Sometimes things aren’t totally what they seem, a fact that eventually reveals itself during a conversation with the Brooklyn-based up-and-comer known to her friends as Teeny.
Based on Carolina, the new EP from her band TEEN, one could be forgiven for assuming that the artist formally known as Kristina Lieberson is something of a shy, melancholy, and introverted type. All morphine-drip guitars and hushed vocals, the songs on the record are heavy on atmospherics. That’s another way of saying that the four-piece that performs them isn’t exactly the second coming of L7. Don’t let that fool you into thinking, however, that Lieberson doesn’t have an inner wild child.
Do enough Nardwuar the Human Serviette–style sleuthing and you’ll discover little-known facts, such as how Teeny enrolled in college with the intent to study jazz, but ended up majoring in daily partying. Or how, back in her younger years at a performing-arts boarding school, she was a legitimate badass, at one point heisting a classmate’s car and then going on a hair-dye–stealing spree.
After acknowledging both those parts of her past to be true, Lieberson reveals what might be one of the best-kept secrets of all when it comes to TEEN, which is blossoming into one of Brooklyn’s must-watch next-wave acts. Her big revelation comes up shortly after none other than Nardwuar surfaces in the conversation—sparked by the singer’s admiration of those who do their homework before getting someone on the phone.
“I love Nardwuar,” Lieberson gushes.
And how does a Brooklyn-based scene-maker know about our most infamous celebrity interviewer? That’s where things get surprising.
“I grew up in Canada,” Lieberson says with a laugh. “I’m from Nova Scotia. No one knows this. It’s kind of annoying that we’re seen as this Brooklyn band, because we’re not. We’re three sisters from Halifax. And we should really just start billing ourselves as being from Halifax. We’re Canadian, eh?”
She isn’t the only member of TEEN from the land of Moosehead beer, Tim Hortons doughnuts, and back-yard igloos. The group also includes her born-and-bred-in-the-Great-White-North sisters, Katherine (drums) and Lizzie (keyboards), with the lineup completed by bassist and friend Jane Herships.
The band deserves the attention it’s getting for Carolina, where songs are built around haunted-carnival keyboards and Teeny’s often ethereal vocals. Lieberson is as accomplished at unleashing her inner My Bloody Valentine obsessive on the extended alt-rock guitar freak-out “Paradise” as she is at making space-age bachelor-pad music on “Circus”. TEEN’s most accomplished moment comes on the EP’s title track, where Stax soul, round-midnight jazz, and fuzz-swaddled psych rock come together with seamless results.
While TEEN has blossomed into a cohesive unit today, Teeny notes that the band started out as something of a glorified one-woman show. When she began writing for what would become TEEN, she was playing keyboards for Brooklyn’s Here We Go Magic—an act signed to the label Secretly Canadian, which seems apt when you know Lieberson’s back story. As much as she reflects fondly on it today, she admits that being a supporting player left her wanting something more.
After releasing the Kickstarter-funded Little Doods EP in 2011, the singer took a major step toward where she is today with 2012’s In Limbo, a wonderfully wounded sepia-tone downer of a record with a title that spoke volumes about what was going on in her private life. Lieberson suddenly found herself in two bands, not sure where she was headed with either.
“As far as why we chose to call that record In Limbo, it totally suited the situation perfectly, where I was when I wrote the songs and how I was feeling,” she says. “In fact, how everyone was feeling in the band because I was still a part of something else, and couldn’t commit to this band. Also, back then, TEEN was very much me going to the others in the band, ‘Play this. Or try this.’ Also it was very much a different time in my life, a darker time where I was writing darker songs.”
Her decision to finally leave Here We Go Magic would be motivated by a couple of major events.
“Our father passed away two Aprils ago,” Lieberson relates. “That was right before we recorded In Limbo. I was also going to turn 30 soon. It wasn’t, like, because of those things, that one day I woke up and went, ‘Hey, I have to do something.’ But when something major like that happens in your life, you start having to make big decisions. And that’s what it felt like I had to do. It took me some time to leave Here We Go Magic and do that, but definitely I knew what I had to do. It was like ‘Thirty is approaching, and I’ve really got to start making a move.’ ”
That move is paying off today, with TEEN gaining serious buzz-band status across the web despite not having played much beyond the borders of Brooklyn. That has Lieberson, who didn’t start out pursuing a career in the music industry, feeling like she made the right choice with the band.
“When I was young, I went to school for theatre,” she says. “I learned pretty quickly that I hated the audition process. I still think about going back into theatre, but the audition process is so harsh that I couldn’t imagine myself doing it every day. Also, I never really hung out with the theatre kids—I was more hanging out with the visual-art and music kids, so I felt like ‘Maybe, this really isn’t for me.’ ”
Her gravitation toward music was perhaps inevitable, for reasons that have everything to do with genetics, and not just because her grandfather was the head of Columbia Records and president of the Recording Industry Association of America. Teeny’s mother did time in rock bands in the ’70s. As for the dad of the Lieberson sisters, he was a composer in Nova Scotia and beyond. Even though Teeny talks about him glowingly in the interview, at no time does she mention just how noted Peter Lieberson was. His original works were performed by almost every major symphony in North America, and his close friends and collaborators included no less than cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax.
Lieberson and her siblings are actually, then, the daughters of a classical legend. This only becomes clear in a postinterview Google search that reveals, among other things, a major obit in the New York Times. If the dreamily lo-fi TEEN isn’t the kind of project that one would expect to come out of the Lieberson home, that’s only fitting. As far as at least one Lieberson sister is concerned, things aren’t necessarily what they seem.