’s your perspective? It feels really ancient. It feels like really boring to me that people think that way.
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: There is a challenge because we are all female, and it’s unique in this world to have a band of all women. You can’t ignore it, but you also don’t want to be labeled and put in a box as an all-girl group—that the music doesn’t somehow stand on its own. You do have a challenge of changing people’s minds, because people are going to have a perception when they see four women take the stage, in any profession. Then you have to sort of trust that the music will speak for itself. And that’s exciting to me actually, that you can change someone’s mind and maybe the next time they see an all-girl group they won’t have as much preconceived notions and will just think they are seeing a band and not an all-girl band.
EMMA BROWN: Do you think things have regressed? I feel like in the ‘80s there were some girl bands that weren’t confined to being a “girl band.”
TEENY LIEBERSON: Yeah, I wonder why. I mean that’s definitely true, there was The Slits. That was the ’70s, even. But I guess people didn’t judge it as much.
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: There are still strong female singers, look at Beyoncé or Adele.
TEENY LIEBERSON: Yeah, but it’s about instrumentalists. When they get into playing an instrument, it’s very different. That’s have been my experience, too, walking into a room and being an instrumentalist. A singer they can deal with. But an instrumentalist, that’s very different.
JANE HERSHIPS: Especially a drummer.
EMMA BROWN: Do you find listening to music in your spare time exhausting?
LIZZIE LIEBERSON: I listen to the radio a lot.
JANE HERSHIPS: NPR.
LIZZIE LIEBERSON: I know, I’m such a dork.
TEENY LIEBERSON: I didn’t used to, but I do now. I didn’t feel that way when I was in Here We Go Magic.
EMMA BROWN: Do you think it’s because you’re more invested in TEEN?
TEENY LIEBERSON: Yeah, it probably takes over my brain a lot more. I go through phases. I like to listen to music for inspiration.
EMMA BROWN: When you listen to music for inspiration, how do you keep that separate so it doesn’t become your sound?
TEENY LIEBERSON: You mean so that I don’t totally steal ideas?
EMMA BROWN: Yes.
TEENY LIEBERSON: It’s a hard thing to explain. I think it’s important to imitate, I don’t know how it becomes your own voice, but it somehow does. Usually it’s something pretty small, not like the bare bones of the song. I’m not going to copy this exact melody; it will be the way a rhythmic guitar is played or a way the drums do a certain fill during the bridge. People have that feeling all the time.
LIZZY LIEBERSON: I think you get inspired by things and you don’t even realize it.
EMMA BROWN: Have you ever felt that someone stole a musical idea from you?
LIZZY LIEBERSON: I had a friend who stole my clothes [laughs]. Literally would steal my clothes.
JANE HERSHIPS: And then wear them in front of you?
TEENY LIEBERSON: I think I’ve felt that way, but I think that I only felt that when I was maybe feeling less secure about my own ideas, needing to protect everything, because—this is going to sound really cheesy—the best music to be made is the stuff that’s for sharing, when everybody is feeding off each other. And I had a girl steal my boyfriend in the eighth grade, and then she did it again when we were 16!
EMMA BROWN: Last question: In the spirit of your band name, what were your favorite teen magazines?
KATHERINE LIEBERSON: We were just talking about this, I used to read YM. And International Gymnast. [all laugh]
LIZZIE LIEBERSON: I started reading W when I was 14.
JANE HERSHIPS: I think I liked Seventeen.
TEENY LIEBERSONS: I remember having a crush on that one guy from Home Improvement…
TEEN IS PLAYING TOMORROW, WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 5, AT GLASSLANDS IN NEW YORK. IN LIMBO IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.