Date:Oct. 07, 2002
Headline:To the Power of Two
Maybe it's just human nature we find twins riveting. Castor and Pollux, the
Corsican Twins, Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Olsen Twins and North and
South Dakota - all have gotten a lot more hype than they would have if they
weren't part of an inseparable binary unit. Heck, even Coors Light has
cashed in on the craze with its sell-more-hooch-to-the-ignorant advertising
campaign that features - what else? - a couple busty bombshells.
Superficial thinkers would use this space to go off on some ramble about how the twin fascination stems from a deep-seated liking for things that are the same. Oh, how silly that'd be. If we really did jive on sameness so much, we'd have spent ages penning sonnets about frat boys, espousing the wonders of tract housing and writing in great detail about the wonders of Big Macs. What's really fascinating about a pair of twins is the differences that contrast so nicely with all the other similarities. That contrast is what makes for good photographs, good writing and, apparently, good twin public image.
Take Vapor Records' Tegan and Sara, for instance. The duo, a pair of identical twins from Canada, has a lot more than just skin-deep look-alike qualities as on its latest effort, this year's If It Was You, both women come forth with a heady mix of pop hooks, heartfelt lyrics beyond the pair's meager early-twenties years and a crisp, in-control persona. Sure, it'd be easy to write Tegan and Sara off as nearly identical as their DNA is, just like a lot of listeners and writers have simplified their musical identities and turned them into mere copies of Ani DiFranco or Alanis Morissette. Neither the personal or artistic comparison does the couple Canucks the justice they deserve.
The Quin sisters' music, like their personalities, is anything but a copy. Sure, the folk-pop framework of their last effort, This Business of Art (2000, Vapor), is still there, as are the catchy female vocals, but outside of that the duo's no DiFranco copy. Whether it dips into the same sort of heart-wrenching acousta-honesty that's made Dashboard Confessional 2002's most unlikely pop icon, the almost indiscernibly rolling rhythms that propelled everyone from Blondie to The Clash, a lyrical voice that can't be found in any other songwriter, let alone songwriting team, to paint the two women into a wannabe Ani corner is as inexcusable as it is to think the pair share one brain.
"When people get to know us they see that we're very different," says Tegan. "We're so polar from one another, I think sometimes that does make us very similar. I think we're both very sensitive and both very introverted and shy, but we make up for it by being very extroverted when we get uncomfortable, which is pretty much all the time."
The two don't even sound very alike once they get going. Not only do their literal voices sound worlds apart - Tegan boasts a slightly throaty delivery that's halfway between Macy Gray and Garbage's Shirley Manson while Sara croons with a crisp, melodic delivery that blooms on the same vine that's inspired singers as diverse as The Cardigan's Nina Persson and The Sunday's Harriet Wheeler - their songwriting voices are sharply separated from each other . Sara's got a knack for nice, quiet ballads that brim with fragile melodies, while Tegan's songs sport a bit more spunk, probably a carryover from the duo's days as a teenage punk act.
Differences aside, Tegan and Sara's skills intertwine miraculously well together. Maybe it's the mythical twin bond that comes from sharing womb space with another body that makes Tegan and Sara work so well together. Maybe it's the fact that they've got the sort of songwriting-team chemistry of rockers like the legendary Lennon/McCartney, Strummer/Jones, Jagger/Richards chemistry that lets each one's strengths complement the other's weaknesses. If truth be told, It's probably a one-in-a-zillion combination of biology and talent that's the pixie dust in the twins' magical formula.
"I find Sara's music to be visual and colorful," Tegan says. "When I heard 'Terrible Storm' and 'Not Tonight' for the first time, I was heartbroken. I felt so devastated. The words just summed up the last two years of our life and the idea of having to leave someone you love. She really, really caught that emotion for me very well. I find that I write songs like 'I Hear Noises' and 'Time Running,' which aren't quite so, they're not the same as Sara's songs, but I find they're colorful. That's where our personalities are very different. Sara has a way of being sweet with her heartbreak and I'm more like 'You broke my heart. I hate you!'"
The power of two hasn't just paid off in the Quin ladies' music. Tegan and Sara have surpassed a slew of musical milestones already, and If It Was You has barely been on store shelves for but a few weeks. Since the twins' punk ensemble mutated into a quiet pop/folk duo after a broken PA that was never fixed - that due to the two's teenaged-induced poverty and their mother's reluctance to get the loud music back in her garage -the twins have cut an impressive profile for themselves. Self managed until just a few months ago, they've impressed Neil Young enough to not only get to share a stage with him, but to ink a deal with his Vapor Records imprint. In their northern homeland, they've achieved the quasi-star level of fame where it's hard to discern if they're top-shelf indie artists or low-grade pop stars. Heck, they've even hit American broadcast television with an unlikely appearance alongside David Letterman on The Late Show.
Despite the twins' impressive accomplishments and reputation in Canada, they've yet to let the spoils of their talent go to their heads. It's not just the pair's musical accomplishments that are impressive (those should be obvious); the long stint as self-managed artists, and the successes they achieved, show a fierce independence and intelligence that many professional rockers couldn't even begin to understand, yet achieve. Nonetheless, Tegan's not ready to let her and her sister bask in the glory.
"It was like we were in the school yard and we had a really popular, scary older brother," she laughs. "Neil Young's label is run by his management and they're pretty big time. We go out there and go 'Yeah, you better do what we say!' Really, they're not listening to us, they're listening to our big brother over our shoulder. I think it's because of the people we've had around us. We've had a really cool team and we consider them a family." Sure, a lot of punk acts have propped out the guy behind the guy, but folkies with an eye on future alt-rock possibilites? Not too likely. Even Jakob Dylan refused to acknowledge the painfully obvious fact that The Wallflowers' reputation was built more on his bloodline than anything else. That's not the only thing that sets Tegan and Sara apart from many of their contemporaries. Unlike many professional rockers who punch in, do their job and hate most of it, the twins are still flying high over the realities of being able to make music for a living. They could, and Aversion would certainly applaud them if they would, start a Tegan and Sara summer camp for burnt-out musicians where they teach rockers twice their age exactly how lucky they are to be where they are.
"We've been on tours with bands before who complain about all the questions and the constant attention and they don't like their fans," Tegan says. "I just don't understand that because for me, I find it's all the other stuff that sucks. Playing your music and talking to people and meeting your fans and seeing them being excited, to me, that's the point of your job. That's what makes this job easy and fun. There's a lot of people out there, just out there in the middle of nowhere that like us!"
Get over the similarities already. Maybe they look a lot like each other. Perhaps they share some songwriting identity. So what if they've been needlessly compared to Alanis Morissette and Lilith Fair sorts for years. Look deeper. They're different, from one another, and from the music world outside your door, a fact that makes Tegan and Sara the best thing to come out of the Great White North since either the last time The Weakerthans came to town or the Nordiques moved to Colorado.