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Frontwoman of Teen discusses feminism, why 'Brooklyn' label frustrates

Teen (L-R: Boshra AlSaadi, Katherine Lieberson, Lizzie Lieberson and Kristina "Teeny" Lieberson) headlines the Metro Gallery on Wednesday, two days before its new album is released.
Teen (L-R: Boshra AlSaadi, Katherine Lieberson, Lizzie Lieberson and Kristina "Teeny" Lieberson) headlines the Metro Gallery on Wednesday, two days before its new album is released. (Hannah Whitaker)

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Teen thought there was a certain magic missing from their past albums.

That element, the band realized, was the intensity and spirit of their live performances, which sometimes gets lost in the studio. So when it came to recording their third album "Love Yes" (out Friday on Carpark Records), translating the energy of a live set to the record was paramount.

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"We feel like when we play live shows or when we're touring that there's a certain power that happens, an energetic, sort of electric thing that wasn't communicated on our past records, mainly because of multi-tracking," said Kristina "Teeny" Lieberson, the band's singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist. "You can't really capture the feeling of people's energy when you're layering on top and on top and on top of each other."

In April, Washington's 9:30 Club -- one of the most celebrated music venues in the country -- will bring its take on a modern music variety show to public television for "Live at 9:30," the venue announced in a release.

By mostly forgoing multi-tracking and instead recording all their instruments live at the same time, Teen, made up of Lieberson, her sisters Lizzie and Katherine Lieberson, and bassist Boshra AlSaadi, were able to create an uptempo, and imperfectly "human," album. They'll bring their live act to Metro Gallery on Wednesday.

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Recorded in a joint living/recording space about an hour and a half from the sisters' hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the band's third LP is uptempo, vocal-heavy and poppy with an R&B influence. Lyrics by Teeny and Lizzie aim for straightforwardness with interesting twists; songs on the album address loss, sexuality, ageism and spirituality.

"I end up writing a lot about feminist topics because it's a part of my life," Teeny, 33, said. "I try to indulge in things more conceptually, but I always end up writing about what I know, and the things that I care about, which I do care about those things."

Raised by musical parents, the Liebersons grew up listening to soul, R&B and hip-hop. Though Nova Scotia doesn't leave a direct mark on Teen's work ("I'm not really writing sea shanties," Teeny said with a laugh), the band often considers its landscape and the music they listened to while living there.

"I relate, and I think my sisters, as well, relate, to nature a lot when making music, and I think that has a lot to do with growing up in Canada," she said. "Just sort of being influenced by your environment and being influenced by space and the need for quiet."

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Though they've been living and performing in Brooklyn for years, Teen isn't quick to identify specifically as a Nova Scotian or Brooklyn band. They're tied to both scenes, but the "Brooklyn band" label often connotes a specific sound or niche, which Teen doesn't really fit into, or enjoy being limited to, Teeny said.

"Even though I've lived here for so long, I'm not a New Yorker, and sometimes it feels frustrating to be labeled as a Brooklyn band because I don't think our music has that much to do with the Brooklyn scene," she said. "I like being a part of something, but I also don't like being put into a group of music that doesn't necessarily allow you to be something different."

Baltimore band Lower Dens had its van stolen in San Antonio, but a police tip led to it less than 24 hours later.

Her time in the Brooklyn scene extends beyond the years Teen has been releasing music. Teeny used to play keyboard in Here We Go Magic, a band not only with a different music style than Teen, but also different intra-band relationships, considering she wasn't playing with her sisters.

"The musical dynamic in Here We Go Magic was much more free-form, I think. We jammed a lot and the idea was sort of based on more krautrock sort of structures," Teeny said. "With Teen, it's much more structured. It's much more facing things like a pop song … so that everything fits in its right place. We all like figuring out the puzzle."

She is content, however, with some pieces of that puzzle being left missing. The often-feminist topics that imbue her lyrics offer meditations on topics she's always thinking about -- but the singer is fine if they don't present the answers.

"I think I'm more of an asking questions-type person. I like the unknown. I think that I relate to the unknown a lot," she said. "It can be incredibly unsettling, but I don't think that really anything has one answer, so I tend to be the type of person who is searching a lot and I need my music to do so."

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