Shattering the glass ceiling

Edmonton duo Tegan and Sara float on a creative high

By Keith Carman,

“We’re therapy for each other,” states Tegan, one half of Tegan and Sara, Edmonton’s greatest potential musical export. “Even though it can be a bit trying at times.”

Working together constantly, it is no wonder these twin sisters are quite the explosive combination on stage.

“Do you have a sibling you have to spend every hour of every day with, have the same friends with?” elaborates Tegan. “Imagine that. In all honesty though, it’s not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. It’s just irritating. Big time. We push each other’s buttons, we’re annoying. We wanted to grow up and get our apartments away from one another, and now here we are together for our whole lives now.”

Mixing their history of folk, rock, and pop music together through intense acoustic guitar and powerful singing, the all-cute and ever-charming Tegan and Sara prove that music isn’t all about image. The sisters liken their sound to a big bubbling kettle of Ani DiFranco, Kinnie Starr, and Bruce Springsteen. As scary as this recipe may sound, it has had a profound effect on audiences nationwide, resulting in the twins signing with Neil Young’s Vapour Records, West Coast touring, and a video for “Frozen,” the first single off their debut album, Under Feet Like Ours.

A busy two years have seen Tegan and Sara shatter any semblance of a musical glass ceiling hanging over their heads. They are quick to hush any “advisers” who warn of the need to pay dues before the work pays off. Being sisters, they are able to continually hone their craft until songs are razor-sharp and bitingly direct.

“Everyone always told us that we’d have to play forever, pay our dues and that after ten years or so it might pay off,” says Tegan. “It’s been about a year and a half, and everything’s paying off, so it’s nice. Things move fast for us, only because I think that we play so much because we’re together all of the time. We’ve matured a lot quicker.”

This maturity, coupled with a label deal on the horizon, has pushed Tegan and Sara back into the studio yet again, for a follow-up to Under Feet Like Ours. However, Tegan is quick to point out that the reason for recording a new product is not the typical re-packaging of an artist’s last effort.

“We did Under Feet Like Ours almost a year ago, so we decided that if we’re going to release that one, we’ll be playing it for another year,” she says. “That’s two years with the same songs. By the end of that, we’d probably want to die. Right now, half of our set is Under Feet Like Ours, and the rest is all new, so we just decided to put out a new CD with the new songs and a few songs from Under Feet Like Ours, and sell both albums. That way, everything is available, and we’ll still be excited about playing live.”

While two years is barely enough time for most bands to write one decent song, Tegan and Sara find themselves at a creative high. Coming from the same background, albeit from different angles, the duo feed off of each other, creating at a rate some bands only dream of. Sara, the “more traditional writer,” creates what Tegan calls “Epic You’ll-Never-Forget-Me songs,” whereas Tegan is responsible for the more direct, intense songs.

This alternate means of writing in turn affects how the duo performs on stage. Whereas Sara is the steady, straight-faced performer with feet firmly planted, Tegan is the aggressor, wringing the song from her heart and her guitar.

“My songs are always changing, newer, since I’m always playing something new to me,” explains Tegan. “With Sara, her songs feel old to her, because she only writes every six months or so. She still has passion for them, but she’s a lot more laid back. It’s a lot more personal for her at that point, so it’s easier. With myself, I’ll write a song and sneak it into the set list the next night, so it’s all right there in the open. Everyone can see what’s happening to me.”

While Tegan may slide the odd song into the fold, it is not always the final version.

“Sometimes songs that don’t stick for very long don’t get played. I just leave them, and a year later I’ll go back and rewrite them so they sound better. Some songs don’t sound right until you mix and mess them around. Those are usually the songs that last forever,” says Tegan.

With 90 percent of their East Coast performances revolving around political events such as Girlapalooza, Take Back The Night, and Rock For Choice, Tegan and Sara may appear explicitly political.

“We’re pretty selfish, so we’re mostly thinking about ourselves all of the time,” Tegan laughs. “We’re not insanely political as musicians. It’s not our biggest concern. We go and play these benefits or political shows, and then we come to Toronto, where we’re supposed to be writing about how we feel. We write about ourselves. We’re pretty empowered and aggressive, so I think we speak about what’s going on in our lives. It may come across as women’s issues, but it’s really just our issues we’re having as women.”