INTERVIEW: Teeny Lieberson of TEEN

Teen Teeny Lieberson

AudioFemme caught up with Teeny Lieberson to chat about TEEN’s new album The Way and the Color, what the possibility of motherhood means to musicians, and advice for ladies aspiring to become musicians.

AudioFemme: I heard that you’re touring with Phantogram, which is awesome.

Teeny Lieberson: Yeah. We’re really excited about it.

AF: Are you going to be with them for the entire tour?

 TL: For the US leg. I think they go to Europe after that. We’re not going with them.

AF: Can you talk a little bit about how you got started with this record?

TL: I actually started it as a solo recording project. It kind of just grew from there. I was recording a little album on a four track recorder and then it just felt like the songs were strong so we decided to make a record. I asked my sisters to come play because they were free. Then, it just kept developing from there. Jane was an original member and she kept playing bass for about two years. She recorded the Carolina EP with us. She left the band this year and now we have a new bassist.

AF: What is like playing in a band with your family? Any sibling rivalry? Family drama?

TL: Not a ton. It’s good in the sense that taste-wise and choice-wise we are often on the same page and it’s pretty unspoken which makes writing easy. That’s why we’re able to do things quickly. Bickering happens. But it resolves itself pretty quickly.

AF: What was it like growing up with so many musicians in your family? Did you play together when you were young? Are either of your parents musical?

TL: Both of our parents are musicians. My father was a composer, my mother plays rock and folk music and toured. We had it around us all the time. We didn’t play our instruments very much. Catherine just started playing the drums. It hasn’t been long at all, so it’s pretty impressive. It shows the genes are there. But you know, we sang a lot. We sang constantly around the piano. It was a part of us being kids. But then as we got older we started to ignore each other [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][laughs].

AF: Your album has very heavy r&b influences, but there’s also electronic music. Can you talk a little about that process? Mixing the electronic stuff into the live instrumentation?

TL: A lot of that stuff happens post. We usually start with the bare bones of the band when we’re tracking the songs. Our producer likes us to get as much live material as possible. We record drums, bass, guitar, and keys and that forms the basic layer track. From there we go in and add whatever we want to and the producer chops things up or adds in synth or takes the drums out or adds reverb or a sound to the snare at a certain point. A lot of that is in the production. He was chopping things up as I was playing them sometimes.

AF: What are some of your earlier musical influences? What did you grow up listening to?

TL: There are so many influences. I’m definitely attracted to powerful singers, no matter what genre. When I was younger I really idolized Ella Fitzgerald and how imaginative her vocabulary was. Hearing her scat is just totally insane. I would listen to Courtney Love. Of course, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Al Green, D’Angelo, Mary J Blige, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu. I tried to sound like them when I was a teenager. I loved that R&B singers use their voice to tell a story while also doing all of these other things and creating so much color throughout. That’s definitely what we were going for with this record.

AF: You’ve probably listened to this album a thousand times. Has your feeling of it changed now that you’ve listened so much and played it live?

TL: Yeah. It goes both ways. It kind of loses a bit of its story, of its personal touch. You have to find a new story with it when performing. So much of my writing has an indirect correlation to an experience so when the moment has passed it changes how you feel about a song. When you’re performing it, it becomes its own separate thing from the recording. That’s really fun. You can explore in a totally different way. We like emulating what we did, but we also really enjoy trying things really differently live. I know not everyone likes that, but I really do. It makes something more exciting for us and in the long run for the audience to hear.

AF: Do you have a favorite song off of the album?

TL: It changes. I definitely love “Sticky,” that’s one of my favorites. It’s one of the more personal songs. Well, that song is just about motherhood and exploring that – what comes with it, what comes with the possibility of it. The inner workings of someone’s mind; deciding whether or not to have a child. Every woman goes through that at some point. I would imagine most women go through it because it’s biological. It’s something I didn’t want to be afraid to explore. I was wondering why more people aren’t talking about it. There are so many female musicians and not many of them talk about motherhood or even just the question of it. I think it’s changing now, too, with being a modern woman and the idea of not having children. As a musician, I’m on the road all of the time I just wanted to embrace that. It seems a little taboo, which I think is ridiculous.

