Canadian Musician Magazine
January/February 2003, Vol. XXV No. 1
By Kevin Young
Tegan and Sara
Thanks to Tin-Gee at firstname.lastname@example.org for sending the article to me.
Beginning their careers at 17 after being entered into Calgary's "Garage Warz" battle of the bands without their knowledge, Vancouver-based singer/songwriters, Tegan and Sara, have gained a reputation as media favourites. Brutally candid on stage and off, the 22-year-old twins have toured extensively in support of their major label debut, 2000's This Business of Art, and their new release, If It Was You. Featuring the production talents of New Pornographers, John Collins and Dave Carswell, the album is a change of pace for the two. It's more rock, but as they say themselves point out, it's more a slight change in instrumentation than direction.
When I caught up with them during their "Born In The Eighties" tour at Vancouver's Richard's on Richards they'd recently returned from a US swing with Ryan Adams. Sara's running late and with only half an hour or so before sound check I ask Tegan if she'd mind starting without her. I have a fair number of questions, not the least of which concerns an incident involving a closed swimming pool, several cops and the search for a hotel pass key in Halifax.
"Fuck her," she says, not missing a beat. Moments later Sara walks in...
Canadian Musician: Just going to the bio for a second, does friendly bickering ever erupt into bloodshed for you two?
Tegan: Never on stage. We aren't physically violent with each other anymore. When we were teenagers we'd get into the odd brawl.
Sara: I think our friends fought more physically and we fought more emotionally.
T: Yeah, we'd scream, obsessively irritate one another, taunt one another...
CM: Not now?
T: Well, we're still like that, but we're trying not to do it on stage, It became kind of a schtick. People were like; "Let's go see Tegan and Sara; they've got good music, they're funny as hell and they fight." We're trying to control it a bit more.
CM: How do you blow off steam on the road?
S: We work out. I'm probably the most active I've been since I was 15, and I go to casinos.
CM: Anything else?
T: Making fun of our tour manager. We broke, like, 17 men in two years and we're on the way to breaking poor Nick [Blasko]. Seriously, that's an Olympic sport in our band.
CM: You've been out with some very big names.
T: Yeah, when we released our last record in 2000 we did six weeks with Neil Young and The Pretenders. Then we did a tour with Rufus Wainright and some other opening gigs. We've toured pretty extensively in the US; that's where they've mainly focused us.
CM: The Neil Young and Pretenders tour must have been...
T: It was okay I guess. [Laughing] It's one of those things - it's impossible, when you're in the midst of it, to actually take it in, Unless you want to act like a big, fuckin' goof. You just kind of fly by the seat of your pants and try not to act like a fool.
CM: And act like you're not opening for legends?
T: Yeah, like you're not hanging out with Chrissie Hynde and playing basketball.
S: While you're doing it, it seems really normal.
CM: Any particular moment stand out?
T: Tue tour was pretty laid back. The other acts had a very small entourage. Nothing exciting had happened and then, in Toronto, Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam came and at the end of the show Chrissie Hynde said we should go to the CNE with her and...Eddie Vedder. You know just hanging out with Chrissie Hynde and Eddie Vedder.
S: [Chiding] They had an entourage of 20 other people; it's not like they specifically had to take us.
T: Chrissie Hynde threw her arm around us and said, "You little shits are gonna come ride roller coasters with us."
CM: How long have you been out on tour?
S: Since September, we finished the record in spring and did some Canadian festivals. We were traveling in a minivan, which was shitty. Now we're in a 15-passenger van. It's not much different because we keep all our gear in there so it's like...
T: So it's like a minivan.
S: It's fine.
T: It's fuckin' dangerous.
S: We were talking the other day in...[Snapping fingers at Tegan] What was our last show? Portland. There was some band playing next door and they had a fuckin' tour bus. I mean we are the only people on earth who cannot get a tour bus.
T: Obviously if we threw a tantrum or something, maybe we could, but we're obsessed with not spending money.
S: We don't use tour support in Canada.
CM: What about overseas touring?
S: We did a random kind of "Hi, nice to meet you, well, anyway," promo tour.
T: It was fuckin' not like that at all.
S: Yeah, but anyways, we went to Paris and London, did a couple shows in Germany and...
T: Oh, we played that one show...
