Author: Brad Halasz
Publication: FFWD Weekly
TEGAN AND SARA
Monday, February 7
MacEwan Hall (U of C)
"For a band like us, if we sell 50,000 CDs, Tegan’s going to be wearing bling and having bathing-suit parties and pouring Cristal all over her tits all the time," says Sara Quin. "It would just be crazy."
"Well, she’s a bitch," retorts her twin sister Tegan.
Simon and Garfunkel they aren’t, but the charming singer-songwriter force known as Tegan and Sara have found a dynamic that works.
Since winning the illustrious Garage Warz battle-of-the-bands competition at the University of Calgary in 1998 (with the highest scores ever), Tegan and Sara have gone nowhere but up. They found themselves on the Lilith Fair tour and soon after signed to Neil Young’s Vapor Records in 2000. They then teamed with producer-songwriter Hawksley Workman, recording the album The Business of Art in less than two weeks. That same summer they started to build their following across North America, touring with Neil Young and the Pretenders.
The next four years flew by as the Quin twins released their second Vapor Records album, If It Was You, in 2002. In between writing and recording they found time to tour with such established melodramatic crooners as Rufus Wainwright and up-and-coming dance-punk acts like Hot Hot Heat.
After a half decade of underground obscurity and opening-act anonymity, now it’s time for Tegan and Sara to shine. Living with three time zones between them, the former Calgarians are now creeping into the world of glossy magazines and American network TV. But are they ready for the inflated egos and the proverbial cocaine addictions?
Their first test came weeks ago when the twins received a chance to unleash their first single from their latest release, So Jealous, on viewers all over North America during an appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. Lyrically "Walking with a Ghost" is simple, but the girls turn the eight lines of lyrics into the catchiest radio-ready track on the album. As the sisters look back on their Late Night broadcast, they find themselves critical of their performance. The two-minute spot may have exposed them to millions of people, but with humble Canadian roots, these two still second-guess their place in the big leagues.
"I’m not a big fan of the way things sound on television, so I always feel disappointed by the performances," says Tegan from her Montreal pad. Even Conan-loving Sara, who is on the phone from her place in Vancouver, was not amused.
"The next day we were like, ‘That was shit,’" she says. "We hated it. We didn’t sound good." Tegan and Sara admit they can be their harshest critics. That is especially true when the pressure of giving a stellar performance on live television is compounded by their attempts to please the record company, the fans and themselves.
"Everyone was really happy in the end, so that was fine, but all of us in the band didn’t think it sounded that good," says Tegan. "It looked good, and the response was good and since it happened, there has been more progress made, so those things are really positive."
Even as the sisters criticize their success they also look for answers as to how they achieved it in the first place. Like many college-crowd acts that turn mainstream, there is never a defining moment. In this duo’s case a series of fortunate events has paved the way for their recent success.
"It feels like a culmination of a bunch of things that are helping right now – between radio and more major press, word of mouth, Internet support and then a show like Conan," says Tegan. "It feels like a lot of great things are happening for sure."
The most obvious factor contributing to their rise to stardom is the fact that their latest album, So Jealous, is their most polished, full-sounding record to date. They take their sound to a new plateau, without forgetting their acoustic roots or coming off over-produced or unoriginal. It’s no wonder Rolling Stone named the disc one of 2004’s Top 50.
It doesn’t hurt that So Jealous is also the duo’s most ambitious album to date. By adding a more electric sound and inviting Matt Sharp (formerly of Weezer) to help out, the disc takes a unique shape that deviates from their previous releases, reaching a wider audience with radio-friendly tracks that don’t lose their folk-punk style.
Aside from a killer album, Tegan and Sara have been getting exceptional representation from Vapor Records. A recent distribution deal between Vapor and Sanctuary Records in the U.S. has given them a higher profile, which also means more press and more time on the road. A three-week tour in Canada is being followed immediately by three more weeks in the U.K. Then, after a whopping three days off, they hit the U.S. for eight weeks with only a four-day break.
"We will probably hate each other and hate ourselves and want to kill everybody that we meet in that time," says Tegan, "but it will be worth it."
It’s clear that Tegan and Sara are rising to the top in style, and in total control. They’re learning the art of balancing reality with the rock star dream.
"No matter what kind of success you have – which is perceived on the outside – internally you’re still struggling because the bigger our project gets, the more people we have to have involved and the better we want to treat those people. We have this band and the bigger the shows get the more money we want to pay them, so in our minds we’re always at the same level as when we first started," says Sara.
This is made evident by their appreciation for the simple things in life. Setting aside their van for a decked-out tour bus during the Canadian leg of the tour may sound like a big league power play, but it ultimately comes down to practicality.
"Maybe we can finally get some sleep on the road," says Sara.