On Valentine’s Day, Brooklyn’s Teen plays a home-turf record-release show at Union Pool, heralding their new, third album, Love Yes, which comes out on Carpark Records five days later. The Valentine’s Day anchor is unintentional, in spite of Love, Yes‘s amorous title. There is commercialized, fictionalized love, the kind that goes down smooth with chocolate and roses, and then there’s the more sublime, elemental kind. That is where Love Yes sits — or at least that’s one part if it.
“The title and the song on the album play into the idea of an awakening of the senses,” says Kristina “Teeny” Lieberson from her home in Greenpoint. “I was listening to The Sensual World a lot while I was working on these songs, and Kate Bush talks about being in touch with your senses,” she says of the great Kate’s 1989 record. New York City may be an ideal place for sensory overload, but not necessarily the best location for one to strengthen bonds with the elemental world and nature. It was out in Kentucky, where Teeny escaped for a couple of weeks after battling a bout of writer’s block, that she began experiencing this enticing connection with natural elements.
“We went through a tough period last winter trying to write, unsuccessfully. So I decided to go to Kentucky, where my mom was living,” recalls the 33-year-old, who, prior to Teen, played in various bands but is probably best known for playing keyboards with Here We Go Magic. “Almost every song I wrote came out of that two-and-a-half-week period. There is this theme to the record, really; it’s this idea of spring and new ideas. It’s really about a spring awakening. It’s funny, I live in New York and I love it, but creatively, I’m not as productive when I’m here. I need to be in nature. It’s like I need that cocoon and to be very alone. It might have something to do with growing up in a quiet part of Canada.”
They recorded the album in Nova Scotia, but the record was set in motion by the retreat to Kentucky, where Lieberson set up metaphorical shop in a log cabin and steered clear of the internet, social media, and other distractions found more prevalently in an urban setting. That might sound drastic, but the lack of cell phone service at her cabin in eastern Kentucky helped her zero in on Love Yes and the messages contained therein.
“At first it was weird — I’m the kind of person who tends to be on the phone all of the time,” she says, emphasizing all. “But it wasn’t a shock to my system; it was actually a relief to me, and I just forgot about it and was able to concentrate on writing. There were none of those obligations demanding me to pay attention. I could turn that all off and be in a different mind space. Who we are here in New York isn’t necessarily who we need to be to create. I think that’s true of a lot of musicians who lead urban lives.”
While bass player Boshra al-Saadi grew up in Pennsylvania, Lieberson — along with her sisters, Lizzie and Katherine, who round out Teen’s quartet — grew up in Nova Scotia. Their mother, Ellen Kearney, is a folk singer who was a Greenwich Village coffeehouse scenester in the neighborhood’s folk heyday, and who worked with artists like Maria Muldaur, and their father is the late classical composer Peter Lieberson, who was born in New York, the son of a Columbia Records president. The haunting new song “Please” is an internal conversation with parents, and though softer than some of Love Yes‘s bold numbers, it encapsulates the album’s keen, careening vocals and off-kilter electronic pop.
Although the house was filled with music, there was no forced ushering into musical careers. Music just came naturally. When it was time to go to college, Lieberson headed to Miami to attend jazz school, but it didn’t work out well: “I always hated school, especially music school. I loved jazz singing, but I didn’t feel I needed to be taught to sing in a particular way.”
Nor was there parental pressure. Neither parent pushed them to music or away from it. “My father didn’t have a ton of advice to give us,” she adds. “The main thing that he always drilled into my head was work as much as possible. He died a couple of years ago and he himself kept writing until just before the end. His main message was to keep working at it. My mom had a great work ethic, too, but her main thing was originality. My mum always insisted that you should be yourself.”
It shows on Love Yes, which Lieberson calls “a very feminine record, more so than our other records. The female experience is darker and more sensual. Lizzie’s writing is very sensual. For me, my songs are always feminist. The topics and what I write about are my experience, and my experience is being a woman in music and in the world.”
Teen plays Union Pool on February 14.