Double Vision: Lesbian Rockers Tegan and Sara
There are some musicians who are so incredibly in tune with the times that they practically define them -- The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Nirvana, Sara MacLachlan -- all of them tapped into something huge, something that stirred people through and through, and in the process they have permanently carved out their place in musical stone.
Tegan and Sara are two names that will undoubtedly be found in that stone one day. They say they want to be recognized for their art, not their asses. While they're cute as they come, these two are all about their sound.
It is difficult to overlook the fact that they're twin sisters and that they're young (on the verge of turning 21), but as soon as their voices rip through the amps, none of that seems to matter anymore. The edgy, sticky quality to these girls' tunes have landed them on tour bills with Paula Cole, Joan Osbourne and Kinnie Star, and gigs like Lilith Fair. Having just finished a five-week tour with Neil Young, Tegan and Sara are racking up a handsome list of credits.
Believe me when I say that this duo is here to stay. It's been much too long since I've heard tunes as raw and smart as Tegan and Sara's, and I suspect it may be a while before anyone rocks my socks off like these shaggy-haired virtuosos have done.
"I don't think we're doing anything that different or that crazy or that political, we're not up on stage preaching, but for some odd reason people are getting caught up in it. I think they like it because of the emotion behind it it's real," says Tegan.
How to describe their music? I have no idea how to label it because I haven't heard anything quite like it. The closest I can come to defining it is as musical orgasm -- everything about their sound and energy is intensity at its finest. If I had to name bands within the same world of music, I'd say Tegan and Sara are somewhere between P.J. Harvey, Korn and Dave Matthews.
Sara resistently describes their music as rock, saying "I think if we played electric guitars, we'd be poppy-rock. I dont want to be that because I think I'm way angrier, well, not angry look at me, I'm not angry," she says playfully. "But I think it would be more aggressive. But god, if we started playing with electric guitars, we'd be Melissa Etheridge," she jokes.
Melissa Etheridge isn't who these Calgary-natives have been compared to countless times it's Ani Difranco. While they'll be the first to praise Ani for her ambition and talent, they'll also be the first to say that pigeonholing them into the Difranco-wannabe category gets crusty fast.
"I've been asked if I hate being compared to Ani Difranco, and I don't no way," Tegan says, facing her palms outward, then thoughfully resting her head on the armrest of the couch. "It's easy to get compared to Ani when you're a woman with an acoustic guitar. Someone wrote us an email saying that we were ripping Ani off. Sara wrote her back and told her what they had in common is our passion, and you're mistaking that passion for ripping each other off.
"It's cool that we're doing something a lot of other people aren't doing: we're not going to the sex-appeal side like Sheryl Crow and those people and we're not Ani Difranco. We're somewhere in the middle; we're trying to be cute and fun and trying to hit the mainstream market. But at the same time we're credible and legit and we're writing our own music.
"Really, in the end, and on top of our geeky bio, it doesn't really matter that we're girls, it doesn't matter that we're young, it doesn't matter that we're lesbians or if we sound like Ani Difranco because that can only be used so much and then when we come around a third and fourth and fifth time, hopefully then it's going to be about our music," she adds.
Their music, thick with poetry-slam, quick-tongued lyrics, like in "The First," snags your attention, making it impossible to overlook the real reason why Tegan and Sara are on stage:
"Stand up, sit down baby/Gonna be a formal dress-down heyday/We decide we're not going downtown/How 'bout you and me, we go get wasted/They go from kindergarten to killing sprees/They go from heartache to inner peace/Wasting time in the fast-food line/I decide to walk the fine line and/celebrate life, celebrate death/I choose to celebrate the first"
And on one of the catchiest tracks, "My Number," they sing "I'd trade my old shoes for new feet/grab a new seat/I don't like the one I've got/fabric's wearing through/and it's wearing me out/wearing me down/Watch your head, baby/Watch the ground/It's a silly time to learn to swim when you start to drown/It's a silly time to learn to swim/On the way down"
They might sing about being on the way down, but at least as far as their music career is concerned, Tegan and Sara are on the uptown train. Of course, they'll be the first to tell you that playing with the big dogs is a lot of hard work.
"People who have spent their whole lives trying to get somewhere are comfortable. They've worked so hard and now they get to tour exactly how they want to, exactly how most of us would want to," says Sara.
"For me, it's tough. I worry about where my rent is going to come from, and I worry about how I'm going to get there, and I can't get a fucking Visa, and I can't do this and I can't do that. And it's a really tough thing, so I'm working my ass off to get to a place where I could spend the rest of my life playing music for people, making albums that people like and touching people and being able to use my big mouth to tell people what I think and say this and that and maybe even inspire people. Hell yeah, I'd love to do that," she adds.
And doing it they are. With sassy senses of humor and dykish charm, Tegan and Sara are rubbing the right people in just the right way, and they're having lots of fun in the process.
"I wasn't scared about doing this Neil Young thing because we hung out with Neil and we made him laugh and he was totally into feeling our vibes. He gave us freedom to make whatever jokes we wanted. Like when Sara was depressed the other day, she told everyone that she got to first base with Neil Young and he thought that was a riot," says Tegan, sporting a giant smirk. "And dont think I'm going to tell you if she got to first base with him for real or not," she jokes [My hunch is that Sara's girlfriend wouldn't have gone for it.]
So despite the stresses of being on the road for months on end, eating empty-caloried junk and catching some sleep when time permits, Tegan and Sara say they're thrilled that at least they're finally starting to be recognized for their music not the fact that they are "cute twins who play music together."
