Author: Magdalin Leonardo
Headline: The Wonder Twins: Tegan and Sara
At 7:30 p.m. on August 17th, the crowd at New York's Jones Beach Theater was hardly awake ... and barely there. The two headliners, Neil Young and The Pretenders, weren't due on stage for another 30 minutes. Seated fans were scarce. While glancing around at the tie-dyed shirts that surrounded me, I noticed two kids on stage doing what seemed like a sound check. Then I saw them pick up matching guitars and mikes and move toward the front of the stage. Could this be Tegan and Sara? Boy, was I in for a surprise ...
Tegan and Sara are twin sisters and musicians that, for the most part, defy categorization. Their closely-cropped hair, baggy clothes, and make-up free faces make them look far younger than their 19 years. They have no backup band or backup singers. No gyrating dancers or fancy choreography. It's just Tegan and Sara. Two girls. Two guitars. And a sound that makes you stand up and take notice.
The crowd at Jones Beach sure did. As soon as Tegan and Sara started singing, heads turned and voices dropped to a murmur. Maybe it was their simple, bare bones approach to music. Maybe it was their raw, painfully honest lyrics. Or maybe it was just plain old curiosity. Whatever the reason, the facts remain: Tegan and Sara are unusual, undefinable, and undeniably unique -a refreshing change from the media-driven, youth-oriented pop bands of today.
What makes Tegan and Sara so different? For starters, they write all their own music. Yet that same music is even harder to define. Just when you think you're hearing something that resembles rap, their music starts to sound alternative ... then punk ... almost danceable ... then back again. Tegan and Sara's songs are filled with complex pains and simple truths. Themes like love, sex, and desire mix with anger, greed, and disappointment. And driving it all are two amazing voices-one hard and gritty, one soft and sweet. The result? Music that's as different as the two sisters that create it.
Tegan and Sara are identical twins, but they certainly don't look it. Tegan has dark hair, a fairly androgynous look, and a funny, outgoing personality. Sara's hair is platinum blonde; she's more curvy and more introverted. What they do have in common is invisible to the eye: confidence, a business-like approach to music, and a sense of humor.
Their latest CD, appropriately entitled This Business of Art, is a reflection of all these qualities. It is also the closest you'll get to hearing Tegan and Sara in concert. "Our first album was very 'studio' and folksy," Tegan says. "Our new CD is very 'live' ... Most of the tracks were recorded on first studio takes."
The idea of first studio takes may sound daunting to most young performers, but not to Tegan and Sara. They've been touring since they were 17, performed at Lilith Fair and played alongside Canada's Kinnie Starr and Veda Hille. Singing on the same stage as The Pretenders and Neil Young seems to be just another milestone in their career. But it's a pretty significant one.
"We grew up with The Pretenders so it was an honor to meet Chrissie Hynde," says Sara. "We even have a picture of us as kids, with our Dad wearing a Pretenders shirt."
The Pretenders were a great source of encouragement and inspiration for Tegan and Sara. The pair even played basketball with Hynde backstage before the show. But Tegan and Sara's first U.S. tour was not all about fun and games. It was also about getting more experience and exposure. "(This tour) is good timing and a good form of promotion," says Tegan. "It's also better than touring in clubs. It gives us more opportunities to reach more people. Here, fans are able to talk to us."
During Tegan and Sara's last set, the fans did just that. About 200 people gathered around a makeshift stage behind the main theater to hear them perform. Many came armed with their new Tegan and Sara T-shirts and CDs for the twins to autograph. A pair of Neil Young fans even missed the headliner's opening song for a chance to chat with the two young siblings. But Tegan and Sara admit that they were not always this approachable.
"Back in the day," says Sara, "we were into punk ... and into being obnoxious."
For the two young performers, "back in the day" means high school, which wasn't all that long ago. And while they didn't have a "band per se," they did listen to a lot of music, including that of Sinead O'Connor, Tracy Chapman, Melissa Etheridge, and Phil Collins.
Tegan and Sara's music is just as changeable-and just as powerful-as their individual styles. Hard and soft. Sweet and edgy. Part rock, part rant. Even they have trouble defining their unique sound. But like any successful group or duet, they build on their individual strengths to make it work. "As separate artists we would be strong but flawed," Sara admits. "I'm more in control; Tegan is more uninhibited on stage."
It's that very combination that makes Tegan and Sara's music so appealing. But nothing can compare to seeing them live, and they're the first to admit it.
"It's hard to package what we do on CD," Tegan says. "You can't package passion." All the more reason to see this dynamic duo live! After a Canadian tour, Tegan and Sara will be returning to the U.S., and heading to Europe shortly thereafter.