Date: 2000
Author: Brett Booth
Headline: The New Role Models for Generation Y: Tegan and Sara Offer Valuable Life Lessons Through Art
In a world of bubblegum superheroes and commercial pipelining, at some point, one must take a step back to assess exactly what values we are passing on to tomorrow's leaders. Judging by the half-dressed minors and "Star Search" finalists who are allowed free reign in popular music, these values would appear to be: fame is all-important and your body is the key to success. Sounds like a recipe for even earlier teen pregnancies and more inflated egos. What if, instead, this was a world where young role models encouraged positive ideals in their peers?

Meet Tegan and Sara, twin sisters from Canada, who actually have something real to say. The duo creates original folk-pop music based of real life experiences-brutally honest and completely sincere. These young women are strong and independent, dictating the course of their own lives, while promoting something that all should believe in: the concept that hard work, remaining true to oneself, and utilizing one's brain are the keys to success. What's more, these girls probably know more about the music business than the majority of people who work in it. recently caught up with these exuberant, young masterminds after their well-received showcase at the CMJ Music Fest in New York City. Where are you all from?

Tegan: Vancouver. Originally born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on September 19, 1980, which makes us 20-two decades old.

mt: When did you start music?

T: Well, we played piano when were, like, 10, and then when we were 14, we started playing guitar. We started traveling and touring when we graduated (high school). So, it has been two full years now and a summer.

mt: I'm really intrigued by the title of your album (This Business of Art). You both seem really knowledgeable for being so young. What's that all about?

T: We had a lot business-y stuff going on in our lives and we felt that this album was made during a time that we felt the most business in our lives. We were on top of the game, and talking to people and structuring and setting goals became a career for us. It left just being a musician, so we decided okay, this is what we are doing and this is our career. Let's map it out and let's feel comfortable with what we are doing. We wanted to make a statement [by] saying that we chose to be exactly where we were, and that even though we muck around and whine and cry, at the end of the day, I am 90% happy with the choices we have made: going with Vapor and going with Universal. So, in ten years, you won't see us on "Behind the Music," going on and saying this happened and this happened. We just don't want that to happen to us, so we're taking control and making it art. We can take responsibility. We're going to make mistakes. It doesn't matter how educated or how much we get ourselves involved in our business. At least we can say that we made it and we don't have to blame everyone. There are lots of things that a record company does that's annoying, but that's the way that they do it and it's not the way that I would do it.

mt: How has your record label, Vapor, been?

T: Amazing! They are doing exactly what they said they would do, which is take it slow and focus on markets, and we would progress. They are fun and they are small time, and they have room to grow and so do we. The people who own Vapor are a management company and they work with Mazzy Star and the Eels, and some great acts. I look at them and they have had a lot of European success, and they have also had longevity and that's something that we want. I don't want to play until I'm thirty, but I do want to have a career when I'm 22.

Tegan and Sara are taking success in stride, gradually building a fan base through selective touring. Most importantly, they appear to be having fun on the road and enjoying every new experience. They are also meeting some fairly interesting people in their journeys. mt: So you guys are a pretty popular live act?

Sara: Not on a large scale. 500 people is not a lot of people, but, for us, it feels like we are making a difference. We see progression, which is important.

T: We're, like, an indie act. If you went up to somebody in Canada, they are probably not going to be, like, "I know Tegan and Sara." There's, like, 33 million people and we have sold maybe 6,000 albums.

S: For us, we just want to see progress. We went from having 125 people to 500. Next time, I want to see 700, and the next time 1000.

mt: It sounds like you are really trying to build a career and take it slowly.

T: To be honest with you, the music part is really fun and we have a really good time doing it, but the business part is really interesting. There are lots of things to do with music besides playing. We're musicians, but we're taking it really slow and our record companies are taking it slow, because they see us making it on our third or fourth album, not our first album. We're 20 years old and our music is changing constantly. We're just starting to play live consistently, which means that we are just starting to get it down and get our show down and get the flow down. If we were, like, Britney Spears, someone would have to come in to tell us how to play our instruments. I mean, were not prepared to be playing stadiums yet, we're not ready for that, and we're not ready to commit years of our lives to music. We like going on the road for two months and taking a couple of weeks off, going on the road for three months, taking a couple of weeks off, and not being pressured all the time to be there and do this and dress this way and act this way. No one pressures us at any point in our career. No one has really told us what to play, what to wear, or how to be. Nothing.

mt: Now with the stadiums…you all opened up for Neil Young, right?

T: Yeah, but we were there early, so we didn't play to15,000 people and try to engage them for an hour and a half. If we were going to do that, then we would definitely need a band. I mean on the Canadian tour, we were playing to an average of 300-550 people a night. Even in some of the bigger places, it's hard to engage people. They get drunk and they're behind pillars. If we had a band, it would be easier to overpower and keep people's interest. I just don't think that we are prepared to move there yet. We did awesome on the Neil tour. It was fun, there was, like, 6,000 people usually, and we sold lots of CDs, and we got to go to 22 cities and got to meet the Pretenders. We played basketball with Chrissie Hynde and met Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth.

S: We didn't meet them, Tegan.

T: Yes, we did. Sara, we met Mike from Pearl Jam and Eddie looked at us.

S: That doesn't mean that we met them.

T: And then, they came and saw our last show and they came and stood on the stage and Chrissie Hynde introduced us personally.

S: We didn't even know which guys were Sonic Youth, so just shut up.

