Date: March 2, 2005
Author: Steve Tran
Publication: Emmie Magazine
Headline: French Fries, Love, and Stories, An interview with Tegan and Sara
“Would you like some fries?” was the first thing Tegan Quin, of the too-cute twin sister duo, Tegan and Sara, said to me. Startled at first, I soon declined, stating that I wasn’t really hungry. “Oh, well, feel free to just reach over and grab as many as you want during the interview.”
I had the chance to enjoy a long conversation with Tegan (the one with the pierced labret) before their show at the Annex. She is described as the “impossibly stubborn” sister, but in my 45 minutes with her, I found her to be quite the opposite. I not only found out a lot about Tegan—she prefers to have a conversation instead of a straightforward interview and when asked one question, she ends up answering five questions because she admittedly “rambles” a lot; but I was also able to view her eating habits (though she loves toast, no bread on that chicken sandwich—it’s too dry).
With the release of 2004’s So Jealous, their strongest and most consistent album to date, Tegan and Sara are making a name for themselves. They have toured the United States as headliners for only a second time. Critics from magazines such as Rolling Stone have named So Jealous one of the best albums of 2004. They have even made an appearance in late night television as musical guests on Conan O’Brien. Not bad for the 24-year-old twin sisters from Calgary, Alberta, Canada who as children wanted to be a veterinarian and a lawyer.
This is a new experience for not only their loyal fans, but for Tegan herself: “This is only the second time we’ve gone out on a solo tour and the first time was only for a month. We’ve done all the major cities, but this is cool because we are trying out new stuff. We’re seeing growth, which is really inspiring. We want to be true musicians, not just in it for the money.”
With growth always come new fans. In most cases, an all-female band can attract a mostly all-female following. In the case of Tegan and Sara, who are also both lesbians, it may seem that their fan base is even more limited. Things however, have started to change in the past year. “Every record we’re seeing a lot of diverse fans. Before when we toured, we would usually just see girls in our audience. Sometimes in the music industry, women are just seen as music for girls. Women are only played for women and not played on the radio. It seems easier for guys. Being in the industry for six years, I’ve seen that. What’s great with this record is that I’ve seen a lot more guys, like skater guys, or big jockey guys” When asked what the difference has been, Tegan says, “What they’re seeing in our music is our universal themes. “
That universal theme seems to be love. Fans have been looking to Tegan and Sara for help with their heartbreaks. So Jealous could very well the break-up album of the year. That actually seemed to cause a problem when their record label, Vapor/Sanctuary, asked them if they had a song not about love. The recording of the new album occurred during the political debates, and their manager thought they might have had a political song. However, Tegan was not so sure their music was only about love. “I feel like our songs are dealing with all those emotions. Anger, passion, frustration, insecurity, love, and loneliness, it’s got all those emotions. That’s how anybody, well, anybody smart anyway, felt after the election.”
Tegan went on to detail what So Jealous was really about: “This record is about a lot of things. It’s about moving 4,000 miles away from every person you know, ending a four-year relationship and feeling like you can’t do anything, you aren’t worth anything. That’s all about growing up. Fuck! I mean, what do you mean it’s all about love? It’s not about love at all?”
“Sorry, this is really disgusting, I’m totally just waving this chicken in your face. For all I know you could be a vegetarian.” Tegan pauses for a second and wipes her hands off on her blue jeans. “But then again, this record really is about love, I was just being a brat.” Now I begin to see why people called Tegan stubborn.
Tegan and Sara have been writing songs since the age of 15 and were in a punk band during high school. However, after going through the process of frequently losing drummers and bassists, the two decided to remain a duo. Soon after graduating high school, they were signed by Vapor/Sanctuary. Since their first US release, The Business of Art (2000), Tegan and Sara have been on high profile tours such as the Lillith Fair, opened for Ryan Adams and had their videos played on MTV 2. The struggle for any growing band is to please the old fans and gain new ones. Tegan notes that some fans might be wary of their success.
