Date: October 1, 2005
Author: John Adamian
Publication: Preview Connecticut
Headline: Sister Act Tegan And Sara Make Confessional Power Pop For The People
Let's dispense with the peculiar biographical details at the start: Tegan and Sara Quin are twin sisters from Canada, both of whom happen to be lesbians. It's a titillating little factoid, I know, but it's really secondary to the seriously catchy pop tunes the pair creates.
Still touring on the strength of their fourth album, 2004's excellent So Jealous -- a record that successfully blends hook-heavy pop songcraft with ripped-from-the-diary candor -- Tegan and Sara perform in New Haven and Northampton, Mass. this month.
In between tour dates, from her home in Montreal, Canada, half of the pair, Sara, spoke with Preview about songwriting, pop music, and mood swings At first listen, Tegan and Sara's music might sound like radio-ready mainstream pop.
But the two (they tour backed by a three-piece band) blend chunky acoustic guitars, singing that alternates between pouting and airy, snappy beats, girlish harmony vocals, Moog-ish synth strings, and big bass with lyrics about genuine emotional torment. Many of the songs are about mood swings, mild cases of self-loathing and self-doubt, and that eternal struggle of trying to understand one's feelings and the feelings of a partner. Lovesickness, basically. The confessional tone is not fabricated.
"I write about mood swings a lot," says Sara. "Tegan and I, we love our project, we love making music, we love, love being musicians, and we are very insecure. We're paranoid. We're always looking at everybody else wondering if what we're doing is OK. We're like insecure kids or something."
What they're doing is definitely OK; since its release last year, So Jealous has slowly won Tegan and Sara a surprisingly broad fan base. You might hear their songs on TV's Grey's Anatomy; you might find yourself bopping your head to a Tegan and Sara song while shopping the aisles of Target or sipping an espresso at your local feminist café. Tegan and Sara strive for that kind of universality.
"It's amazing because our fans -- it's such a cross section of people and our audience has been changing so much over the years, and I'm so happy that we can appeal to such a wide range of people," says Sara. "I look out at the shows and there's this really hardcore alternative crowd, and there's girls, and there's indie boys and there's older people, and there's really young kids dancing at the back with their parents, and there's hoochie girls. . . . They're actually real fans. They're not fickle fans."
The wide appeal probably has something to do with Tegan and Sara's ability to make songs about emotional turbulence sound so breezy. Blending the painful honesty of candid singer-songwriters and the sugary mass appeal of power pop is not something that the twins consider to be contradictory.
"It's something that we do talk about a lot and something that we do think about," says Sara. "We are kind of an indie pop rock band, and lots of people really think of us as pop. Maybe the reason why candid lyrics or intricate parts in a song don't seem to go hand-in-hand with pop, is maybe because pop seems a little bit manufactured at times. There's an idea that a lot of lyrics in pop tend to be incredibly repetitive or just all about the same thing and maybe not as honest as they could be. I think because Tegan and I are kind of rockers, and we're writing all of this stuff ourselves, it's all coming from ourselves and the songs are really personal. That's probably part of the reason why there is a real cross over. And we definitely have a real pop sensibility."
Yes they do. "You Wouldn't Like Me," which builds and builds to an irresistible peak, might break some kind of record for the number of catchy bits crammed into a three-minute pop tune. And all in the service of a convoluted little bit of lyrical self-loathing, "I think I wouldn't like me if I met me." And "Walking With the Ghost" demonstrates a sense of economy and a skill for poking quirky wiry lines in between vocal phrases. Tegan and Sara do pop exuberance, but they're equally capable at writing sad, wistful and somber songs, like "I Can't Take It," when they want.
The Quin sisters are identical twins (they turned 25 last month), and they've been playing music together and going to punk shows since they were teenagers in Calgary, Alberta. "We started playing together and taking our guitars around embarrassingly to parties," says Sara. After high school the two moved to Vancouver (Tegan still lives there) and began touring extensively and recording.
Now they both write songs separately, creating elaborate demos at their home studios, swapping tunes over e-mails and trading discs across the continent in the mail. Though the two live at opposite ends of the country, the sisters -- as identical twins who spend much of the time collaborating, traveling and performing together -- are obviously close. In addition to their musicality, their next-level haircuts, and their sexuality, Tegan and Sara evidently also share a fondness for foul language. Their expletive-heavy onstage banter has become as much a part of a Tegan and Sara show as the music.
"It started off as a sort of comfort thing, just to be talking with the audience and now it's become a big part of the show and now everyone really expects us to talk. If we don't tell stories onstage people are yelling at us, telling us to tell a story," says Sara. "We tend to talk to each other a lot on stage, and at times we'll get really agitated. And we do have kind of dirty mouths."
Tegan and Sara perform Monday, October 3, at Toad's Place, 300 York St., New Haven, (203) 624-TOAD, and on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at Pearl Street Night Club, 10 Pearl St., Northampton, Mass., (413) 584-7771.