TEEN Sister Act
In the middle of explaining how she came to start a band with her sisters, TEEN's Kristina "Teeny" Lieberson pulls the phone a little away from her mouth and says with more than a little edge to her voice, "I can't sit in the middle because you guys keep talking!" There is silence for a minute. Kristina is in a van with her bandmates—older sister Katherine, younger sister Lizzie, and Jane Herships—picking up their gear for a show.
It's a rare bit of sibling bickering from TEEN, whose mix of spare guitars, slowed-down jangly rhythms, and occasional rhythmic electronic flourishes springs as much from their love of being together as anything else. These women aren't just siblings, they're sisters. They grew up singing together. One of them (Katherine, the eldest Lieberson) left her job at a nonprofit to go on tour with the band. Their debut, In Limbo (Carpark), was recorded this summer in a converted barn in Connecticut. The band lived together, cooked on a hot plate, and ate dinner together every night. "It was definitely very bohemian and makeshift," Lieberson says of their summer home. "But it was perfect for recording a record."
That togetherness shines through—particularly in the band's tight vocal harmonies, which prompted Kristina to ask her sisters to join the band in the first place. She had spent several years occasionally writing songs, but when it came time to actually record and perform them with other musicians, she was a little stumped. "I didn't know who would be able to sing it with me, because it needed to match my voice. And I needed them to be good singers. So I was kinda like"—here she takes on a somewhat self-mocking tone, as if putting herself down for lacking in imagination—"'I guess I'm gonna ask my sisters.'"
As keyboardist for Brooklyn's Here We Go Magic, Lieberson helped craft that band's layered, looping, sonically dense brand of psych-folk. With her new band, she's moving about as far away from that as you can get without having a guest verse by 2 Chainz. Not that she wants to say TEEN's sound is exactly a reaction to Here We Go Magic.
"Two things happen" when an artist leaves their longtime band, she says. "You're involved in a band, and you end up making the same kind of music, or you go far away from it because you've been doing that so heavily for so long." TEEN is decidedly in that second group, and the differences largely come down to one phrase, which Lieberson utters near the end of our interview: "total space."
"Something that I feel like I try to encourage when we play is to actually be more reductive than additive," she says. "You start [a song] a certain way, and then to make it change or shift, you take something away, rather than adding something. . . . You want to let things shine, and let keyboard lines stand out."
This strategy is apparent on the great dance jam (and leadoff track) "Better," which opens with a simple, repeating piano line and drum hit that is joined first by a tambourine and synth and then, finally, Kristina's echoy, energetic vocals. Each part is unusually sonically isolated, yet each feels of a piece with the whole picture. It's almost like the band has been together their whole lives.
TEEN plays at Glasslands on Wednesday and at Webster Hall on September 14.
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