Date: July 15th-28th, 2003
Author: Erik Fong
Publication: perfectpitchonline.com, Volume 1, Issue 8
Headline: Double Your Canadian Pleasure
Twin sisters Tegan and Sara answer our questions before we even get the chance to ask them.
Canadian entertainment suffers from terrible extremes. For every Kids in the Hall or Bret "Hitman" Hart that puts the country in a favorable light, there's a Celine Dion or an Alanis Morrissette that cancels out the positive elements and returns our otherwise kind northern neighbor to an overall neutral-at-best position. But now you can chalk one up for Canada in the "W" column - in fact, mark it twice, since Calgary natives and pop rockers Tegan and Sara are twins. And unless we find out that Matthew Perry has a long lost identical twin brother, we can relax for a bit and remind ourselves that Canada doesn't purposely flush its waste down south and into the sewage collection facility known as American entertainment. Neighbors don't do that to each other. Do they?
Though only in their early twenties, Tegan and Sara have mastered the art of the hook. For proof, look no further than the girls' latest album, If It Was You, a solid display of intelligent, simple and catchy melodic hooks backed by acoustic guitars for sonic thickness, electric guitars for embellishment and bouncy drum patterns in should-be-hits like "You Went Away," "Living Room," "Underwater" and "City Girl."
Last year, Tegan and Sara passed through San Francisco with a slot opening for Ryan Adams at The Warfield. In front of a dead silent, wide-eyed capacity crowd, the twins put on a memorable performance, even backed by Mr. Adams himself on a handful of songs. But the most memorable element of the show was how easily the pair opened up to the audience, telling the thousand in attendance stories about an old boyfriend who broke up with one of them and then changed his phone number on the same day, or even the time they got kicked out of therapy sessions in high school for calling the therapist a motherfucker.
With a new enhanced CD version of If It Was You -complete with a new track, music videos and tour documentaries filmed by the girls themselves- in stores now, Tegan and Sara will stop in San Francisco on July 15 for a show at Café du Nord. As the eight-minutes-older sister Tegan hauled through Oregon on the way to the next tour stop with her sister and the rest of their band, she was kind enough to share some more of her stories with us. Stories of high school, veterinarial ambitions, and even stories of sharing stories.
How are things?
Pretty good. I had a Denny's breakfast this morning that's sitting fairly well, and we just watched a really funny movie in the car called Slackers. Last night in Seattle was awesome. The show was packed. We have a band from Victoria that we know opening for us called Jets Overhead, and they're a lot of fun. Sara woke up with some hives yesterday, and we're monitoring her breathing just in case, so she's been feeling crappy, but I think things will be better soon.
You seem very comfortable on stage talking to people you don't know, which isn't normally what musicians do. You're practically willing to talk about anything…
I think it's typical that musicians are shy weirdos, and getting up onstage was definitely a big deal for us. It seemed like from the first time we got up there, the more we talked, the more comfortable we felt, and the more comfortable [the audience] felt. So, I think you're leading into a question about if that ever poses any problems?
Maybe. Fine, just go ahead and tell me how to do my job.
[laughs] We really do enjoy talking to our audience, but it does seem like a portion of our audience is very demanding, because they feel they know us. Things can get - not out of hand - but we do have people who come up to us after shows and want more, so sometimes it does pose a problem. We've tried to learn how to make it into a part of the show so people understand that it's just something that we do onstage, we're not really looking to go for drinks after the show or sit in the audience and hang out. That's not really our personalities. We're really introverted; we don't really party, we really just like to go to the hotel room and go to bed. [When we first started], we'd get off the stage and sign merchandise and hang out, we were very much in contact with our fans all the time. Whatever they needed, we were there for them, and we try to do as much of that as we can - that's why we got into filming the documentaries [on our CD reissue] and doing mailing lists and writing journal entries. We wanted people to still feel close to us, but at the same time, we did want to put that barrier up; personal contact isn't necessarily always going to be there. I think the risk of being that intimate [onstage] is worth it. It feels like our audience has a lot of respect for us because we're not just going up there and blasting through a 45-minute set and then going home.
Gotten in any fights with your sister lately?
We kind of get snippy at each other at sound check sometimes, but we get along pretty well most of the time. We talk in circles and we're really annoying, and we end up annoying each other. Like I said, we're kind of shy, so we don't like to fight with other people, and with all the aggression that we feel towards everyone else, we sometimes take it out on each other. We share a hotel room and every once in a while we get into pushing matches, but otherwise we're pretty good. We play it up to be a bit more than it really is. We haven't fought as much since Sara moved to Montreal. We've gotten the space that we needed to be our own people.
What was high school like?
We were shy and kept to ourselves, but at the same time we liked to talk and perform, so if you got us going, we liked to chat. We were a bit obnoxious and a little out of control; we skipped school a lot and had fun. We don't party these days, but we did party a bit in high school. We had jobs, we volunteered, and my mom's a therapist so we had a really good, open-minded household. If you plumped us down in maybe a more anal, strict family, we would've been out of control, but in our family, my mom was okay with us going to parties as long as we called her to pick us up. My dad got us a cab card so we could go out when we were 17 or 18 years old, because you can drink in Calgary when you're 18 as long as you use a cab card. They gave us restrictions, but in a way where we didn't feel we needed to rebel, so we weren't very rebellious. My mom had us when she was 21, so they were young parents and really into music and encouraged us to listen to music, took us to concerts, bought us our first guitars and our PA system. We used to have big parties and gigs in our garage and my parents would serve drinks. They were pretty into it.
For your first release, you were billed as "Sara and Tegan." Why the switcheroonie?
Yeah, we did 1,000 initial copies [of the first CD] under the name "Sara and Tegan." But when we hired management, they brought up a really good point: When you say "Sara and Tegan," it all bleeds together like one name, but when you say "Tegan and Sara," you can hear that it's two names. There are a lot of Sara musicians in Canada like Sara Harmer and Sarah McLaughlin, so we decided to swap it around and see how it works. We reprinted the record and it kind of just went from there. Even though we came up with just using our names, it was an accident. We applied for a contest and they wanted to know our names - they really wanted a band name, but we gave them our names. I think if we'd known that, we would've actually had a band name instead of going by our names.
What band name would you choose if you could go back in time?
Well, our first band was called "Plunk" because we considered ourselves "light punk"… but I don't know what we'd call ourselves. Since we're twin sisters and the only girls in the band, everyone always refers to us as "the girls," like "the girls are in the hotel," so I always make jokes that we're going to start a band called "The Girls."
What did you want to be when you were little? That is, before you decided to be a musician.
Well, I have yet to decide if I want to be a musician. [laughs] I always wanted to be a veterinarian, and then I found that you had to go away to school; there wasn't a school in Calgary, so I was sad. But when I was about 15, I stopped wanting to be a veterinarian and kind of wanted to be a therapist or a social worker like my mom. Then I just didn't want to do anything - I wanted to find a job where I did nothing, and I thought music was going to be that, but it's actually really hard work. I'm actually putting together a resume and applying for some jobs.