Twin angst: These Quinns are mighty young - and on tour with Neil Young
by Brett Milano

Friday, August 11, 2000

They're identical twin sisters from Calgary, Alberta, who sing in rough harmony. They're former punk rockers who still have a punkish, short-haired look. They're mature lyricists who aren't yet out of their teens. And they're closet classic-rock fans who share a manager with Neil Young. In other words, Tegan & Sara aren't your typical folksingers.

Having built a cult following at home, the sisters are making their American debut as part of the Neil Young/Pretenders tour that hits the Tweeter Center in Mansfield tomorrow. They've released an impressive debut album, ``This Business of Art,'' on Young's Vapor label, and Canadian reviewers have noted their onstage charisma.

``We were pretty shy as kids, so I have no idea where it comes from,'' says Tegan Quinn, speaking from her tour bus in Philadelphia. And one gets a hint of her stage presence from her witty, rapid-fire chat during this interview. ``We have our own sound, but that's only because we're trying desperately to rip other people off and not succeeding.''

Singing with your twin can be a challenge, Tegan admits. ``We were in therapy for a while. It's like being married - we look the same, we like the same things, we have the same friends. You're with your sister for 19 years, and then you're supposed to graduate and move away from your family - and just when we should have separated, we got into a vehicle together and went on tour. So it's a struggle sometimes, but it works musically and we do understand each other really well.

``For a long time we tried not to be like each other, not to be twins, not to be cute young girls. And we tried so hard not to be things that we weren't being anything. So now we try to just concentrate on the music.''

On disc, the sisters sing in a half-spoken style that brings in Beat poetry and hip-hop influences; at times they sound like Ani DiFranco split into two. Despite their youth, the words often speak of hard-won survival. On the opening cut ``The First,'' Tegan sings ``I decide to walk the fine line/And celebrate life, celebrate death/I choose to celebrate the first.''

``We went through our teen angst,'' Tegan explains. ``But I think it's a good kind of angst, an enpowering angst. Really, we were middle-of-the road kids - but the middle of the road is interesting, because that's where most of us fit. We didn't get into trouble in high school, and we weren't angry. We were cool, so we didn't have much to complain about. We started out with a punk band and we were really bad; we couldn't sing in tune. We were right in the middle of our teen angst phase and it blew out our PA, so we went back to being acoustic.''

The sisters' musical roots are different than one might expect after listening to the album. ``I have a soft spot for Phil Collins,'' Tegan admits. ``I remember lying in my bed lip-synching to `A Groovy Kind of Love,' somehow I was really passionate about that song when I was 8. I used to imagine that I was Phil Collins and everybody was telling me how great that song was. We get compared a lot to Ani DiFranco - and she's inspiring because she's doing great things, but I never listened to her records. The truth is that we played Supertramp until we were 16.''

But surprisingly, they'd never listened to much Neil Young before his manager, Elliott Roberts, saw them in Canada and signed them. ``It's funny, my parents had a few Neil Young albums but they never forced them down my throat. So I've only been exploring his records over the past six months; since a friend of mine lent me `Harvest.' And I discovered that it's like the Beatles - everybody knows 15 Neil Young songs, even if they don't realize it.''

Besides, being in Young's camp has its perks. ``Now that we're on tour I can always say, `We're Neil Young's kids, so don't rip open our bags at Customs.' ''