Date: July 25, 2005
Headline: "Tegan and Sara: Ten dollar sandwiches, the NME and The Arcade Fire..."
Interview Date: 16/06/2005
Interviewers: Lellie and Trem
Tegan and Sara took a few minutes out of their recent visit to London to chat to Sonance about being back in the UK, the difference between the UK and US music scene and The Arcade Fire.
Following two support dates with Weezer at Brixton Academy, Tegan and Sara were preparing to play the 100 Club, on Oxford Street, London. They seemed glad to be back in the UK and Sara described how it felt to be supporting one of their favourite bands as teenagers. "We're excited just to be playing again, especially in London as we seem to have a pretty good following, we had a fun couple of shows the last time we were here. Weezer were good, you know? Opening is always kinda a weird thing. You always feel as though you're playing the hardest that you can play and people, cos they haven't seen you before they kinda respond in, you know like? The way that everyone responds to openers. Sometimes that can be like, intimidating but Weezer was one of our favourite bands growing up so we were just happy to be there and happy to be playing on the same stage with them and the fans are really nice and it was cool".
Tegan and Sara are due to return to London a few weeks for the wireless festival. Sara was looking forward to their first European Festival "It will be our first European festival so we're really excited. We've done quite a lot of festivals in North America but this will be our first, oh we've done Japan too I guess, but we're really excited. A lot of great bands playing and stuff." They haven't played outside of London in the UK recently, if at all. Sara explains the reasons for that. "Well, to be honest, there's lots of reasons, partly just being that, we're not exactly a well known band over here so it's really expensive for us to come over to Europe. The money, like your pound is worth almost twice as much as what we're used to in Canada and although we have the support of the record company, Sanctuary here, a lot of the money to tour and all of our expenses pretty much come out of our pockets. A lot of people think that when you have a record deal, that you're robbie williams or J-Lo or something and that you just like have a fur coat and you walk around and you stay in nice hotels but for us it's really expensive and the record label does a lot of promotion and they'll back our records and stuff but a lot of the actual touring and expenses, we have to pay for it. We get lots of frustrated emails, "oh how come you only ever play London?" so we're playing a couple more, like we're playing Madrid, Amsterdam and Paris this time and you know we hope that we'll come back. The goal is to come back in the fall and do a proper UK and European tour. Here's hoping it will work out." We returned to the subject again later in the interview, when Tegan has joined us "It's tough I mean, it's a little bit different. Everything seems like in context, when you're buying a sandwich and it only costs £3 - you're like £3 that's it!? but then when you think about it and it's actually six dollars I'm like "Jesus Christ!". With the Canadian Dollar it's even worse.. it's more than 2 times.. £3 is like a ten dollar sandwich to us. It's really expensive.. We could survive two weeks otherwise we might have to mortgage the house.. I suggested they ventured out of the expensive capital again, to Manchester where things are a little cheaper. "We're gonna try and come back and do a UK thing.. We'll probably try and do an opening tour and try and then hopefully get to a lot of different places opening for someone and then come back finally and do our proper own tour, right now we do alright here but everywhere else it would only be maybe a couple hundred people. It's just so expensive it wouldn't even cover our costs you know. Hopefully we'll come back about November and do an opening thing.. The labels just wanting us to put our time right. We're just stocking up a number of artists and hoping that we could go out with them."
So Jealous, Tegan and Sara's latest album was released in May, many months after it's US release. We asked Sara about the delay. "You know, we sat down initially and we said that we definately want to leave just 6 months space just for our own sanity. We're really a quite organic, like grass roots band in North America so it's not as easy as just putting out, doing a tour and being like "oh right, see you next time" you know? We have to really work it and tour it. We've already done like five tours over there for this record so we really just wanted to give us some time to focus on those home countries first and then the record label you know, just kept pushing it back and pushing it back and pushing back and so you know it's tough."
They described how tough the UK is for small bands like Tegan and Sara, compared to America."The UK especially. It's such a different market from what we're used to. It's all about singles.. That's how the record companies think and we're just like, who care's if we don't get in NME or we don't get on radio stations, we don't care! It's so different, and that's how we've always really focussed the project. We go on college radio and we organically tour and all of a sudden we've got on alternative radio. It's a very new thing to us, especially like the celebrity of the music industry over here, with the NME and all those magazines, it's just really different. People don't slag you as much in North America. I just feel like here, When people don't like you they're just fucking rude to you. and it's just like "Oh my God, it's mean!" That's why we're just trying to focus on the fans and the people who like us." We talked about the amount of promotion Tegan and Sara get over here. "It's kinda like a double edged sword. If they want to spend money on you then you've got to make money and so it's really tough. Besides the reviews in papers they don't really run a lot. We had a meeting yesterday and we're hoping to do more. We want to do more of what we do in North America here. We want to be more organic because the record label still think in terms of big things like TV and radio and big shows and I don't understand that."
