Tegan and Sara Go Electric
By Jennifer Van Evra
Tegan and Sara sit at a table under a set of glaring lights, a TV host with a microphone in hand hovering next to the waiting cameraman as a makeup artist dusts the musicians' cheeks and freshens their lipstick. It's almost 11 a.m., and the pair has been travelling from one media appearance to the next since 5:30. The twin sisters are punchy with exhaustion as they begin to talk, yet again, about their freshly released album, If It Was You, their first with a major label. The two banter at such breakneck speed that the host is left smiling and nodding for the next 10 minutes.
It's a different scenario for the Calgary-raised, Vancouver-based duo that has been playing small acoustic shows around North America for several years, but it's all part of the big changes the two are going through. They've got the aforementioned record deal, their very own travelling makeup artist, some new duds and spanky hairstyles, and a major U.S. tour opening for Ryan Adams. But perhaps the most striking difference is that Tegan and Sara have an entirely new sound.
"We wanted to get back to our high-school roots and play more rock and punk music and pop," says Sara who, at 22, hardly seems old enough to have roots. "Our first guitar was an electric, not an acoustic," adds Tegan. "When we were kids, we bought an old PA system and duct-taped a mike that my grandfather had to a mike stand. We would sit in our bedrooms for days and write songs and scream and yell. I'm not joking. If you listen to the demo tapes, it's like two kids screaming their heads off."
Although the two aren't exactly screaming their heads off on If It Was You, the album is much slower in tempo and heavier in tone than their last record, This Business of Art. Electric guitars have replaced the acoustics, the vocals have a sharper edge, and the addition of bassist Chris Carlson and drummer Rob Chursinoff to the band thickens the pair's sound even further. It's a brave move for musicians who had been pegged as Ani DiFranco-style folkies. Still, the two don't seem the least bit daunted by the dramatic shift, even if it means they have a little living down to do.
"We always got trapped with this whole Ani DiFranco thing, which was fine, but we realized that some of the people who were influencing us weren't coming out in our music," says Sara. "But it's so funny, because now everyone is saying how much we don't sound like Ani DiFranco."
Adds Tegan, "Now people are comparing us to bands from the '70s and '80s that we've never heard of, which is great, because that's when we grew up."
Another big change has been that this time around they tried working separately. Instead of one sister writing a song and the other a guitar part and harmony, each of them would craft all of the parts on Pro Tools, then present a near-complete track to the other. According to the duo, the move makes for fresher ideas, new harmonies, and much, much less headache
"We would get so annoyed," Sara says. "We'd be like, ‘You come up with something.' ‘Oh yeah? Fuck you.' But now I don't need Tegan to write. These are my songs, and I'm going to do what I want to do."
Tegan adds: "That really made us feel re-interested in the band, because all of a sudden, I could listen to songs that I hadn't heard Sara play. I would burn copies and bring them home to listen—and I really became a fan of Sara's music."
The two are also quick to add that John Collins and Dave Carswell—the producers behind the New Pornographers' Mass Romantic—played a key role in helping them to develop their music. Rather than trying to foist a preconceived sound onto the musicians, Collins and Carswell sat the two down and asked them where they wanted to go, then helped them get there.
So now, at the ripe old age of 22, Tegan and Sara are excited about entering the next phase of their musical careers. The twins, who play Richard's on Richards this Saturday (November 2), aren't letting the recent buzz go to their heads.
"So many people think that this record-company stork swoops down and you have everything you ever wanted. But it's a lot of work," says Sara. "But the best-case scenario is that we just continue doing what we're doing, because there's nothing like getting up in front of a club full of people who are excited to see you."
Tegan chips in with: "And there's nothing like changing your family's world for a week and making them so proud that they can hardly contain themselves."
"Yeah, even if people hate us or the critics hate us," continues Sara, "at least our parents will still love what we're doing."