“The term sell-out gets thrown out a lot. And it’s unfortunate, because in my mind selling out is making music for money. And not doing it for just fame and money. If anybody even gestures that term, we’re like, ‘Oh, oh yeah, we’re sell outs. Come visit my 400 square foot apartment, and while you’re at it, come give me ten bucks.’”
We didn’t get a big buy out when we signed to Neil Young’s label. We share a van with ten other people. I’m 24 years old and I share a room with my sister. If I’m a sell-out, then I’m a lame sell out. I think it comes with how bad the media is. It seems like everybody is rich and has a lot of money, but that’s a fucking lie. So many of those people have debt to mortgage companies.”
Success may finally be finding Tegan and Sara, but they are very serious about sticking to their roots. “When we go to television shows, they’ll always try to put make-up on us. And we’re like, ‘Don’t do that, we don’t like that.’ If you put us in a million dollar studio and spend a million dollars on the record, I think it would suck. ‘Cause you know, it’s just not us. We like records that are very organic and raw and I think that’s why fans like us, they relate to us. We don’t just go on stage for 45 minutes and just rock it. We tell stupid stories, we laugh. And I think that comes across more in our music, our insecurities, our maturity, with our confidence and heartbreak and ability to laugh at ourselves.”
Tegan touched on another aspect of why fans seem to be drawn to the band: live shows. A Tegan and Sara concert is more than just a show; it’s more of a social gathering. The girls often tell stories in between songs, inspiring laughter. No subject is ever off limits, exhibited by the show on December 5, here in Madison. Tegan was not too shy to announce that her bra strap was broken and was only held in place with tape. Sara proclaimed that at a previous show, a female audience member “kept flashing her boobs.” Sara went on to say that part of her “liked it and partly wanted to be objectified by this woman.”
“We never talk about the stories before the show or anything. It’s a goal of ours to always tell original stories, or if we tell the same story twice, we try to make it a little different. We try to keep it interesting for our band, because they get these bored look on their faces and I wanna just kill them. We’ve been talking a lot less than usual because there are a lot of new people in the audience and they don’t get it yet.”
Tegan then went on to explain, “A lot of times, the stories are a good way to ease the nerves. When I go see music I get nervous because I don’t know what to expect. Or worse, I know exactly what it’s like and it’s going to be awful. There’s this idea that all these people paid to be there and they can’t see. At least we can try to make them laugh and not just play the songs like on the CD. I mean, why not just stay at home then?”
While they are twins, Tegan and Sara are two very different people. Sara is very open and friendly where as Tegan likes to keep to herself. When it comes to songwriting, Tegan has always been able to write a lot more than Sara. This also means Tegan usually ends up with more songs on each album than Sara. However, the sisters have worked together long enough that there is no sibling rivalry.
“We can put aside our differences because we really want to make a great record. There were some of Sara’s songs that were amazing, but they didn’t make the record. And there were songs of mine like ‘I Won’t Be Left,’ which I didn’t like a lot but Sara loved, so it was on the record. Even if we took that song off, then there would have been one more of Sara’s. But she was like ‘Nope.’ She’s really good at it. I’ve generally always had a few more songs on our records.”
One reason why they may not get sick of each other is that they record separately. During the entire writing of So Jealous, Tegan and Sara were living on opposite sides of Canada. While this would seem to cause difficulties in making an album, it was really no different for Tegan and Sara. Even when living in the same city, the two wrote songs separately. A lot of times, Tegan would just drop off a box of demos at Sara’s doorstep or vice versa and then the two would eventually collaborate.
“I write a song and what I want. I get together with Sara and she tells me what she likes or thinks should change. Some of my songs are just me singing, some are only her. A song like ‘Where Does the Good Go,’ the whole harmony is just me. So when our manager found out that it was just me singing, he was like ‘Oh, you ruined the magic!’ Sara and I are basically solo artists. [But] We really just want to make strong records. You know, to get a lot of money. We want to be rich!”