Date: December 21, 2000
Author: Alli Hirschman
Headline: Canadian Wonder-Twins Quin Power A New Sound
"By definition from grade school to English 30/ We quietly become strong so early."
The opening lyrics and beats of Tegan and Sara Quin’s "The First" – the aptly-named first song on their first U.S. album, This Business of Art – offer a powerful first impression of the action-packed, Canadian duo, while giving listeners an intense first taste of their formative success.
So, in the tradition of twins, who came out first? Tegan Quin celebrated her 20th birthday before Sara did – but Sara was first to come out to their mom.
Sibling rivalry aside, the sisters have been playing music together since they were eight. In 1998, their pop-folk one-two punch combo won a battle of the bands in Calgary, scoring some major attention that ultimately led to aVapor Records contract.
After a summer opening for Neil Young and The Pretenders, Tegan and Sara find themselves back in Canada, taking a time out and making plans for their next big steps.
Alli: A lot of your songs seem to be about the trials and tribulations of indie rockers facing off with big industry...
Tegan: You know, it's funny, since we put this album out, we've had a lot of people asking if we were writing about the industry. But I don't know what we were writing about. We were in high school when we were writing these songs. They are all about people and our impressions of them. But it's so interesting that they work so easily to reflect the themes that have come up in our career.
I wrote Superstar after meeting some musicians who were really headstrong about what they were doing. It had nothing to do with any bad experiences with the music industry. And More For Me was written at a time when I was just starting to work, and I hated my job, and I was confused about what I was doing and what I wanted to do. All my friends were just starting university, and they were struggling just as hard. They had direction, and they were maybe more lost than I was. So it's kind of my song like, it's really bad, but it could be worse.
Alli: You are part of the first generation of musicians to really experiment with and benefit from business on the Web... Good or bad?
Tegan: We totally benefit from the Web. In theory I think it's horrible that people are sharing music for free, and that we aren't benefiting from it. That's ripping me off and cheating me, and we're losing profit. But in truth, I don't want to download one song or two songs. You know, I want the whole CD, I want the artwork, the experience. That's the way I am, but music is changing, and I just have to accept that.
There are people who just won't buy the album, but there are others who will hear about our shows online, and buy our records online. Especially in the U.S., where we aren't in a lot of stores.
Most of our email is from people who have heard about us online in chat rooms or on other Web sites. It's amazing. It's what I think radio and music magazines used to be.
Alli: When did you and Sara start playing?
Tegan: It started out as a teenage thing. We played piano when we were younger, and we had a guitar around the house and progressed from piano into guitar.
We started writing on our own, and then we realized that we really enjoyed the guitar. My mom said that we could take the guitar, as long as we continued to play the piano, and then three or four years later, we were naturally writing, and it just made sense. We were good at it, well, not then, we weren't good, the songs weren't very good, but writing came easily for us.
Alli: When did playing music turn into a career for you and Sara?
Tegan: We never talked about it, and then a cousin of ours that was going to University in Calgary dropped one of our tapes into a contest. We went and competed and won studio time. We were happy about it, but it wasn't a big deal to us, because we were like 17 and were just going back to school.
Then, people in the industry asked us to open for bands that were coming to town. We had no fear, even though we thought we sucked, and things just started happening. We were happy to be paid for it, and all of a sudden, we were flying to Vancouver to open for Kinnie Starr.
Then, we graduated and had already decided to take a year off of school, and some record companies started asking about us. It just progressed into making our own CD, traveling for a year, then it was just like, "Oh, make the next one," and then get a record deal, and then travel all the time…
Alli: So your career just took off…
Tegan: We did a demo deal with Mercury in Canada, and I think they were disappointed. I think they hoped we would go into the studio and make a pop album.
They were such good songs in our minds, but they just weren't worked out yet. We went in, and we had like three days to slam the first tape together. It was a mess. I'm sure that they heard how rushed it was. They were basically like, "You need to grow up, and then come back." We are actually working with that same company now, three years later, Universal, the other side of Mercury.
Alli: Have you two had to deal with anyone dismissing you as "two little girls"?
Tegan: I think when we first got into the business, they were like, "Cute, young, small, girls. Perfect." And then, we had to produce, and they realized that that whole judgment thing was over.
Even Vapor probably looked at us with some of that stuff in their eyes. Neil's [Young] manager, Elliot Roberts, who signed us, said something like, we are cute, funny, sweet, interesting, talented musicians, and he knew that would be easy to sell. But he said, 'I don't want this record to break, I don't want your second record to break. I don't want your third record to break. I want you guys to grow up. I want you to develop a strong fan base, and five years from now, I want you to blow up.'
Alli: What was it like for you and Sara, being thrown into the music business at 17?
Tegan: My mom helped out, and we acquired management early. They got us an agent, got us playing, got us a record deal. The most important thing in this business is music and the art and that, to me, is the part that we should take care of. Not the money and the technicalities. But I found that, for a lot of people in the business, the art is secondary. So, we fired our management and changed a lot of things in our lives and got incredibly strong, all of a sudden, and sure about what we were doing.
Fast forward six months to right now, and I would tell you that music shouldn't be the first thing, because it's the most vulnerable and the most honest part. You need to be strong first, and you need to be in control of the business and in control of the money, and you need to be in control of who you are.
Alli: Why did you and Sara decide to call your album This Business of Art?
Tegan: It was relevant to what we were feeling. For a long time, we'd been really emotional about music and about what we were doing, and people were like, "This is business," you know, "Chill out, this is business. Don't take it so personally, this is just business."
The CD and its title were meant to be very positive. It was really fun for us to be like, you know what? We're signing a record deal, and we're giving up a lot of our control, and we're doing it because we want to, and in no way are we doing it because we're pressured. This isn't the wrong thing to do. This is the right thing for us to do.
Alli: And how's family business treating you and Sara?
Tegan: Real good. It's a real good choice. I advise anyone out there who is getting into business to bring a family member along with you, because it's a real good time. (laughs)
No, no. Just imagine what it would be like to be with your sibling all the time. It sucks. You're bored, you're irritated, you're each other's easiest target to pick on.
Now, in the music sense, yes, it's amazing to be on stage with a sibling. It's amazing to have a twin sister on stage -- someone that you know so well and trust. But it's a hell of a lot of work to get along.
Alli: How do you work it out? Do you have some kind of division of labor?
Tegan: Sometimes. It changes. We fluctuate a little bit. I was a lot more in control of the business stuff, and Sara was doing her own thing and carrying her weight by writing.
We went to therapy for a while, and we're trying to create a team around us. We have a tour manager who we hang out with. He's really great, and he's there as a friend and does a lot to help us along and distract us. We're getting good at it. We travel together and spend a lot of time alone together – isolating ourselves, which is incredibly lonely and hard, but it's just the next step. In order to not annoy one another, we have to ignore each other a lot.
Alli: What's on for Tegan and Sara right now?
Tegan: In the new year, we'll be on tour in Canada in January and then back in the States after that, in February and March. We work out a lot of our own tours, calling and getting the train or the bus or the plane. Our agents do as much as they can, but we still have to work out where everything is in relation to everything else, and now that we're doing the U.S., too, we have to work that out. And I'm trying to apply for tour support and so, going to work for me means going to lawyers and agents and working through all this stuff. For now, we're glad to be home for a while.