Tegan and Sara: Under the Radar
One listen to Tegan and Sara’s catchy, upbeat new album and it’s easy to assume they’ve ditched the two girls, two acoustics routine for something a little more rockin’. But to hear Tegan tell it, If It Was You actually takes the Calgary-born, Vancouver-based twins back to their roots.
BY TABASSUM SIDDIQUI
“When Sara and I first started playing music, the first guitar we had was an electric guitar,” the effervescent, fast-talking singer explains on the line from her home in Vancouver. “We had the whole loud, crunchy, rock-boy band kinda think, we were playing garages… But when we started playing for money at coffee shops and stuff, they were like, ‘You have to tone it down a bit,’ so we went the acoustic route.
“I think this time around, we had eight months to write and record and it just started coming out a lot louder and a lot poppier. When [producers] John [Collins] and Dave [Carswell] started hearing the demos, you could tell that they were liking the direction that we were going in. So when they came it, it just went that much further in that direction, because we were just so excited to rock out, you know.”
Tegan and Sara began working on the follow-up to their 2000 debut, This Business of Art, by demoing at home for six months and then rehearsing with a band for an additional two months before bringing producers Collins and Carswell [The New Pornographers] on board.
“I think, literally, since we were doing demos in high school, this was the first record that we really ensured that it was completely us,” Tegan says. “We’ve really listened to what we want to do and understood it. As the demos came out, I never felt like it wasn’t us -every song, everything that they came up with, every crazy idea, I was just like, ‘Yeah!’ Even the banjo, I was just like, ‘This is so Tegan and Sara!’”
That banjo shows up on the bluegrass-meets-punk number, “Living Room,” about how Tegan’s apartment window looks straight into her neighbour’s bathroom, while the rest of the album ranges from new wave-tinged rockers (“Time Running”) to acoustic pop (“And Darling”). If It Was You also manages to balance the sisters’ distinct vocal and songwriting styles, something Tegan says comes surprisingly easy despite disparate approaches to their craft.
“We always seem to make it work… It makes it a little unbalanced on the road, because I find Sara is sometimes more emotional about her songs, so she won’t play them as often. Sara has gone from being extremely extroverted when we started playing to being now… She speaks very rarely on stage, and when she does, she’s all nervous,” she says, laughing.
“We’ve definitely reversed roles -I’m very aggressive all of a sudden. And I think that comes from having confidence because I can write so easily. Whereas with Sara, she writes all time after we finish records. She’ll write, like, 10 songs, and they’re amazing. But I think our roles have definitely changed. We balance it on the record -it’s outside of that process that we find out unbalances come out crazily.”
Tegan says that the best part about having her sister as a musical partner is the comfort level and the knowledge that she’ll always be around. However, the flipside is that the two can sometimes take things out on each other, especially when dealing with the business side of the music industry.
“It’s been pretty hard,” Tegan admits of the duo’s foray into self-management, “Because we didn’t’ go to university, I think we had a really big guilt complexes and I think that we needed to really, really make an effort to learn and educate ourselves and become efficient at the business. I think we really needed to acquire knowledge about who we are -we didn’t have that knowledge when we were 18 years old, now that we’re 22, I think we have a better understanding of that. And I think that’s the first step in being a good artist -knowing who you are, and then bringing on a team of people to represent that. Because that’s what managers and record companies and producers should do, emulate you. And when you don’t know who you are you’re kind of becoming, I don’t know, a hybrid of other people. And that’s dangerous, I think.”
It’s clear the savvy pair have firm control over their career. But despite solid fan and label support and high-profile gigs such as their appearance on the Letterman show last year, Tegan and Sara remain underground heroines, just scraping the surface of the mainstream.
“I like where we’re at -I like being under the radar,” muses Tegan. “I like being that surprise band that maybe one year will sell a billion records, and people will be like, ‘Oh, Tegan and Sara -yeah, they’re cool, they’ve released like, 900 records! Yeah, they’re credible,” she laughs. “But at the same time there’s a part of me that hopes we sell a million records in Canada and we make lots of money and we can retire and put our records whenever the hell we want.
“I hope this record does better. I hope more people get to hear it. I think it’s a good record and I’m really proud of it. But there’s lots of great records out there that never sell, so I wouldn’t be sad if it didn’t.”