In our heads
Tegan and Sara show some sisterly love and pick The Boss’ brain
There was a stretch earlier this year when you couldn’t pick up a music magazine or scope a hipster music blog without seeing doe-eyed indie pop act Tegan and Sara. Perhaps a bit of brilliant marketing on the part of the record label doesn’t hurt, but there is no doubt that the Calgary-born identical twins know their way around a pop hook.
Despite the obvious similarities that come with being born eight minutes apart, the 27-year-old Quin sisters have vastly different approaches to songwriting. The more prolific Tegan churns out stripped-down versions of her songs, while Sara tends to labor over her tunes—usually starting out with a chorus and coming up with most of the music before writing the lyrics.
“I’ll spend ridiculous amounts of time working on something,” admits Sara, speaking from a tour stop in Northampton, Mass. “And I’ll be a lot more shy about sending stuff to someone.”
That someone is usually sister Tegan, who lives in Vancouver, while Sara makes her home in Montreal. The two bounced demos back and forth of the songs that would become their latest album, The Con, before heading into the Portland studio of Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla. The record has received some serious attention since being released in March—perhaps even more than Tegan and Sara’s dual ‘80s-inspired coifs, or the fact that they’re lesbian identical twins.
With Walla on board (as well as a number of guest musicians including Weezer/The Rentals bassist Matt Sharp and female guitar slinger Kaki King), The Con turned into a more fleshed-out project than 2004’s So Jealous, the album that really started getting music journalists all hot and bothered.
Attention is really nothing new for Tegan and Sara, however. By the time the Quins entered the 12th grade they were encouraged by family members to sign up for a local battle of the bands called Garage Warz, which they went on to win. One of the judges invited them to play an industry gig in Vancouver and soon released their first album, Under Feet Like Ours, in 1999 on their own Plunk Records, and the sisters found themselves considering an offer from Neil Young’s Vapor Records. Tegan and Sara inked the deal before their 19th birthday.
Of course, record deals are nice, but Tegan and Sara have already received the ultimate compliment—having their songs covered by their peers. Notable ones at that. The White Stripes did a version of “Walking With a Ghost” (from So Jealous). Even the prolific Ryan Adams covered one of their songs live while touring with them in 2002.
Sara said she’s intrigued by the idea of covering other artists’ material. As she puts it: “It’s like getting into someone’s brain.” Tegan and Sara have covered their share of songs from a number of artists—from Prince to Bruce Springsteen—including The Boss’ poppiest tune, “Dancing in the Dark.”
So what is it like to get into the Quin sisters’ heads? With The Con, Tegan and Sara have made their most personal album to date. Sara, who wrote half of the album’s 14 tracks, looks back on childhood in “Like O, Like h,” and on “I Was Married,” she sings about her common-law relationship in Canada with her American girlfriend.
Although the material talks about real situations, Sara says she doesn’t consider their songs political—something that has become expected at times from the sisters, both of whom are openly gay.
“I feel very passionate about being a citizen of this world,” she said. “But I don’t necessarily think there’s a mandate to being in this band for us to be political.”
Instead, the songs are sweetly universal. And despite the fact that they write songs separately, Tegan and Sara have managed to make a surprisingly cohesive pop record. Now they continue one of their longest tours, the first where they’ve found themselves actually selling out venues in advance.
Sara insists that growing up together has prepped them for the long stretches on the road. She says the family approach is simple when the sisters get on each other’s nerves. “I tell her to get the fuck away from me and fuck off and die, and then it’s over.”
Ah, if you could only hear the love in her voice.