Date: February 22, 2008
Author: Patric Baird
Headline: Twins at their peak
Their music has been covered by The White Stripes and Ryan Adams, but Tegan and Sara's biggest claim to fame is reinventing the mullet hairstyle. Edwin McFee meets the hipper-than-hip idential twins
Up until relatively recently, this writer always viewed Tegan and Sara as just another bunch of insipid shoe-gazing singer-songwriters.
For a while I even went so far as saying that if the Canadian twins were any squarer they'd be Rubik's Cubes.
But my opinion changed about a month ago when I sat down and actually listened to their songs properly on MySpace and Youtube in preparation for this very interview. To be honest, I realised quite quickly that I would have to eat my rather misguided words, but I'm comforted by the knowledge that even Spider-Man has his off days every once in a while.
"Hey, at least you're admitting you were wrong," laughs Sara, when I fess up. "I think a lot of people see two chicks and immediately think - Oh no, more Joni Mitchell wannabes. Joni's cool and all that, but that isn't really what we're about at all."
What Tegan and Sara are about is life-affirming, three-minute, pop-rock anthems that crackle and fizz with invention.
At times the twins can be both really loud and really quiet and for the most part they're reminiscent of late 1990s rockers Veruca Salt. Not to get our hopes up, but judging by the sheer quality of their fifth album The Con, which is re-released this week, this band could finally fill the void 'riot grrrl' left all those years ago.
While other artists are gazing down, Tegan and Sara are looking up at the stars, so it begs the question, where have they been hiding all these years?
"Yeah, it does seem that we just appeared out of nowhere, doesn't it?" says Sara. "We're just happy being under the radar, I guess. In many ways, probably due to our low self-esteem, we just kept making records and living in our own world, but now The Con's out there we seem to be getting a lot of attention so we'll see how that goes.
"People seem to like us now and let me tell you, I'm as surprised as anyone by that."
Tegan and Sara Quin were both born in Calgary, Canada on September 19, 1980. They started out musically playing in a band called PLUNK and used to record their music at school. Pretty soon they started to cause a stir and the local indie kids were smitten by their identical, striking good looks and angst-fuelled arsenal of songs.
They put out three self-released albums in 1998 (Yellow Demo, Orange Demo and Red Demo) before unleashing their first "proper" record Under Feet Like Ours in 1999.
"I'll be honest with you, everything we've done in the early days makes me cringe with embarrassment," Sara confesses. "Every time I think of those demos we did when we were 15 it makes me die a little more inside. If I was rich I would buy back all those copies from our friends and put them on a bonfire."
After Under Feet came 2000's This Business of Art, 2002's If It Was You, 2004's So Jealous and then finally, their greatest work to date, The Con. It's been a steady learning curve for the ladies, but they're in no rush to make it to the top.
"We're not a part of the mainstream in any way, so we're just going to keep making records and hopefully win over a few new fans along the way," offers Sara.
Lest her penchant for self-deprecating humour fools you - the band has amassed a large cult following over the years. The White Stripes covered Tegan and Sara track Walking with a Ghost in 2005, the girls' songs have appeared on TV shows such as Veronica Mars, Grey's Anatomy and One Tree Hill and indie bible Alternative Press placed the ladies at No 7 on their recent list of "women who rock right now."
Add in the fact that Emo overlord Chris Walla from Deathcab for Cutie produced The Con and you have one very hip double act indeed.
"Technically Chris is pretty much a genius," says Sara. "He taught us to have a structure with the way we record rather than just getting up in the morning and wading through the chaos.
"As for people covering our songs, well, I think it's a bit weird. Don't get me wrong, it's a cool feeling. We were touring with Ryan Adams once and he played one of our songs during sound-check and then eventually live and that blew me away. I love hearing people play our music even if it's just small local bands who send in crappy recordings."
While Sara and her sister tour the world together, make albums and even share the same face, they're not joined at the hip. Tegan currently lives in Vancouver while Sara resides in Montreal. The twins have even generated a spot of notoriety here and there for their reported on-the-road squabbles - but Sara claims these stories are apochryphal and actually started by the band themselves!
"Sometimes I like to tell journalists that I've murdered Tegan and had her replaced with a lookalike who I don't allow to speak. You'd be surprised the people who believe me. No offence, but sometimes writers can be a bit stupid sometimes."
On the whole the twins have enjoyed a courteous relationship with the world's media but there are times when some writers' fascination with their sexuality (both girls are lesbian) can be a drag for the singers.
"When we first started out the whole 'they're twins, they're gay' thing really bugged me," reveals Sara. "If you ever read any of our press it's always mentioned, but the older I get the less it bothers me. In my opinion you don't have to be straight to enjoy anything Bono sings and you don't have to be gay to enjoy our music. It's as simple as that."
Another gripe for the women is their pivotal role in bringing back the mullet haircut. The business at the front, party at the back style was retired long ago, but it could be time for another revolution if Sara has her way.
"All of our success so far is down to our haircuts," laughs the 27-year-old. "No-one would like us if we didn't have cool do's. But seriously, I love the mullet. I always looked pretty conservative before I moved to Montreal five years ago. Everyone there had the raddest hair so I went to a hairdresser and let them do whatever they wanted to me. I can see the headlines now: Come see Tegan and Sara, they've got cool hair!"
While there is no denying that the ladies do cut a dash, the real reason why you should check out their inaugural Belfast gig next week is because music needs acts like Tegan and Sara. The twins will always be the perennial square pegs in round holes and we could use a few real misfits to shake things up.
"We thrive on being outsiders," Sara says finally. "Sometime I think it's because we're sisters and have a security with each other and don't need anyone else. We know we'll always have each other, and if Tegan doesn't [feel the same], then our family will disown her and I'll finally be the favourite. So it's not all bad."