by Vit Wagner
They're 19. They're twins. They recently made their major label debut. And they're playing the Molson Amphitheatre next week.
But don't lump Tegan and Sara in with the Britneys, Christinas, Mandys and other teen queens dominating the pop charts these days. ``Those people aren't musicians, they're entertainers,'' says Tegan Quin. ``That's okay. They're really good at what they do. ``We couldn't do what they do. If we had to get up and dance with our guitars, it would be lame. People would leave.'' Says Sara: ``People like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera aren't even writing their own songs. There's no comparison.'' Nor, insists Sara, should it be assumed that because Tegan and Sara do write their own songs and because those songs are affirming, intelligently crafted pop tunes that successfully bridge youthfulness and maturity that the young women who composed them are generational anomalies.
``We're not beyond our years,'' she says. ``Our peer group is as involved in the world as we are. They're just as analytical. ``A lot of the musical artists who have stood out over the past 40 years were about the same age as us when they started their musical careers,'' Sara continues. ``The guys in Matchbox Twenty are around 30, but does that mean their music is way beyond ours? I don't think so.'' Club favourites in their native Calgary for the past two years, Tegan and Sara, who turn 20 on Sept. 19, have begun to widen their base of listeners with the infectious This Business Of Art, released domestically this summer by Universal and by Neil Young's Vapor Records in the U.S. The twins are opening the North American tour headlined by Young - and also featuring the Pretenders - that stops at the Molson Amphitheatre next Thursday. ``The majority of the people we're playing to on this tour are over 35,'' Sara says. ``And they're getting into it.''
After studying piano as kids, Tegan and Sara taught themselves to play guitar when they began high school and almost immediately began writing their own stuff, initially performed at parties for friends. ``We can't play anybody else's music,'' says Sara. ``Because we learned how to play by fooling around rather than the traditional way; we've always done our own stuff. I started writing songs from the first time I picked up a guitar.''
A couple of years ago, the Quins won Calgary's Garage Warz contest, which opened the door to club gigs, including a handful of Toronto stops. Since early high school, the sisters have gone through a variety of stage names before settling on Tegan and Sara. ``In high school, when we went by Plunk,'' recalls Tegan, ``we called our first indie tape thing Who's In Your Band? because people would say, `Oh, you have a band! Who's in it?' And the answer would be, `Just me and Sara.' And they'd say, `That's not a band.' ``And I thought, `We're not really a band. We're Tegan and Sara.' We were going for less of a band thing than a songwriter thing. The musicians that I listened to went by their names. I was a huge Sinead O'Connor fan and a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.
``And when we called ourselves Sara and Tegan, it didn't work because of they way our names blended together. `Sarandtegan.' So we switched to Tegan and Sara. It wasn't like all of a sudden I had to have my name in front. It was just easier to pronounce that way.''
On This Business Of Art, which fuses the songwriting sensibilities of folk and the beat-driven rhythm of hip hop, Tegan and Sara's singing and guitar playing are backed by keyboards, bass and drum programming. For the purposes of the current tour, however, they've decided to keep it simple. ``The best way to see us, especially for the first time, is by ourselves,'' Tegan says. ``It's a lot more impactful that way."
Opening for rock legends in major American markets such as Boston and Philadelphia has not been as daunting an experience as one might have imagined. ``You'd think it would be more overwhelming,'' Sara says. ``In a few years, we went from playing music as a thing we really enjoyed to it becoming our career. You have to take it in stride. I don't know what it is to be in a band that has to work 15 years to get a break or a hit song, but I've never felt I was in over my head.'' Says Tegan: ``We like what we do and we're confident in our music. It's definitely not about empowering the world or carrying a flag for strong women. I want to make people happy, but I hope that people are inspired by our music for their own lives.''