Teen is five women, five friends, three of them sisters, a collective force known as the Liebersons, daughters of famed composer Peter Lieberson, who taught his kids to sing like angels, and taught them well. They’re classically trained, their voices precise and clean, but Teen comes at you with a sound that’s raucous and angst-ridden. A little bit dirty. A little bit mean. The sisters—Lizzie, Teeny (Kristina), and Katherine—trade instruments and solos with close friends Jane Herships and Maia Ibar. The rules are loose, and at times improvised, so that the hard, clear songs feel like a series of happy accidents, a beautifully productive misstep.
Taking a break from rehearsing their first album, due out this spring, the band discussed the difficulties of finding their sound, pigeonholes, and coaxing high school boys into three-ways.
JOHN ORTVED Tell me how the band got together.
TEENY LIEBERSON Well it’s not much of a story. I had some time off from Here We Go Magic and I wanted to make a solo record, so I recorded a bunch of demos. Eventually I had to put a band together and I wanted to play with all the people I’ve always wanted to play with: my sisters, my best friend from growing up, and Jane, whom I’d met playing in another band, Amazing Baby.
JANE HERSHIPS The songs that we were doing with Amazing Baby, they were these kind of epic songs with a lot of harmonies and a lot of vocals. And I was always wondering, Who’s going to sing all these harmonies? And the guys in the band were like, “Oh! The Liebersons are going to do it. The Liebersons!” So they were building this up in my mind, that the Liebersons were going to just swoop down. And that’s totally what happened. They kind of blew me away. They learned the parts in about thirty seconds—they just started singing these crazy complicated harmonies. It struck me as really wonderful that they were sisters and they seemed like they were friends and actually liked each other and they were playing music together and they lived in the same house.
KATHERINE LIEBERSON At home, as kids in the living room. Teeny would play piano and I would sing. Teeny and I would act out Oklahoma!
LIZZIE LIEBERSON You would make me be Jud—the brooding weirdo. He stalks the main girl. And he sings this song, “Pore Jud Is Daid.” It’s sung in this really low register, which of course I couldn’t do.
KL Lizzie always got the shit part, as the baby sister. But we acted out musicals, etc. Music was always a part of our household. We grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Our dad would often play the piano for us and all three of us would sing. Our parents definitely made us sing for people at their dinner parties.
JH I grew in Maplewood, New Jersey.
MAIA IBAR I’m from Connecticut and the Basque region of France. I met Teeny at boarding school.
TL At art boarding school.
JO Art boarding school sounds like a recipe for trouble.
MI It was. I was a visual artist to start off with, and Teeny was in theater, but then she was also doing jazz. There was a lot of smoking pot and smoking cigarettes behind bushes and sneaking out.
MI Actually once Teeny and I snuck out to—
TL The room of one of the only straight guys at the school.
MI Who was also the son of the guitarist of Aerosmith. So he was really cool. And we had a threesome with him.
TL I mean, like a high school threesome. It wasn’t exactly—
MI He couldn’t handle it.
TL He was kind of into it but then we got caught by the dorm parent. He actually walked in on us.
MI But they were nice, they let us go.
JO Why Teen?
TL Because it’s my nickname.
JO So it’s all about you.
TL I was lazy. I recorded this music by myself and I was like, Fuck, fuck, fuck, what do we call it? Teen!
JO It’s getting hard to Google bands these days. Go ahead and Google “Teen.” Or Google “Teen + Band.” You just get Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.
TL That changes if you go anywhere, if you have any kind of success.
JO In the early 2000s if you had Googled “Arcade Fire” you would have come across some news story of an arcade burning down. It’s really your sound that will differentiate you, not a name. Can you each tell me what you think your band sounds like?
JH We sound like a lot of different things coming together in an unexpected way. It’s not straight anything. It’s not straight pop. It’s not straight rock. It’s not straight indie. Kristina writes the music and in her background she studied musical theater, she grew up around a classical composer, she studied jazz, she listened to R&B a lot as a kid, and she loves rock and roll, and I think a lot of those things converge in her music.
LL I think an important part of our sound is that each instrument that we play is not our first instrument. [For example, Teeny, who normally plays keys, has switched to guitar.] But we’re all singers first. For all of us, that’s our main instrument.
TL For me, the idea behind it is to have simple songwriting, and then rearrange it. I write simple, raw songs and then we make them really pretty. So it’s like the Velvet Underground meets Pylon meets the Beach Boys.
MI There’s some Cocteau Twins in there. The Rolling Stones too, but women. The Slits.
TL I’m definitely into the all-women thing, but I’m also a little bit scared of getting pigeonholed. We’re not doing the straight garage thing, because that’s what a lot of girl bands do. It’s ridiculous, but it’s still a thing that when an all-girl band gets onstage, there’s instantly a thought put in people’s brains about what that’s going to sounds like. And I want to get rid of that idea. We’re a band. We’re not a girl band.
JH It’s that Phil Spector-Girl Group idea. That Girl Group label has kind of stuck, even though girl bands aren’t even going that specific with a sound. It’s become this kitschy label. People have done it since the ’60s. And it’s a wonderful sound. And there are bands that still do that. But it’s a label.