Tucked away in Halifax, Nova Scotia, TEEN—the four-member band consisting of sisters Teeny, Lizzie, and Katherine Lieberson and honorary sister Boshra AlSaadi—recorded Love Yes, their full-length follow-up to 2014’s The Way and Color. As explained to me by Lizzie, Halifax was a place to escape when the quartet needed to clear their heads, and alone time, in general, was important to the making of the record.
Last winter, after a long, solo walk during a hard day, Lizzie penned what she wished could be a conversation with her late father, and created something therapeutic for both herself and anybody listening. The result was the band’s latest single, “Please,” which we’re excited to premiere today:
Lizzie talked to me about what it’s like to work so closely with family, and why learning to enjoy your own company is important.
ANNE T. DONAHUE: Congrats on the upcoming album! “Please” seems to be focused on communication. Can you tell me more about it?
LIZZIE: Thank you! We’re very excited about it. “Please” is actually about my father, who passed away a few years ago. The whole song is basically me wishing I could have a conversation with him. It’s about trying to remember what he would say, but also how he saw me. I’m asking myself what did he see in me, and who am I without him and his guidance.
I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. Was this song something that had been in the works for a long time?
The lyrics for “Please” were actually written when I was out for a walk one day, when we were [in upstate New York] last winter. It was a particularly rough day, and I remember just needing to get out of the house. So I went out in the snow and walked for a really long time and just wrote in a book I brought with me. I then came back to the house and locked myself in a room and recorded a demo. In a sense I suppose this song was probably in the works for a while—I’ve written songs about him before—but this one felt different. It was therapeutic.
Your music also does a great job of weaving spirituality with themes of sexuality. Would you say your music is an act of reclamation?
I can’t speak for Teeny, but personally I just write what I know. I’m always questioning things—not in an insecure or indecisive way, but more in an analytical way, both emotionally and intellectually. I think that’s the most constant theme within the music I write.
The song “Please” is full of questions: about my relationship with my father, but also the relationship I have with myself. The other song I have on the record, “Animal,” is also full of questions about love, changing yourself for love, et cetera. Sometimes I’ll come to some kind of conclusion or have some answers within a song, like in “Please.” Other times, these questions are left open-ended and can remain that way for a long time. Maybe even a lifetime.
Is there a conclusion to take away from “Please”?
I think the conclusion, really, at the end of that song is just coming to terms with who I am. I simplified it into the basic parts of anyone—my name, where I was born, when I was born, who my family is, et cetera—and that I’m proud to be all of those things.
There seems to be a lot of spiritual reclamation currently [in popular culture], in terms of women expressing themselves through Tarot and crystals and nature. What made you and the band embrace it?
Personally, being outdoors, being surrounded by nature, is just a part of who I am, and I think my sisters and Boshra would say the same thing. Being in nature is important to me spiritually, simply because I value space and quiet. It’s just how I grew up, and I think if that’s a part of you from the very beginning, it remains a part of you forever. Musically I would say the same thing. We, as a band, value the space and moments of quiet within songs just as much as the loud explosive parts.
How did recording in Halifax influence the album?
Recording in Nova Scotia was really special for me and my sisters. Not only is it just stunningly beautiful, it’s our home, so we felt comfortable. We recorded at this place called the Old Confidence Lodge in Riverport, a couple of hours outside of Halifax. We lived and recorded there for about a month. Because there was nothing to do otherwise, really, except go for walks, cook, and sometimes swim, we were just totally immersed in the process. It was really the best way to do it. And we’re all really happy and proud with the result.
Where do you personally feel most like yourself?
That’s a hard one. I’ve lived in New York now going on nine years, which is crazy. I love this city. I definitely draw a lot of inspiration from this place, but lately I have to say I’ve been craving quiet. Like I said earlier, I grew up surrounded by nature. There were woods in my backyard. The ocean was a short walk from my house. I was always outside as a kid. And I loved being alone outside. I have so many memories of just going for walks alone. It might sound kind of lonely, but these are really happy, peaceful memories. Having that space to think is really important to me, especially creatively. So sometimes being in New York City can feel unnatural to me. It’s a struggle to live here in a lot of ways—energetically, mentally, financially—so sometimes I question whether it’s worth it or not. But I don’t know if I could live in Nova Scotia, either. It can be a very slow-moving, low-energy place to live. So maybe I need a balance of the two, city and nature. I think a lot of people feel that way. I have grand fantasies of moving to the middle of nowhere by myself, but who knows if I could actually do it? I love being alone, but that kind of isolation might be a little too intense, even for me.
