Author: Tim Cashmere
Tegan & Sara don't do interviews. They have conversations. As you'll soon read, growing up together as twin sisters has given the Canadian rockers a comfort zone with each other which translates into their interviews. As you read on you will find out a bit about their new album 'If It Was You' and a lot about how they get on with other. Both sides of the story are interesting.
Tegan & Sara spoke to Undercover's Tim Cashmere.
Sara Quin: I left my wallet in someone's car since I've been here and I lost my camera last night…
Tim Cashmere: So you've had a great time so far in Australia?
SQ: I actually have had a good time, I just really forget. Sometimes I go through these phases where I'm really forgetful and I get nervous because everyone makes fun of me, then it's a nervous tick and I think "Oh my god! Where did that go?" and I can't ask anybody because they'll get mad at me.
TC: You could ask your "Australian aunt" about it… or your "Spanish aunt"… or your aunt from…
Tegan Quin: Wherever we happen to be at the time?
TC: That's right! I'm going to be at tonight's show, so I'm going to be watching carefully if you'll be telling the same stories [as last night].
SQ: We probably won't tell the same stories…
TQ: We rarely do and if we do it's different. We've told stories at the beginning of this record that we've kind of gone back to but they've changed because they're always open to interpretation especially if its about our childhood or our relationship. It always changing as someone else will give us perspective, so we change it and mum will say "That never happened!" Well tell the stories more bigger because it's a lie now.
TC: You have to be quite intelligent to pull off a lie because you have to remember the facts that you've made up…
TQ: Yeah, we're brilliant! Geniuses!
SQ: My dad used to open up photo albums and stuff and you'd have to tell a story about the picture but you couldn't tell the truth so you had to make up a story about whatever you were looking at. He really taught us how to lie.
TQ: He admitted when he opens up the photo album that he doesn't even know what the real story is that happened or the story that we made up when we were kids, so his memory has been clouded by all our lying as well.
TC: But he really bought that upon himself…
TQ: Oh for sure. He didn't blame it on anyone but himself for sure.
TC: Well what I thought was a cool story was on http://www.teganandsara.com, in the diary entry about the kids. I don't know who put that in…
TQ: Are we talking about when Sara is in the airport with the kids?
TQ: Yeah, that's Sara right there! Rage-aholic!
SQ: I had a terrible fight with those kids. I don't remember exactly what I wrote about them, but I had a terrible experience.
TQ: They said they were going to kill her!
SQ: Yeah, these little kids that were sitting next to me on the plane and they didn't have their parents with them and they were telling me they wanted to cut my head off and they were being crazy. The flight attendants were really busy on that flight and they didn't take care of them like they were supposed to, so I was wiping their hands off and taking them to the bathroom and it was terrible, but they were like threatening me and stuff, they were crazy little kids.
TC: But you still managed to…
SQ: I got there alive! They got there alive! That was the feat that they got there alive because I was going to kill them a couple of times.
TC: So they obviously didn't actually follow through with their threats…
SQ: They were five and they had no cutting utensils.
TC: Haven't you seen 'Home Alone'?
SQ: [laughs] That's true. He wasn't five though. These kids were like little kids. They were depending on me and they kept telling me… this isn't funny… but they were telling me that they were going away for the summer and we were like "Why are you going away?" and they were saying "Our mum and dad needed a break!" They were telling us their parents needed a break from them! It was terrible!
TC: Did they know where they were going or did their parents just take them to the airport and put them on the first available flight to anywhere?
SQ: No, they were going to visit their aunt.
TC: Let's talk about the album 'If It Was You'. There are a lot of different sounds going on, how do you piece together all these different things?
[Phone ringing in the background]
SQ: When we went into the rehearsal stages... we started rehearsing… when we got into the rehearsal phase…
TQ: Do you want me to answer the question, are you having trouble concentrating? SQ: No, but the noise is driving me crazy…
[Sara's phone rings]
SQ: Oh excuse me for a second!
TG: I'll answer the question!
SQ: It's for you…
TQ: Oh, Sara will answer the question! NO MORE PHONE CALLS!
SQ: Okay, for real, real interview now! When we went into the rehearsal space, we took the songs acoustically, but we were putting our acoustic guitars through an amp, so they started to sound more electric and more rock and that sort of thing. All the differences were consistent because we were playing with the same instruments. Even though the songs had different energies and that, we had an idea of how they were going to sound. The producers that we worked with on the album, they were more like rock producers and they didn't really know what Tegan and I had done in the past. They felt like it was going to be consistent for us to rule the roost a little bit and tell them what we wanted and we'd say "Well we were thinking about this…" and they'd shout "That's right!" and they'd strap a guitar on us and throw us out there and we'd start playing and they were really helpful. I feel like the songs had a really different vibe when we started but they had some continuity to them…
TC: I like 'Living Room', it's kind of folky.
SQ: 'Living Room' was really interesting. It is kind of folky. It sounded really different in the pre-production stage and we recorded it right away. We weren't happy with it and we were thinking of cutting it off the record. We ended up leaving it with John and Dave who produced the record who took all the electric guitars out of it and edited the drums a little bit differently. It gave it a completely different sound and all of the sudden it was just drums and the acoustic guitar and this guy Ezra who had played banjo. So we asked him if he could play something on 'Living Room'. It was a couple of hours and he just came in and started doing something and we were like "Oh it sounds kind of spooky and whatever" and it was great. A couple of weeks later we went back and listened to the song and it sounded so much better. We started to build on that, so it was kind of a fun song because we weren't even sure if it was going to be on the album. It's a good song though because it comes near the end and it lets the record breathe a little bit better.