In terms of size, Tegan and Sara have an audience which is in proportion to their stature, quite small. There's quite a difference between their American audience and their European audiences though despite the fact tonight's London show has been sold out for weeks. "Well in America we maybe would do venues between like 800 people and 1000 people so we're still quite a small band. I think of ourselves as a small band, we really do, but in terms of here we're like a grain of salt. Except that we put more people in a room than you know some people can put in their home cities. I know bands that when they play their home shows 50 people come, so you mean it's still quite a thrill to come all the way to London and have 300 people come out to see you. It sold out really fast, which is cool. You know, if I had to play to 300 for the rest of my life but I could make a living I wouldn't care. Even playing with weezer last night, as much as it's a thrill to see like 5000 people and they're all singing along and whatever I don't know if we're that kind of band. I just don't. I have to wonder sometimes if we were really just meant to play to a small audience and impact a small group of people, so you know, it doesn't disappoint me. When we play our own shows and it's like a thousand people, that's perfect. It's a big enough group of people that it's kind of exciting but it's small enough so that you can still talk to everyone and you can see if the people in the back aren't listening and you can be like "hey, listen to us!"."
Tegan and Sara's third album is much mellower than their earlier stuff. Is age getting to them? "Yeah I think so, we're just getting old and I think that when you're in a group when you're seventeen and you're putting out music, it's very like new and excited and it's like you're trying to get people's attention, but now we've really relaxed into what we feel as being our sound. When I listen to our old record I can hear the influences so clearly and when I listen to this record I'm starting to feel as if it's becoming our sound. Whether people think it or not we feel as if it's our sound. It's definately not as raw, but I think we're also getting better, although I guess in our minds, it depends what day it is, some days I want to go back and make an acoustic record or some days I want to go and make a fucking metal record. I just don't care. Not that I want to go and disappoint our fans but I have to realise that it's also what we want to make, you know and hopefully people still like it." It is also obvious that the latest album had more production than previous albums. We asked if this was their decision. "I think that there's a misconception that if you sound good you didn't want to be like that. I'm not interested in making a 5000 dollar record and having it sound like shit. If we were gonna spend money and go into the studio I want it to sound as good as it can possibly sound. When we were making So Jealous I looked around at the market place and looked around at radio and bands like Franz Ferdinand and Modest Mouse are all bands that sounds very polished. They may go spend 100 grand on their record or whatever. We knew we didn't have that kind of money to compete, but we knew that we could really make it sound like we were trying to compete with what was in the marketplace that sounds good, that sonically sounds good. It doesn't matter how produced we are, if you put us next to, if you play us after whatever, somebody famous on radio we sound lo-fi. Just like we might spend 10,000 dollars or 10,000 pounds on our video, but you play our video after the eminem video and we look like we made it in our back yard. It's always tough trying to compete. We're trying to stay relative to the marketplace but we also want it to sound how we want it to sound. I actually worried that it sounded less produced than our previous records. We were like "Does it sound like shit? I can't tell!".
Looking towards the future we discussed plans for the next album. "I think that the older I get, the more excited I get because I care less and less what will work, what will sell, so I think, oh we'll just get better. When we first signed our record deal we were 18 and we were hanging out with Neil Young's manager and he told us that you'll write your best music after you're thirty and I'm only 24 so I've got lots of record to put out, until I feel I'm ready for my best material. We're writing a bit. I don't write as much on the road just cos I feel that it's too distracted, too whatever, but Tegan's written a great bunch of songs, I just don't want to rush it. Not that we're gonna disappear after this record but I want to take proper time off and really want our next record to be great. I want to show up all those people that still need convincing that we're the real deal. I always felt that there were some things that held us back because people had misconceptions about us. So I really need to make a new record to put those people to, you know. Sara seemed shy when asked who she'd like to work with on the album. "I don't know if I could say them though just because it would be embarassing if they said they didn't want to work with me. There's lots of people. I like working with other musicians but my favourite thing is to work with producers. I don't mean producers like you know, people that write your music. Producing for me is such a collabrative process. Definately with producing the last record I realised that I love having other people collaborate. Once you've written and worked on a song and got some pre-production on the song it gives some input. It's like an editor. If you're writing a book every book has an editor, you know and essentially the producer is the editor and there's some really great producers that I would love to work with. Someone that's really weird and cool and eclectic. That's who I'd love to work with."
