With a boost from Ryan Adams and a new rocking record, Tegan and Sara are shedding their folk roots and gaining new fans. They headline Richard's on Richards Nov. 2.
Folkie twins take rockier route
By Fiona Hughes
The Vancouver Courier
Tegan Quin is talking a mile a minute on the phone from a hotel room in Los Angeles. She's excitedly recounting the events of the previous day when she and twin sister Sara played an in-store show at the infamous Fingerprints record store in Long Beach, Calif.
"We expected, like, three people-one creepy fan, the guy who works there and Bonnie from the record company," says the 22-year-old Calgary native, one half of the musical duo Tegan and Sara. "About 100 kids showed up. It was amazing."
Tegan credits Ryan Adams for the duo's growing popularity in the U.S., where they've been on tour with a full band, opening for the former Whiskeytown front man and recent star of a Gap ad. (Tegan and Sara headline their own show at Richard's on Richards Nov. 2.)
"Ryan Adams tickets are expensive and his show tonight is sold out, so the in-store gave kids a chance to check us out," says Tegan, who briefly excuses herself to admonish her sister for talking too loud in the background.
"Hey, hi there, I'm on the phone-a little professionalism please," she tells Sara, who's sitting in the room with a friend. "Sara got in very late last night."
It wasn't Tegan and Sara's Ani DiFranco-style debut record, This Business of Art, that caught the attention of Adams, who called the sisters to ask them to be his opening act for a month. "He didn't like our last record but he saw us play live and thought that we were hysterical," says Tegan, a regular on the Canadian folk fest circuit, where the sisters have honed their on-stage banter.
"He's been uber-supportive of us. He'll even come on stage and play a few songs with us. We're going to owe all of our success to Ryan Adams. People take us that much more seriously."
While 2000's This Business of Art may have left Adams underwhelmed, he's undoubtedly impressed with the duo's follow-up disc, If It Was You. The twins' sophomore album takes them in a more rock-oriented direction than their debut album, which featured excellent production work by a dedicated and determined Hawksley Workman. (Tegan jokes that if she and Sara had died, Workman would have found a way to superimpose their voices on the record.) With the new album, Tegan and Sara may well be leaving their folk reputations behind.
If the twins succeed, Adams shouldn't get all the credit. The louder, edgier, in-your-face If It Was You has a few powerhouse people behind it, including producers John Collins (who produced the New Pornographers' Canadian indie classic Mass Romantic) and New Pornographer Dave Carswell. And long before Adams was the darling du jour of the U.S. alternative rock scene, Tegan and Sara had been opening for Neil Young, Rufus Wainwright and Bryan Adams.
Americans, however, were unfamiliar with the sisters, who hope If It Was You changes that. Within a week of being on the top 50 of the U.S. college charts, they jumped to the number 23 position with If It Was You.
The change in musical styles is not new for Tegan and Sara, who started out playing in Calgary garage and punk bands. "We labelled ourselves punk but I don't think we really were. We just had a bad PA system." After getting tired of losing drummers and blowing amps, the twins became an acoustic duo.
"Playing alone forced us into the folk category and that spiraled into two years of traveling on our own. But it was the best thing that ever happened to us. It gave us credibility and made us deal with our shyness. Playing alone also forced us to take control."
Taking control extends to managing and marketing themselves. So take note Britney Spears. Tegan and Sara plan to steal a few of your fans.
"With our last record, we wanted to be obnoxious and steal a few of the fans off the Britney train. But as we grow up and figure out what we want to be, we've realized that selling a million records isn't relevant," Tegan says. "We feel we've been successful. We've been able to tour and travel and take a year off to write. I feel like the luckiest person on earth."
Tegan confesses, however, that she'd still love to cater to the Britney audience. "When I was eight and nine I listened to New Kids on the Block, but also to U2, Chris de Burg and Bruce Springsteen. I would hope that all the parents who let their kids listen to Britney or O Town also get them to listen to Springsteen, Neil Young-and us."