T: But, everyone pointed them out…we had an opportunity. They saw our show. One of the guys from R.E.M. was at one of the shows and this famous tennis player was there. It was pretty cool. Neil's a cool guy and people come out and see him. More than anything, someone was saying to us today, people can't do favors any more to get you on a tour, you've got to make friends. It's hard for us to make friends with bands. How are we supposed to make friends with bands? What am I supposed to do, just call Madonna and be, like, "Can we be friends and just come on your tour?" It's weird thinking, but what is the solution? We don't get mainstream radio, and we couldn't go on a U.S. tour because we would have five people in each club.

mt: So, you need support?

T: Absolutely. Where do you get support from, because we can't get on big shows, because we don't have radio. We can't get video going on, so our record company put a notice on the website: "We're looking for Tegan and Sara fans. We're looking for people who want to go around their cities, hand out flyers at coffee shops, talk about the record, put posters up for no reason, sticker."

mt: Real grass roots stuff

In addition to hitting the road hard, Tegan and Sara have also utilized the Internet to get their word out to people, a necessity for new artists who may not have the power of radio, MTV, or some huge corporation behind them.

Speaking of cheap ways of promotion, the Internet is a tool. What do you guys do with that?

T: We have website contests. Well, our website was shut down for a couple of days, because we just had too much e-mail coming in and we weren't answering it. We had people e-mailing our agent complaining that they couldn't get into the website. It's working. People want to communicate and want to talk and ask questions, and I want to enter this contest.

S: All word of mouth.

T: It works because we're an underground band, and because we don't have major rotation. You know, it's like when you knew a little band, and I have to tell everybody about this band, because I totally want people not to miss this. That's what we're doing. It's happened a million times, but that's what people are doing with us and it's happening on a pretty big scale. I mean, we haven't really done anything in the U.S. We've been picked up by a few stations, probably less than 20. We're getting some good places and we're doing a tour and we have fans coming out. Basically, it's been word of mouth. We get e-mail from places like Colorado where they were like, "I was at a party and somebody put your CD on and it was so good," and it's, like, how do people know who we are? We get e-mails from, like, Finland and all these places. The first time we got an e-mail from Finland was from a guy who found us through the Neil Young chat room. This guy loves us and he has sold a whole bunch of our CDs for us online. It's crazy.

S: I was saying today that you have to sell, like, 500,000 copies of a record to be big. I sold 6,000 copies in Canada and I feel creepy about it. Like, 6,000 people have my record, it's bizarre.

T: At any given time, somebody could be listening to the Tegan and Sara record.

S: It humbles you. You know what, it's a struggle, and it's a lot of work. We're all out here at these festivals [CMJ] trying to work our music and get people to listen to us, but I am successful everyday that I get up, because I sold another 300 records this week. It's amazing. It's like Tegan was saying, you just inspire people. Even when all the s**t goes down and all this stuff happens and you're, like, "Maybe I should do this and maybe I should do that, or are we worth this," you have to go, "Wow, that kid from wherever e-mails me and says that your record has inspired them to be strong and independent."

T: It makes things fun and interesting. You know what, I have a good job, and even the days I feel negative, I chose to be here, and I don't feel forced to be here. The way that people have responded, we are already successful. I always try to prep my family and friends. It's, like, "Don't be sad if we don't become big rock stars, okay, because we are really happy with the level that we are at and we are really happy that things have gone this way." It's not all we want.

mt: What more do you want?

S: Japan, Australia, and Europe.

T: I just want to see the world, whether or not people are there to see us, we want to see them and just continue as we are. I want to see people everywhere. It doesn't have to be 20,000 people, even a couple hundred people makes me excited.

mt: Do you guys ever get homesick?

T: Oh my God. The moment that I'm on the way to the airport (sniffle, sniffle) and ten days before we go on tour, I get so sick to my stomach. I hate leaving home.

mt: So, is it tough to keep in touch with friends?

T: Friends, definitely. I make a larger effort with my family and people that are really close to me, but the certain friends that are like, "Hey buddy, want to hang out," I don't talk to those people usually when I'm out on tour.

S: Sometimes drop an e-mail.

T: It's not even that it is hard to keep in touch with people, it's hard to keep in touch with the whole picture, the whole life. I spend 8 weeks talking about myself, living myself, playing my music, thinking about me, being sad for me, talking about me, hearing about me, doing me, me, me, me, me. I get home, and the world has changed and things are moving on and people have moved. You get home and think that everything is going to be exactly where it was, and it's not. That's the hardest part. I've had to, and successfully done so, convinced myself that I'm not missing something. I am choosing to be here, and my life goes with me, and there are parts all over the place. It's still there and it is never not there. My health is there. I used to f**k around with myself and be like, when this is all that I can see, then this is all that is going on right now. When I move a block and I can see more, that starts up. Everything is just waiting for me to get there. I tried to convince myself of that when I started music.

Regardless of whether Tegan and Sara end up as career musicians, it is certain that the two will be making an impact wherever their lives take them. Furthermore, the people that they have inspired along the way will be grateful.

What do you want to do when you are thirty?

T: I don't know, and that's why I'm playing music. If I knew what I was going to do, I would not be playing music. If I had something I wanted to do, I would just do it. We've talked about going to school or getting into the business. I love my agents. They have a fun job and lots of stuff in the business that's really cool. I always used to say that I wanted to get married and have kids and work at a grocery store and obviously, I am doing the farthest thing from that right now. There is something simple about that, and there is something inside of me that is just way too complicated. There is something way too complicated about our job and our lives, and there is something confusing about it. You get forced to take yourself way to seriously when you are in this business, like, "I'm a reporter or I'm an A&R for EMI, and I'm this and that." You know what, we're silly, and it's not cool and there's nothing fun about getting into a vehicle every night, so I definitely see myself doing something else, but, for right now, I am more than satisfied. Hungry, but satisfied.