Nearing the end of their current American tour, Tegan and Sara, while they love that people are coming to the shows, are finding life on the road isn't all glamour and glitz.
"Fans are really great," Tegan says. We've managed to meet people in every city who are really great, who we feel like we can just hang out with without feeling like they're some crazy fan. But we have had some weird experiences. I mean, Sara and I slept in a parking lot once to see Smashing Pumpkins, but now I sometimes don't understand the mania and the weirdness that surrounds music," she says.
"The sexuality thing is such a big issue for us because we're proud of who we are, but at the same time, again, we want people to like us for our music. Who we're dating, who we're with is that is relevant to our music? Does it matter? If I fuck dogs, does it matter [laughs]? When we slept in the parking lot to see Smashing Pumpkins it was because we wanted good seats, not because we wanted to bone Billy Corrigan."
Sara pipes right up and adds, "You know, like insane people who want to go home with you and hump your leg. Some of it's just crazy. It makes me wonder if it's a self-esteem thing. But some girls are so obsessive because they feel like just being there and supporting us isn't enough.
"I have a hard time buying into all that stuff," Tegan admits. "Like when I show up at MuchMusic and there's all these girls standing there and dont get me wrong I'm happy, Im excited, and I'm going to work harder the more people are into us, and I'm going to work harder the more excited people get with us, but deep down inside, I'm not going to buy into it. I'm not. If we're going to be screaming for Tegan and Sara, we better be screaming for Sonja [their mother, who works with teenaged girls who are prostitutes]."
That down-to-earth attitude and desire for making a difference can easily be traced back to Tegan and Sara's family, who has been nothing but supportive through girlfriends, piercings, teenage angst and music.
"Tegan and I are twenty years old, we're geeky. We're awkward; we're going through our awkward stage. We just want to grow and be natural.
"I've been able to see since I was a kid that I have a great mom not everyone does," says Sara, sporting a smile of pride and relief. "One of the reoccurring themes that my mom talks about regarding the girls she works with is that they've been raised without any self-esteem, and Tegan and I have sort of adopted that cause.
"Apart from Tegan, I'd really like to talk in schools, to kids about having good self-esteem and confidence and growing up to be strong people. I can remember in high school having football players come to our school and talk about being crack dealers and stuff like that, and I didn't relate at all, just didn't get the idea. But wouldnt it be cool if you were in junior high and some kid came in to talk to you about stuff that really makes a difference in your life?"
As for their take on being twins?"Everyone's always asking you about being a twin and being a twin in the music industry," Sara says. "But it's one of those questions where you're like, being like, yeah, you're right, we're sisters, we fight, yeah, we bicker, it's not really that interesting. But the thing we never get asked is, you know, I think being a twin is creepy.
"I hate twins, like, I think that twins are just so creepy [laughs]. They're like, 'So, you're twins, um, can you like telepathically communicate on stage? I'm like, fuck you. It's like, oh, yeah, I know when she has to pee, or I can feel it when she cuts her finger shutup, get over it [laughs.]
"Like one time when we were kids, Tegan got a lump on her arm," (Tegan interrupts to argue the size of the lump, saying, "It's not like it was a third twin or anything.") "But she had to go to the hospital to have it removed and that was the first time we were away from each other, and I remember being sick lying on the couch and wouldn't eat. Everyone thought we were depressed because we were away from each other or whatever. When Tegan went through trauma was when I started being an independent person."
While it's obvious through playful haranguing that the two are glad to be sisters, but they both agree that being a twin has a way of intruding on their individualism.
"My life would never be complete or the same without Sara in it, I would feel like I wasn't a whole person, and in a way that's a horrible thing to live with. You're constantly battling for your independence."
But, as with their age, when they get up on stage and start ripping out tunes, audiences do get over the "twin thing" in a hurry. Tegan excitedly remembers one such moment:
"We played this TV show for the Fox Family Channel. Christina Aguilara and Hanson and all these other people come out of the hi-fi room and everyone was clapping. We walked out there and when they announced us, everyone stopped clapping. They were like, 'Who the fuck is Tegan and Sara?'
"We came walking out; I felt like a total freak show. We were like 'You dont know who we are yet, but don't you worry because in about fifteen seconds you're going to be screaming your heads off!' and they were all laughing. And so we got on stage and we were making fun of the host and we were doing imitations of everybody and there were people with gold chain necklaces in the front row making this 'woo-woo' noise at us. I was like, 'Whoa, we're out of our element big time.
"The show asked us if we wanted to lip sync. I thought they were kidding, what are you, joking? Guess what, though? Everyone on that show lip syncs except Tegan and Sara. We came out with our acoustic guitars and the audience would start clapping halfway through the songs, and dancing, and we can't keep a beat! So, I was wanting to stop and say 'Hey, can you guys not do that?' But anyway, they seemed to like the music."
Because they are so dedicated, so sincere, Tegan and Sara's music will be capturing audiences for a long time to come. They say they feel obligated to this business of art.
"We love being strong lesbian women and love the fact that women are encouraged by our music," says Tegan. "We have to keep playing music. We're signed with the Devil!" [laughter].
For more information on Tegan and Sara tour dates and appearances log onto www.teganandsara.com or www. Vaporrecords.com.
Previously published in The Lesbian News as the January cover story.
For other articles by Pam Huwig go to www.themestream.com