TC: Do you play it live?
SQ: We play it live, but we play it different. We play it with electric guitar and no banjo, so it's got a completely different feeling. I think it's a great song live though, it's got a great feeling… it's definitely way more rock though.
TC: I'm going to ask the sort of question where you guys go "Oh, not this question again…" but I'm going to talk about Neil Young. How did he get you [signed to his label, Vapor Records]?
SQ: Well there was this artist, I don't know if he did anything in Australia, but he was a Canadian artist named Hayden who in the late 90's had a bidding war. He was just coming out and one of the labels that approached him was Neil Young's label and he ended up not signing with that label. When we started working with Hayden's management and we started shopping for a record deal, Tegan and I didn't want to sign with a major, we wanted to sign with a smaller label and they suggested that we send something into Vapor because of the association with Neil and because it was a small label. They had really enjoyed working with them and Hayden, so we sent them a package and Elliot Roberts who manages Neil called us and said "We want to come down and see you guys play, we think its great and we love it and we just have this feeling about you." Elliot is great, he's been working with Neil for thirty years. He's like a mogul in the industry… don't make a… he is asking a question!
TQ: What did I do?
SQ: You snored!
TQ: No! I just sniffed!
SQ: God! You're such an asshole!
TQ: I didn't even do anything!
SQ: You snored I heard you!
TQ: I didn't snore at all I just cleared my throat… fucking… hmph!
SQ: Anyway so he uhh… he signed us! That was it and a few months later when the deal was going through and whatever, Neil was totally into it. It's his label, so he has to be. He asked if we wanted to open for him, so when we were signing the record deal we spent a lot of time with him and it was a very cool first experience for us. It was like a family thing because we'd just signed and we were out on the road… there wasn't a cold sign that was just about money or whatever, it was like "Welcome to the family, now you can come on the road with us!"
TC: Is it better being on an artist-run label?
SQ: It's still a record label. I think it's better to be on this label where it's smaller. It's not necessarily about money, I mean they still want to make money, but they've invested a lot of money into us and not got anything back yet. They're still willing to put more money in. I think they have a lot of patience, because they don't have twenty acts doing this that they're putting thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars into… they have us. I think they're willing to be a little bit more patient. It's more old-school for sure. Elliot talks a lot about "Back in the day when I started working with Neil…" I think their goal is to couple some of the old ideals from the sixties and seventies and remain consistent with today's market and then try to develop us. That didn't mean selling millions and millions of records, it's sort of like making good music and being genuine artists.
TC: So you guys are almost like pioneers?
SQ: I don't know about pioneers, but I think that we definitely are in the minority. There are millions of really great indie labels and I think that by our lack of self-esteem and such, we weren't going "We're going to be the next big band, we have to sign a record deal." We weren't like that. We were like "We're not really sure what we want to do yet." We ended up on a small label and we have realised that that's the best thing for us right now. I don't feel like a pioneer, I just feel like we got really lucky to be associated with really great people and do it the proper way.
TC: You two are sisters… in case you hadn't worked that out for yourselves yet…
TQ: Oh thank you!
SQ: We're sisters?
TC: If I was in a band traveling around with my sister, I would've shot her by now. How do you do it? TQ: You learn over time. I think as you get older and you want to learn how not to push your families buttons, you learn how not to deal with them and stuff. TC: I'm still learning that trick… TQ: Oh yeah, I think it takes a lifetime to learn how to do it, but for sure I think even in the last few months we've learnt how to accommodate each other a little bit more. There is a certain amount of stress that you wouldn't have if you didn't have a sibling on the road, but at the same time, there's a certain amount of security in knowing that we can ignore each other or we can be annoyed at each other, but it doesn't mean that we're going to quit. I know I can show up at the club and she's not going to be AWOL. There's security in knowing that she can be dependant and she loves me and cares about me and sometimes when you're dealing with people like managers or even record companies or the band or whatever, you never know when you're going to get the call saying "Yeah, you're not paying me enough, see you later." Sara can't say that. TC: Well, she could if she really wanted to. TQ: She could if she wanted to, but then she'd be disowned from the family and I would become the favourite. TC: Do you know any jokes while my unprepared self subtly glances down at my question sheet? SQ: No I don't! What band is your shirt? TC: Asian Dub Foundation… do you know them? SQ: Nope! TQ: They were playing at Fuji Festival when we played there. TC: How was Fuji? TQ: It was cool, really fun. We flew in, landed at night, drove out to the festival site, went to bed, played the next morning, played in the afternoon, drove back into Tokyo, spent [the rest of the] afternoon there, slept or whatever, then the next day flew out. We were there maybe two and a half days so we didn't see anything. We didn't even get to see any of the big bands, like Eminem and Alanis Morrisette were playing and we didn't see anything. We saw a little bit of Ron Sexsmith and that's it! TC: I hear the Japanese audience is very different… TQ: They are! As soon as you come on stage they all stand up and they're really polite. They're a really good audience. It was really hot too and they all had white towels on their heads, so it was like a sea of white towels. TC: Is that the latest in fashion over there? TQ: Yeah I guess so, why not. TC: Maybe [in conjunction with my Japanese stereotyping] they were just holograms of white towels, with computer chips in them for no apparent reason… TQ: [laughs] Could very well be. They're very advanced there for sure. TC: But you didn't get to see Asian Dub Foundation and you have certainly missed out on a brilliant show! But that's all I have for you, so thanks for your time and I will see you tonight. T&S: Thank you.