S: With that German...
T: A German Death Metal band with huge burning figurines on stage. The pictures are so hilarious. You can't even see us; there's so much smoke.
CM: Any international releases?
T: Japan was really into it. We’re signed to Neil Young's label, Vapor Records, and they were distributed through ADA. Then they were distributed through Warner everywhere else, and Vapor hadn't really had any big releases, but literally the day we handed them If It Was You they signed a deal with Sanctuary. Now BMG's distributing, and they're all over it, at every show, at every in-store.
CM: So you signed and American deal first?
T: The deal with Vapor is international rights, excluding Canada.
S: It only gives us the option to license the record.
T: We licensed to Universal.
CM: But originally you were on Mercury?
T: We did a demo deal with them. They put us in the studio to do a few tapes and nothing really happened, which is totally cool. We were 17 and 18 years old, but the producer that did the demo, Jerry Kuemper, did Under Feet Like Ours.
S: We privately put that out.
CM: Neil Young’s manager said, “You’re cute, funny, sweet, interesting, talented musicians and easy to sell, but you’re brutally sarcastic as well.”
T: If we wanted to, Sara and I could put the boob tops on and be the cute folk thing, but we’re not interested in that. At the same time, when we’re bored we go into interviews and act like that. Like, [adopts an airhead voice], “Yeah, it’s rilly great. We rilly like what we do.” When we’re not feeling that way we swear, and act like absolute idiots. I think it gives it a bit of flavour. It definitely keeps our fans and some of the people that work with us entertained. We don’t get misquoted often.
CM: One of the quotes I came across was, “We only make a record, and that’s before our management takes their cut and only once we’ve recouped hundreds of thousands of dollars to our record company. If you look at the big picture, if you really want our CD maybe you should just download it and spend your money on our T-shirts instead.”
S: We were talking about this yesterday in a radio interview. I have to be honest with you, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about how you can’t walk into Chapters, photocopy a book and walk out. No matter how you look at it, it is stealing, but when I was 15 we didn’t have the Internet. I didn’t even have a computer that was fuckin’ usable. I didn’t have money. It was a random thing when I would buy music, yet I loved bands and I was constantly looking for new music. So to be 15 years old and know that I could have gone on the Internet and searched Web sites for bands and discover music that way. It’s amazing.
T: But it’s still stealing.
S: It’s still stealing, but if you’re 15 years old and your not going to buy it anyway it’s amazing.
T: I think the record industry is obsessing over downloading music because they put out really shitty music for too long and now no one wants to buy records. The only people who aren’t selling records are the people who unfortunately kind of get pigeonholed and don’t get marketed. Downloading? I think it just benefits you. Ninety per cent of the people who download your music will buy your record and come to your shows. It’s just a matter for feeling like they’re getting something that’s worth their money.
S: Even if you are 15 years old and you can’t come to our shows, you can’t afford our merchandise or CD, it’s cool that you’re listening to our music.
T: The majority of the records we sold last time in the US were because of the Internet.
S: I would say – if you take money out of it – the Internet us going back to the way it should be – it’s about word of mouth and discovering things by accident. On the other hand, we are trying to make a living. I don’t care when people download things, it’s when people e-mail me saying, “I downloaded your CD and I want all your lyrics.” I’ll tell them to buy the CD; the lyrics are in there. I’ve had people go so far as to say music is this global thing and they don’t understand why ticket prices are so high and they shouldn’t have to pay. Fuck you. I’m trying to make a living here. Steal my music but don’t fuck around with my money on tour.
T: I had a girl come up to come up after one of the Ryan Adams shows and she’s like; “I think a really good idea would be if you burned copies of your discs and gave them out at the door as people were leaving.” And I’m like, “Why?” and she says, “Because then people would have your music.” They just saw me. If they want they can buy it or download it.
S: It is a really complex issue though.
T: You can’t control it; you may as well just let it go.
CM: Tell me about the recording process.
T: We did pre-production for about a month. John and Dave, they’d come to our horrible rehearsal space and they’d be like (yelling) SOUNDS GOOD. I don’t think anybody actually knew what the songs sounded like until we recorded. We dent to Galiano and spent a week on drums and bass and guitar. Then we left John and Dave there for another three or four days, so that’s 10, 11 days. Then we were in The Factory in Vancouver. WE did 10 days there, took a couple days off – John did some editing at home, then 12 days at Greenhouse, mixing.
