Author: Natalie Nichols
Publication: Los Angeles City Beat
Headline: NERVOUS BREAKTHROUGHS
Tegan and Sara reach beyond the converted with pop hooks and jagged, postpunk folk
If you’re backstage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and notice a couple of animated young women regaling the musicians with a charming barrage of Canadian-accented compliments, it won’t mean that security’s been sneaking fans in the side door. It’ll just be sister act Tegan and Sara, getting, er, uncomfortable with their fellow artists.
“Tegan and I get really nervous around other musicians,” says singer-guitarist Sara Quin, 24, about herself and her identical twin, who are making their Coachella debut. “Sometimes when I’m around musicians, like, I tend to gush and tell people that I really like their record or whatever. And there’s a lot of posturing that happens between bands, and we don’t really do that. So we either come off really flaky and kind of fannish, or we come off like geeks.”
Over the phone from Vancouver, while on tour opening for the Killers (also appearing at Coachella), Sara talks the proverbial blue streak. Despite the predictable hail of youthful “likes,” she never sounds bubbleheaded; rather, you can almost hear her synapses crackling as the words pour out. She’s looking forward to seeing so many bands that “I don’t even try to factor in that we’re actually playing. It seems like kind of a joke.” Laughing, she adds that she’s never seen many of the headliners, such as Nine Inch Nails, but she’s also excited about hearing acts like the Futureheads and Bright Eyes.
“This is the perfect time for us to do something like this,” she says. “For the first time, we’re really feeling confident about what we do.”
And well they should be. The Calgary-born Tegan and Sara debuted in 2000 with the folky This Business of Art – although there was a 1999 release, Under Feet Like Ours, credited to “Sara and Tegan” – and began building a fan base of like-minded listeners: “quirky, outspoken, funny, queer,” as Sara puts it. (Yes, both are lesbians.) But last year they realized their pop potential with So Jealous, their fourth studio album, which has landed them TV appearances, spins on alt-rock radio stations, and choice opening slots like their current one, as well as their own packed club dates.
Blending the spare folk and jagged postpunk of their previous works with brain-invading hooks and zingy new-wave keyboards by Matt Sharp (formerly of Weezer, another Coachella attraction), the collection is a propulsive, addicting, and utterly distinctive romp through the highs and lows of romance. “You Wouldn’t Like Me” grabs you with its warbled insecurities, exuberant buzz-pop, and counterpoint vocals, while “Where Does the Good Go” insinuates more gradually with a swirl of voices and instruments.
Sara’s goal with this album, half her songs and half Tegan’s, was to simplify: “I talk so much, and I have so much to say, that I even confuse myself occasionally.” The standout track, “Walking with a Ghost” – whose persistent melody, hypnotic rhythm, and chanted lines starkly limn a relationship not quite shed from memory – came from her desire to make a tune with the circling feel of a round (you know, a kids’ staggered sing-along, as in “Frère Jacques/Are You Sleeping”). She wanted it “to lure people; to be in their brains.”
As planned, the track does stay with you. But all of the oblique, deceptively simple numbers on So Jealous almost nonchalantly reveal, not only Tegan and Sara’s keen pop instincts, but their affecting way with emotions for any listener, even those seemingly far removed from what Sara thinks of as their usual crowd.
“When I look out into the audience now, and I see a 16-year-old girl in, like, a hoochie boob top singing along to every word, I think, ‘That is not who I’m aiming my music at,’ specifically,” she says. “But on the other hand, something in our music is speaking to [her]. And if she can handle sitting through an hour of us talking about our cats and our mom, and then playing songs and screwing them up and calling each other names and whatever” – the pair are notorious for their verbal jousting between songs – “then maybe she isn’t that different than our staple audience.” Tegan and Sara perform at Coachella on Sunday, May 1.