Why did you choose to move to New York?
I was living in Halifax and pretty unhappy, and I needed a big change. I was in college and didn’t really know what I wanted to do and was kind of floating around. Teeny was in New York, and I was trying to transfer to different schools. It was actually my mom who told me that I just needed to go, and that I’ll figure it out when I get there. So thanks, Mom!
Have you always worked with your sisters? How has working with them helped you evolve into the artist and person you are now?
I don’t know if I would be playing music if it weren’t for Teeny. When I first moved to New York, the two of us would play these small, super intimate shows around the city. They were painfully difficult. I would get so incredibly nervous. But I pushed myself to do it. Teeny pushed me, too. We were living together at the time, and she was away a lot on tour with another band called Here We Go Magic. I was often alone in our apartment, and that’s when I started writing songs. As a player, songwriter, and performer I owe a lot to Teeny, [but] both my sisters inspire me all the time. Their work ethic alone is something to behold.
Alone time is so important, and I think everyone does really crave it. How do you carve out space for yourself in New York?
It’s hard to find time alone, really. Especially if you don’t live alone. Seriously, getting a bike this year was one of the best things ever. Sounds silly, but riding around on my bike has quickly become one of my favorite things to do. I can’t believe I’ve gone this long in New York without one. But I pretty much like doing everything alone. Going to the movies, eating out, whatever. I think it’s important to enjoy your own company.
How do you make sure you’ve got time to be and grow into yourself while working so closely with family?
I think it can be difficult working this closely with anyone. Especially creatively. I think that’s why bands fall apart so often. With us, though, there is this inherent trust that exists because we’re family. We’re not going to just up and quit. We’re like a small family business and we all care about it, and are committed to it deeply. That includes Boshra, who’s like our fourth sister. That being said, it is really important to me, and I think all of us, to find time for ourselves. I’ve been working on a solo project for the past year, and that’s been really good for me. And I think it’s helpful to our process as a band, too, musically and personally. To be able to step away sometimes and do our own thing is crucial.
Can you tell me a bit about your solo project?
I just finished an EP this past month. I made it with my very good friend and producer, Daniel Schlett, who also produced Love Yes. I have been sitting on some of these songs for a long time, and I’m happy I can finally share them. When that will be, I don’t know yet—but soon, hopefully!
What have you learned about yourself and your sisters during the writing and recording of this album?
It’s been an interesting process, writing this record. There were a lot of different stages [and] it started last January in upstate New York. We wanted to get out of the city and have a sort of winter writing retreat. It’s a nice idea, but in reality it was very difficult. We stayed in this house that was on top of a really steep hill, and the driveway would completely freeze over and turn into one gigantic sheet of ice. So not only were we physically stuck in this house, we were also putting pressure on ourselves to produce something, and it just wasn’t happening. Where that phantom pressure was coming from, I don’t know. I personally was having a very hard time that winter, and that’s when I wrote “Please.” After that experience, we decided to ease up on ourselves and take a little break. Teeny went to Kentucky and wrote most of the songs that are on this new record. Later, in New York we workshopped all her songs and mine, and then went to Nova Scotia to record. So we went from having a really heavy winter to a very inspired spring and summer.
It’s been a very challenging year writing and recording this record, but it’s also been an incredibly rewarding experience. I think with every record we’ve grown as a band, as musicians, as people, but this time feels different. We’re more confident and clear about who we are as a band, and I think that comes across in the music. We work really hard at what we do. At times it’s difficult, but it’s still a completely joyful thing to play music together [and] as sisters—it’s the same thing. We’re constantly figuring it out, learning how to work together, how to be patient. I really can’t imagine doing this any other way. ♦