Teen: The Whole EverythingBy Breanna Murphy
"We’re not always in the places we’re meant or want to be. Suspended from one familiar place by choice or chance, the limbo can be maddening while waiting to find new, solid footing upon which to land. Neither here nor there, the feeling of being stuck leaves us floating uncomfortably in the places in between. And these spaces can be the darkest, grayest—and most influential—experiences.
“When I wrote the record, I was in between everything: I was about to turn 30, my father had just died, I was in this tumultuous back-and-forth relationship, I was in between bands; it was like the whole everything.”
Speaking about her debut record from a landline in New York City, Teeny Lieberson happens to be, at this moment, residing in between existences much less tempestuous, if not exhausting: tours. She’s fresh off the first European travels of her band TEEN—a solo-turned-four-piece outfit in which she plays with her two sisters, Lizzie and Katherine, and longtime friend Jane Herships—but will soon leave again for a Stateside outing.
“It’s funny to feel so emotional about something, an idea, that’s kind of convoluted,” she continues, discussing the circumstances surrounding the making of In Limbo. “It was really scary because it felt like it was time to start making big decisions. I was trying to help myself out of that feeling and move towards making big changes. Writing and making music is a helpful tool for me. Change, I think, is really difficult for people.”
The Lieberson sisters grew up in Nova Scotia, in a household and heritage flush with noteworthy musicality: their paternal grandmother, Vera Zorina, was a Norwegian ballerina and choreographer; their paternal grandfather, Goddard, was a composer, as well as the head of Columbia Records in the late ’50s through the ’70s; their mother, Ellen Kearney, played rock and roll in the ’70s; their father, Peter, was a respected and esteemed classical composer. Katherine played piccolo; Lizzie played flute in addition to piano, as did Teeny.
“We did a lot of standing around the piano and singing; Gershwin tunes and old jazz standards, actually,” she says. “I always played jazz and was really into R & B.”
In her early 20s, Teeny moved to New York, where she transitioned away from traditional music and began playing keyboard in various groups, including a short-lived project called Amazing Baby with her younger sister Lizzie and Jane as bassist. “I started getting into a different scene and then I started writing different music; it happened pretty organically,” she explains.
A few months after Amazing Baby ceased, friend Baptiste Ibar introduced her to the current band he was playing bass with, which was in need of a keyboardist. The group in question was the first incarnation of Here We Go Magic, the Brooklyn psych-pop outfit led by Luke Temple. Teeny became a member in January 2009, touring extensively with the band, as well as playing on two of Here We Go Magic’s LPs, Pigeons in 2010 and A Different Ship in 2012. During some time off, she began experimenting with her own songs on a four-track recorder, culminating in a rough album she describes as “crunchy” with “a million synthesizers on it.”
“It was cool, but it was so lo-fi there was no way I could ever do anything with it. It kinda sounded pretty bad,” she laughs.
Stuck with a feeling, Lieberson left Here We Go Magic after three years of playing and reunited with both Jane and Lizzie as bandmates, as well as recruiting her older sister Katherine, who had recently left her job working at a nonprofit, for TEEN. They recorded In Limbo in a barn in Connecticut, along with original drummer Maia Ibar (Baptiste’s sister) and Here We Go Magic member Jen Turner, who additionally aided in the engineering of the record.
“Musically, it’s the easiest thing in the world,” Teeny remarks, on working with her sisters. “It’s kind of insane, actually, because it’s very compatible and I feel like we all speak the same language. But when it comes to, like, if someone’s really tired and hasn’t eaten enough that day and needs a snack, and turns into a total asshole,” she laughs, “then it just turns into the biggest fight in the world. Jane’s not too annoyed with the sister thing, which is lucky.”
The tracks on In Limbo are lush and complicated, beautifully so. Dreamlike, they hang like a mysterious fog with songs that vary from playful taunts (“Better”) to groovy acousticals (“Come Back”) to slow-moving meditations (“In Limbo”), each intertwined in countless knots of gauzy vocals, distorted beats and masking, melodramatic synths. As obscurely as the 2012 LP presents itself musically, the band’s new EP, Carolina, demystifies the haze with still-heavenly efforts, yet points the way toward a more direct approach for TEEN, demonstrating a desire to build out a full-realized new occupancy, no longer up in the clouds in between things, but decidedly settled.
“When you write a song that means something to you, it’s such a specific feeling in that time, it feels weird to perform it later when you feel like you’ve outgrown it,” Teeny explains, speaking to the past. “I think you can find new meaning in songs. If it’s a song that’s so personal and then you’re over that feeling, then that’s hard to relate to. But I think if it’s something that you’ve written about somebody that’s gonna be special to you forever, then that feeling never goes away.”
This must be the place."
This article originally appeared in FILTER 52: "The National: Emotional Transit," available now on newsstands and digitally in the iTunes and Google Play stores. See more here.