Date: June 21, 2003 Saturday
Author: Bernard Zuel
Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Headline: Two Much Attitude
Tegan and Sara Quin have learnt that sweetness and light don't pay.
If It Was You is out now through Shock.
Twin sisters. They play guitar. And sing. They're called Tegan and Sara Quin. They play under the name Tegan and Sara. Easy, isn't it? And if you want to know more you can always look up the bios on their website. Not that you should necessarily believe everything they say.
Tegan Quin, a Virgo, enjoys comfort foods and long talks about things that happened 10 years ago that she "has gotten over" but still talks about endlessly in this voice that is sort of like metal scraping against bone that is showing through your ripped flesh.
Sara enjoys grocery shopping, barbecues and midday movies where no one else is there to crinkle plastic candy bags or talk about what's going to happen five seconds before it does and then congratulate themselves on their cunning ability to predict the future so that everyone in the theatre hears them.
Do you get the feeling Tegan and Sara are enjoying themselves? You'd be right. Just 22, they recently released If It Was You, their second album on the label set up by fellow Canadian Neil Young. It's rockier and poppier than their debut, The Business of Art
It has both folkish charm and new-wave energy. It snaps with attitude and brims with hummable tunes.
That's impressive enough, but it was also made with almost no interference from the label, which happily handed over tens of thousands of dollars to a couple of 21-year-olds with one small-selling album on their CV and no real management team behind them. That takes confidence on both sides.
"When we finished the last record we wanted to start writing and recording right away and we asked the record company to give us a portion of the advance so we could buy equipment, and took off by ourselves," says Tegan - the more hyperactive of the two - over the phone from Vancouver.
"In the writing and rehearsing process I didn't want anyone involved beyond the band. I wanted it to be ours. Quite often during the past two records there was a lot of outside support - I don't think it was interference - and it influenced the way we wrote and recorded. This time we made the record we wanted to hear."
Tegan says this with the certainty of one of two artists who have been touring for seven years and whose (still unreleased) self-produced first recordings were enough to convince Young's Vapor Records to sign them in the first place. There's also the self-possession of someone who, when barely out of school, moved away from the family in Calgary to settle in Vancouver because it was closer to the business - and survived.
"I sort of distanced myself from my family and friends in order to be this rock star and really all I was was a little kid in a big city."
It's easy to imagine the notoriously ornery Young - who was once sued by his label for handing over an album that didn't sound enough like Neil Young for its liking - being impressed by the plucky attitude. You can almost hear him applauding when Tegan explains that taking control should be expected, not resisted.
"Too often artists feel they are working for everyone else when really everyone is working for them," she says. "From the artwork to the press shots we definitely had a more confident approach to this record based on the fact that we learnt from the last record that you don't get much further being sweet and innocent.
"People take advantage of that. They assume you are doing it to sell. Behind the scenes we're everybody's best friends, we'll do anything, we never say no, we're nice to everybody. All of a sudden I realised that that was starting to bite us in the arse. So we decided to cop a bit of attitude this time - in a good way, not in a shitty teenager way. We were staking out some room for ourselves in the industry."
Not surprisingly, then, Tegan and Sara had little compunction about confounding the expectations of those who had fallen in love with The Business of Art and labelled them feisty folk artists a la Ani diFranco. Folk again? Hell no.
"I love touring alone with Sara and getting up on stage and telling stories, but at the same time I want to be able to get up there with a band and rock out and I want our audience to know that," says Tegan. "In the midst of that [last] record, what was frustrating was up on stage I heard punk music, rock music coming out of us. And then we'd get off and people would be like 'you sound just like Jewel'. And I would be like, 'what the f--- are you talking about?'."
She laughs but doesn't resile from that. "I have never felt that we belong [in the nice-girl-with-guitars category]. I don't see us being like that. I always saw us as like guys: obnoxious, poppy."
It has all impressed Young, that's for sure; something that still blows Tegan away.
"Even now, two years later, I have a hard time wrapping my head around it," she says quietly. "He knows who we are; the second person who hears our record is him; he passes judgement on us. It's pretty surreal.
"Touring with him was surreal. One of my favourite memories was the second or third day of the tour. Backstage they have this coloured tape everywhere pointing to the bathroom or Neil Young's dressing room this way. There was this sign saying Tegan and Sara this way and we peeled the tape off the floor and pointed it to the garbage can.
"When we got off stage we were in our dressing room and he came and said 'you were great', and I was like 'yeah, whatever'. Thirty seconds later we hear this tape ripping and he's on his hands and knees ripping up this tape and he put it beside the door pointing up, saying Tegan and Sara going up, to the top."