Tegan arrived in time to join the rest of the interview. I asked if they had input into choosing the artist who works with them on their artwork, merchandise and website. Sarah explains "Yeah, we get more and more mystified and horrified by artists that just hand it over to their record label. They tend to have the ugliest crap. Don't let someone in a suit, someone who is not an artist be an artist. I suppose if they want to at home but we've never let it up to chance. We've always wanted to have a say." Tegan adds "The cool thing about Emee, too is it's hard when you're a creative person and you see something. If you're an artist and I'm an artist and I say "This is what I'm thinking" and if you put it together it's like sometimes it's your influence that changes it. What's cool about her is that she takes ideas that we have and it really is almost as if she is inside of our heads, and that seems cliché or cheesy or something but sometimes I'd say something to her and she'd do it and I'd go "yeah that's exactly what I was thinking" so it's really cool.
Tegan and Sara have used repetition in their Song titles "I know, I know, I know" and "Monday, Monday, Monday". They both claim a song each. "We considered just calling it I know on the record so you wouldn't make the automatic, but there's some reoccuring themes in all our records. Some reheard lyrics in all our records. I always think that I didn't say it well enough the first time so I said it again to really send it home. So maybe in a sense maybe "I know, I know, I know" is ripping off "Monday, Monday, Monday". I feel musicians too, you either have a 3/4 count or 4/4 count so it's easy. If your song is in 3/4 time it's very easy to do things in threes or do things in fours. That's just a mathematical answer or something. When I was writing the melody or whatever, it was 3/4 so it's easy to repeat it."
Our coversation soon decends into chaos as soon as there are 4 of us chatting away merrily. Tegan and Sara were curious to know how we heard about them and the bands we like. We asked them who they like "Cerryn Ann, she's really cool. It's so funny it's probably the opposite of you guys. I have so many bands I like but they're just smaller American bands or Canadian bands so I don't know if you'd know them. The only Canadian band who has broken over here recently is The Arcade Fire. They seem to be doing well over here. They're huge everywhere right now." Tegan chips in "They're huge in a very indie way. I think that live, and depending on what mood they're in they're great. I've seen them a couple of times. For me what's starting to get on, is the live show, just like all the antics. The songs are so amazing, they're such well written songs in the first place, the structure. All the tossing each other around on stage thing starts to bug me a bit. But you know what, live is so important, you have to catch people's attention. That record is so amazing it probably would have gone on to be popular but it was their live show that got people's attention. It's so important to be good live these days with so much music coming out." We discuss how it's weird when some bands are big over here but not in America and how some bands that are very popular there, are unknown in the UK.
Tegan and Sara were keen to guage our opinion on the NME. "it's weird, I guess there's sort of an equivalent, I guess spin magazine is kind of the equivalent of NME. They don't focus on just one band, They kind of focus on one type of music. If you don't fit into that they're gonna slag you. The NME wrote such a vicious review of our record and they like the record but they trashed us because we're gay and they trashed us because we're girls and they trashed our hair. I just found it so sexist and so appalling." "There was a bunch of different reviews. There was a single of the week thing and then there was the review and then there was a blurb from when we were at SXSW and they review was really good but they said stuff like "they're fabulous even though they don't like cock" and stuff like that. why don't they just say they like the record and let it be? They were like "you've got a review from NME!!"" adds Tegan.. Sara goes on to say and it's being sexist and being objectified. That's just awful. It really offended me because there's no kind of responsibility. They can say whatever they want. What they read, being sexist and homophobic doesn't have the same kind of.. for instance they would never be racist, they were never slag you or be racist. For me, them being homophobic or sexist is just as vicious. And so they blatently rip you apart in this really sexist and homophobic way but they were like, "yeah good record". I was just like what the fuck? Fuck you. It's really hard because I want them to be in trouble. I want the moral police to come down and..."
They were keen to find out what else is cool to read over here, we were quick to promote the internet, as after all that is what Sonance is about. "I'm totally into the web thing, sometimes it can be annoying too because then there's so much power for anybody that wants power. For the ones that do it well, because it's not about ads. A lot of those magazines are supporting and reviewing bands that buy ads in the magazine So it's like if your record company spends 10 grand and buys a bunch of ads of course they're gonna give you a good review and they're gonna do a piece on you or whatever. It's such shit, all of it. Anyway. but that's why I'm always amazed, that's why I was interested in how you found out because I know that it's very difficult to find out new bands. Most of the bands I listen to, I even tell my friends who are all really cool university students and they go "where did you hear about those people" and I'm like it's because you're in the industry and know about it but if you're not in the industry you're never gonna hear a band you know."
Again our conversation began to wander off the beaten track and many discussions about Ben Folds and the music industry follow before we decided to call it a day and let the girls get on with preparing for the show.