Date:October 14, 2004
Author: Zoe Gemelli
Publication: Bay Windows Online - New England's largest gay and lesbian newspaper
Headline: Queer As Folk - and Punk
Tegan and Sara release best album so far
When Tegan and Sara released their fourth album "So Jealous" last month, the press gushed with a flood of praise for the Canadian twin duo. There's been more attention given to this album than their previous three, but after giving it a few comparative listens, there is a reason for the acclaim: it's brilliant.
The biggest press item was a feature in the "New York Times" that explained that 2004 was chock full of lesbians in the mainstream ("The L Word," Madonna and Britney kissing, the faux lesbian frolicking of the Russian group TaTu), which paved the way for 20-somethings Tegan and Sara to be heard on a larger scale. That probably contributed a bit to why they are finally being heard, but it really comes down to their songwriting growth, great production, and the eerie way their similar voices blend together.
Tegan and Sara Quin are cute punky lesbian twins from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Sara agrees that there is a "freak" factor that gets people paying attention. It may sound like they are guests on the "Jerry Springer Show," but the reality is that they've been making music since their early teens and were out of the closet before they made their first record at 17.
"I've been dating girls since I was 14 years old," said Sara from her home in Montreal, Quebec. To her, the Times article and others focus too much on the gay thing and not enough on what their music is about. They don't wear "gay" on their sleeves on the album and certainly try to keep from looking like little Ani DiFrancos. "My natural instinct when I'm reading an article like the New York Times's is to be like, 'come on, why does it have to be a big fat gay thing?' When I grew up and decided that I was for sure gay and I was gonna be out, I thought it was personal and not political." But that has more to do with their liberal Canadian upbringing. North of the border being gay didn't have to be political for them, but they see what a battle it is for Americans when they tour the U.S.
"Tegan and I always say when people say to us, 'you're not a political band,' or 'how come you're not a political band?' I'm like, in the United States we are," she explained. "We have hours and hours of annoying circular conversations because once we said yes, we'll do a gay article or yes, we are gay suddenly it's as if we have made it about being gay. But we don't."
The pair live at opposite ends of the country, with Tegan calling Vancouver, British Columbia home. Sara left the West coast two years ago for the more European-influenced Montreal. As you listen to Sara speak, it's clear that they deal with the classic twin dance of identity and independence, but are still closer than average siblings even with the physical distance between them.
An example of this is how they write their music. They each have computers with Pro Tools (a music-making computer program) and a small home studio set-up. They separately make demos of songs they write on their own, produce the songs themselves, then meet and exchange what they've written independent of the other. For "So Jealous" this amounted to about 26 songs that they sifted through to make the 14 that made it to the record. Unlike another lesbian duo, the Indigo Girls, who also don't write songs together, Tegan and Sara's songs all sound like Tegan and Sara songs. Indigo Girl Amy Ray's songs are markedly different-sounding than those of cohort Emily Sailers. And to make that point even more, the song credit on the CD jacket simply says, "all songs written by Tegan and Sara."
Tegan and Sara are signed to Neil Young's Vapor Records but distributed by major label Universal. Vapor has been hands off from the get go, and even told them not to expect to make good music until they're in their 30's. They tapped on the same producers as their last CD, "If It Was You," John Collins and David Carswell, the producers of hit indie band the New Pornographers. But the sisters took the helm as the main producers this time around.
"So Jealous" is a girl version of emo music - a term created to describe rock/pop music made boys with emotional lyrics (think Dashboard Confessional). It also bridges the gap between riot-grrl and Ani DiFranco angst. With lyrics as personal as a diary entry at times, like "If feel like/I wouldn't like me/if I met me" on lead track "You Wouldn't Like Me." "Walking With A Ghost" is an ode to being haunted by an ex-lover that sounds possessed like Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me." The songs "Where Does The Good Go," "Downtown," and "I Know I Know I Know" are super sing-a-longs and very radio friendly. The title track "So Jealous" has moody multi-tempos that sound like an infusion of two different songs. "Speak Slow" is their best Sleater-Kinney-sounding track, and "I Bet It Stung" is a crunchy rock-pop song.
"This record, and our career for whatever reason, seems to be taking a nice step up," Sara said of the resent expanded coverage. "Everyone seems to find the press positive and the general feeling that people are excited. It's really good visibility for us."
Sara is also very humble about where they are headed, "If you would have one told me that I would be playing Bridge School [a benefit concert] with Neil Young and Paul McCartney, or have a big huge piece in the 'New York Times.' I sometimes wonder what it is about us, why we get to do these things." But she forgets that the music they are making is truly excellent, and that is why people are paying attention.