Teeny Lieberson used to hate the color purple. As in, the actual shade. The TEEN frontwoman accompanies this confession with a dismissive shrug. Like it or not, with the release of her band’s sophomore album The Way and Color, she’s linked herself with the hue. Metaphorically at least.
“There was something about the richness of what we were doing that felt best represented by purple,” she notes. “It’s like Prince and a lot of R&B acts use a lot of purple. It’s royal. I think that’s where the association came from.”
Her bandmates nod in agreement. They’re children of the ‘90s—if there’s one thing they understand it’s the effect of R&B on the pop world. The lone holdout is bandmate and sister Lizzie Lieberson, who bristles slightly when called out for her dismissal of Prince in favor of Bob Dylan.
“Don’t say that!” she moans. “I don’t not not like him! The songs that I like, I love. I feel like I get chastised for that.”
It’s a small dissent, but totally acceptable. The ladies of TEEN aren’t much for groupthink.
Originally a solo project that lured Teeny away from her gig as Here We Go Magic’s keyboardist, the New York-based musician added her sisters Katherine and Lizzie to the mix to fill out the sound. (Non-related bandmate Boshra AlSaadi joined the band shortly before the recording The Way and Color.)
Their first full-length In Limbo was a hazy pop affair, songs driven by an inscrutable internal logic and driving percussion. Although a stylistic opening salvo, Teeny admits the album only scratched the surface of what she hopes to accomplish.
“Maybe it was a little bit of being in another band for so long and not being the front person,” she muses. “The band wasn’t as collaborative effort. I feel like this is a huge step forward for us. We’ve been playing together longer, and everyone is in the music a lot more.”
The band’s newest effort is a bold reimagination of In Limbo’s core elements. Keys and bass intermingle with horn sections. Beats are bolder. Songs rise and fall with an R&B-informed swagger. Of course, as the members of TEEN have discovered, their desire to paint with every color in the musical palette presents another interesting dilemma—how to describe the final product.
“There’s this need to compare us to other bands that don’t sound like us just because they’re all women too,” Lizzie says. “That’s the thing that we have in common, so therefore we’re all in the same category… we don’t easily fall into those tropes that people like to go back to. Especially for female bands. Either you’re pissed off or you’re confessional and earnest. But there are so many shades of gray. I think it’s harder for people to compartmentalize. They’re like, ‘Oh, you sound like HAIM because they’re all women too.’ So that’s done.”
“Yeah, it’s interesting,” adds Teeny. “We got this one review that said that the anger and angst underneath what I was singing about was challenging. That’s fine, that’s okay. But it’s interesting that with the kind of music we make—We’re not a punk band, I’m not screaming to get people to listen to me. I think it’s hard for people to swallow, the sort of music that we make and speaking about the things that we speak about. It’s hard to explain because it’s really complicated. Because there’s a balance between sweet and colorful music. There are different emotions explored, so it’s harder for people to understand that.”
She points to one album track, “Breathe Low & Deep,” where she consciously dove into some of those themes. A cursory listening of the song gives the impression it’s about love, the protagonist cursing herself for falling into the same patterns time and time again. But repeated listens reveal a darker story.
“That song is actually more about being attracted to the idea of shouting in an empty room,” Teeny says. “No one is paying attention to you, but you keep repeating your actions. Being a woman and feeling the constant battle, but still being attracted to the situations and the people who are still trying to mess with you.”
It’s something that the members of TEEN say they deal with on a regular basis. By virtue of being a band with four women, they’re often forced to challenge all the assumptions that come along with their lineup.
“You should see the way that sound engineers speak to us,” says Teeny. She adopts a patronizing tone—more suitable to scolding a puppy than addressing a full-grown person. “‘Ladies, when you want something in your monitor, you put your hand up like this!’ It’s like, oh sorry, I’ve been doing this for so long. Then there’s also this thing, when you want something a certain way, they look at you like you don’t know what you’re doing. Women can drive cars. Women know what monitor mix they want. Women know how to play their instrument. It’s crazy… but the positive side is that you can crush people’s ignorance. If that’s the assumption, sure that’s the assumption. But let’s change your point of view. That can be a positive outcome to the situation.”