CM: Any more recording at that point?
T: We had to do some vocals, guitar and shaker for “Time Running”. We sampled some of the stuff off our demos that we’d done. The mastering was done in LA.
CM: You said in another interview that there was less apprehension this time.
S: I think there’s this far that…What?
T: There’s a huge bug on your scarf.
We pause briefly to search but find nothing, so we go on, bug and all.
S: We recorded digitally, but on tape as well. John and Dave are very quiet. They didn’t say much. Sometimes they’d be like, (whispering) “Tape.” Sometimes they’d be like; “Computer.” We used as much tape as we could with our budget.
CM: this record is a bit of a departure for you.
T: What’s funny is that we play our old songs in our set and people say, “They sound so different.” All we did was add electric guitar. We started with a loud band with electric guitar. We were 15 and drunk and screaming through a bad PA. We stripped it down to acoustic guitar because our producer really liked our voices and the harmonies. It was a very natural progression. He was like, “ You write good songs, you have good voices, you sing well together; let’s highlight that.” The next record, Hawksley Workman came in and he didn’t think it was folk music at all. He said, “I think people are pigeonholing you in the wrong genre. You’re singer/songwriters, but you fuckin’ rock out.” So we did a record with him and it took us nine days: He was brilliant: He played all the drums and bass, mixed for a week and mastered for two days and everyone called it folk, but I think it sounds like a rock record.
S: I wanted to do more of a fun record. I felt like this whole acoustic guitar, singer/songwriter thing wasn’t fun. We were listening to a lot of Cyndi Lauper and The Police and we’re like, “We wanna bounce,” but it just seemed so nerdy to say. Then we met John and Dave and they were like, “It’s not nerdy. Do something different. Don’t worry about what genre you belong to. Just do it.”
T: It would have sounded completely different with anyone else. They didn’t stop where they thought we should stop. We’d do three electric guitar parts, an acoustic, put all the vocals in, disappear for two days and we’d come back and we had baritone guitars and keyboard parts.
S: They encouraged us to try different things.
CM: They did a lot of playing on the record?
T: They did. They brought in people to do the organ. The wailing guitar part on “I Hear Noises”, I don’t even know how my fingers could do that. They spent a lot of time layering baritone guitars and shit like that. Sonically, they rally filled it in.
S: It was cool of them to…
T: It’s still there.
S: Will you just get it off? Is it a bug? Are you sure?
Much shaking of the scarf follows – any bug that was there is surely gone now.
T: I think you’re like, totally fucking manic.
S: I’m not manic. That’s not a bug; it’s just a fuzzy. Anyway, I’m a big fan of the New Pornographers. They listened to those songs acoustically and I knew that they were hearing something. I can remember John looking at me and saying, “I’m excited by this.” He was comparing us to something that I hadn’t ever heard, but that we did grow up with – and people are always gonna hear what we grew up with.
T: And people are always going to compare women to all the other women. We’re all going to get [compared to] Alanis Morissette, or, when we were more folky, Ani Difranco; things we didn’t grow up with. Even with all the new press we’re getting, people are just referring to the fact that we don’t sound like these people. Most people don’t take what we say and actually use it. They have these long interviews with us and they reprint the bio and all the same useless shit over and over again. Instead of saying that we managed ourselves for two years…
CM: You’re not self-managed now, though?
T: No, we signed on management about a month and a half ago now. We’re just working out the kinks. Sara and I are very on top of things. I don’t give up money and a percentage without making sure they’re capable, but some people don’t write about those things or the fact that we love music. They write about image. They leave you with their opinion on the industry, but not necessarily and opinion on your music or what your tour is like.
S: This is the one thing I…
T: Mostly because they’re planning what their saying, like Sara.
S: Come on, the only people who care about that shit are people who write reviews and get reviewed. I loved the Smashing Pumpkins and it wouldn’t matter if someone said, “This is the worst band on the face of the Earth.” It was something else to cut up and put on my wall.