AF: Do you feel like you’ll eventually have kids?

TL: I don’t know. I’m getting older so it’s something I’m thinking about actively. It’s become a topic of conversation more now that I’m getting older. But my career has also become a bigger part of life. I don’t think they can’t go hand-in hand, but what I do unfortunately, requires a lot of travel. I don’t have an answer yet.

AF: “Sticky” has a really strong gospel element to it. That makes it stand out to us. Did that happen organically in the song-writing process?

TL: I actually demoed that song separate from the rest of this record. I had worked on it with this other project that I was doing with another producer we work with. I started it based on – not trying to compare it at all, but the inspiration for the song – Max Roach and Abby Lincoln. They did this record called We Insist, a totally amazing civil rights record. There’s this one song called “Driving Man” with a section in a different time signature. I actually wrote the song starting with that signature in 5. “Driving Man” has that thump and the strong vocal. It sounds spiritual, not sure if it actually is. It was a direct inspiration, for sure. I liked the idea of it being bare in the front section and building up into the chorus. It happened naturally, while also having the spirit of that song. Gospel music is also just the most powerful music in my opinion. So anytime I can channel that feeling…

AF: Now that you’ve finished this album and you’re touring, do you see the band staying together and making more albums? What’re your thoughts for the future?

TL: I think all of us are pretty into it. We’re going to keep making records for as long as its possible. Both of my sisters make music on the side. I’m going to make a solo record when there’s time. But for us as a band, we’re definitely going to keep going. We’re only just getting good now, so it can only get better. We’re starting to touch on things that make sense musically with each other. That feels good.

AF: Do you have any dream collaborations? Some that are in reach for you?

TL: D’Angelo. I’m so obsessed with him. There aren’t too many people I’m obsessed with. But he doesn’t make music anymore. Love Little Dragon. That would be really cool. I love the way she sings, love the way they approach music. I love St. Vincent, also. She’s amazing.

AF: How is it touring? Exhausting? Exhilarating? Any touring stops you love?

TL: I am somebody who I think does very well with touring. I really enjoy the freshness of a new city every day. It’s really exciting. I love how many new people you meet, relationships you make on the road. I love how spontaneous all of it feels. Festivals are definitely the highlight of touring. Especially in Europe because you meet so many musicians and it’s always the most fun. Good weather makes touring so much better.

We went to Europe last year and we actually did really well. We were surprised by how well we were doing. Audiences were great. But it was gray for thirty days straight. And cold. We were thinking, why are we tired, why are we bummed out? Also trying to stay healthy and sleep a lot. Sleeping and eating become number one. Of course they’re number one in everyday life. But on tour you’re always panicked about sleep and food. But something about your life becoming that basic can be really relaxing for people like me. All I have to worry about is when I’m gonna eat or sleep. For others, because you don’t have control over those things, it can be really uncomfortable.

I love touring. I live with my boyfriend, so being away from him is the worst part. But that’s it!

AF: Does he ever join you on tour?

TL: He did this last time which was really nice. He surprised me on the road. I think our next tour is only six weeks long. So, hopefully he’ll visit me on this next tour.

I think Phantogram and TEEN is going to be a great match on this new tour, too. Hopefully the audience will embrace us.

AF: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for a younger girl or woman aspiring to be a professional musician?

TL: I’d say: practice as much as you possibly can, do not be intimidated by anyone (male or female), and the most important thing is to keep going at all times, even if you get a bad review or someone writes a horrible comment. I know people say this all the time, but it really is true: perseverance is number one. Perseverance separates the people who can from those who can’t. It’s really hard. I mean you’re doing what you love. But there’s so much competition in music. It’s difficult but it’s worth it.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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