T: I think ripping people apart because you had a bad day or you don’t like the record company – just take five seconds to realize that we are all doing something that someone believes in – I just think it puts a bad vibe out there and I think that a lot of Canadian musicians outside Canada just shake their heads. They feel sorry for them for eating their own, for abusing them when they get famous. We trap our musicians and we eat them and then we put their heads up on our wall. I think Bryan Adams is an example. Ryan Adams get written up for kicking some guy out of a show for asking for a Bryan Adams song and all of a sudden everyone is like, “Oh, why does everybody hate Bryan Adams?” Fuck man, Bryan doesn’t even tour in Canada – you threw him out a long time ago.
CM: How long have you been playing and writing?
T: We played piano form the time we were 8 to 15 and then started playing guitar and writing. We took classical conservatory. I could never write on a piano again, that’s for sure.
CM: It’s the pencil scratching behind you during the exams.
T: Yeah, talk about stress.
CM: You write separately. Did you ever write together?
T: Right at the beginning, but we’re fiercely different.
CM: Another quote, “Tegan is prolific and writes like a fish lays eggs and Sara is more methodical, but her songs inevitably end up making the record.” Accurate?
T: Definitely, I think I wrote so much that some of my songs became disposable. It almost took away the value of them to me and to everyone else. Whereas Sara would push one out, like EEEEAAAHH, and it would come out and everyone would be like, “Yaaaaaaay.” I’d have 100 eggs in front of me and Sara would have one. That’s part of the reason we don’t write well together. On this record, Sara brought six or seven songs to the table and five got on. I brought 400 and we picked through them.
CM: Yet you don’t credit tunes individually on record?
S: They’re our songs. They’re Tegan and Sara’s.
CM: What happens after one of you writes and song and brings it to the other?
T: I think we’ve always had a song almost complete when we’ve bought it to each other. I’d phone Sara’s voicemail and leave songs on there. Using Pro Tools just like when we were 15 and had a ghetto blaster – just like voicemail. It gave us the opportunity to listen in our town time. It just helped the process. There were hardly any arguments.
CM: Anything you’d change for the next recording?
S: I would love to have more time. It would be nice to be in a place economically where that was possible. I feel like we’re really getting somewhere and excited to see what would happen if we let it flesh out and breathe a bit.
CM: Speaking of time, I should let you go, but first, on your site you tell a story about smashing in a door to a hotel pool and having to run form the police – true?
T: It’s about 70 per cent true.
S: I did go table to table in this casino asking people for their room keys so we could get into the pool. We asked this janitor how to get in and he’s like, “I don’t know. Break the door down.” Then we went to the front desk and there was nobody there, so we were trying to program a room key. I don’t; know why someone didn’t kick us out.
T: Sara did leave the part out where Rob, Chris and her were wrestling and Chris threw her onto the bed, but she completely missed the bed and nearly broke her back.
S: our tour manager flipped out. I remember vaguely – I was very drunk – Chris slammed me down, missed the bed and I landed on my back. And then Nick was like, “ENOUGH OF THIS, JESUS CHRIST!” He thought I’d broken my back.
CM: Barring accidentally maiming each other on tour, what’s next for you?
T: In January we’re doing more Canadian and American stuff, February is looking like it will be America. The record comes out in the UK and Europe on March 2nd so we’re going to release a single there in December. It’s gonna be international touring and then back to Canada.
Prior to the Richard’s show, I’d never seen the two and their band live, but Ill see them again next chance I get. They’re as irreverent on stage as off and, unlike bands who blast through their sets as if they’re afraid the beer is going to get warm if they play too long, Tegan and Sara proceed almost leisurely, taking time in between songs to tell the odd story (odd meaning both occasional and strange), berate each other form time to time and generally, to all appearances, have a wicked good time.
You get the sense the audience not only got their money’s worth, and still wants more. Not because they expect an encore, but because they really want one because Tegan and Sara have great songs, are caustically funny and engaging as hell. And, though it’s been a while since the bickering truly erupted into bloodshed, the bickering is damned entertaining.
Kevin Young is keyboardist for David Usher and Moist.
Tegan and Sara:
Band – Gear – Web
Tegan Quin – Guitar and Vocals
Sara Quin – Guitar and Vocals
Chris Carlson – Bass
Rob Chursinoff – Drums
Tegan and Sara play Martin acoustic guitars, and share a Epiphone electric on stage.
Find Tegan and Sara online at