Commitment and break-up. Love and loss. Tegan and Sara bring diverging but connected perspectives to their artful album, The Con.
Twins. Dykes. Canucks. There hasn't been an article published on Tegan and Sara where a variation of these labels isn't present.
Over the past decade, the 27-year-old Quin-kin have been constantly pigeonholed in some shape or form. But it's their epic release The Con, that brings them to Halifax. The ex-pat Calgarians—now a Montrealer and a Vancouverite—roll into town for a sold-out, double-night gig on October 16 and 17 at St. Matthew's Church.
"We're not writing about sexuality," says Tegan Rain Quin, calling from Red Deer, Alberta. "Sometimes identifying us as lesbians, I'm not sure entirely how beneficial that is for our music. If you are writing a personality piece, I suppose that makes total sense to talk about the fact that we're twins and we're lesbians, or that we're from Canada. But if you Google "Tegan and Sara,' you get gay."
Characterization, duality and tangled matters of the heart are thematic elements of Tegan and Sara's repertoire—1999's Under Feet Like Ours, 2000's This Business Of Art, 2002's If It Was You, 2004's So Jealous—but their meditative symmetry on The Con casts an equilibrium over their individual perspectives.
"When I think of The Con it was such a broad statement for me," Quin says. "I didn't call the record The Con for any specific reasons, it was just a whole bunch of themes, feelings and ideas that I've been having and talking about. But the act of conning somebody, or conning yourself, that whole thing was a catchphrase I was using. I think these songs on the record are under the umbrella of what a con represents."
The 14-track anthology was recorded in sequence by Death Cab For Cutie's Chris Walla, in his home studio in Portland, Oregon, and is presented in novella chapters. Chapter I opens with "I Was Married," a track penned by Sara Kiersten Quin on the day she and her American partner Emy Storey declared their common-law relationship. Prior to this, Storey, the artistic director for Tegan and Sara and a freelance graphic designer, bounced around on work visas. With her permanent residency in place, the lovers now live together freely in Montreal.
"On a day-to-day level I would tend to say it's not a terrible struggle being in a same-sex relationship," says Storey in an email, of their matrimony. "Especially in the genre of indie-rock/pop. However, there's a lot of education that needs to be done. In a small way we are challenged by helping friends and colleagues unlearn sexist and homophobic behaviour they don't even know they have."
Honesty and humour seem to be building blocks for Tegan and Sara: They don't struggle to be straightforward or silly. Their collective consciousness and craft evolves with each record, as The Con, borders on more ambiguous, artful terrain than their previous releases. The album's cohesiveness is incontrovertible—whether they're musing about the loss of their grandmother, Rita Clements, (to whom the album's dedicated) on Chapter IV's "Knife Going In," lovesick apprehension in Chapter XI's "Floorplan," or even the peculiar pull of one's teenage years on tracks like Chapter V's "Are You Ten Years Ago" and Chapter X's "Nineteen."
During the course of writing this literary-minded record, the binary duo experienced a bi-polar emotional upheaval. Tegan recently stepped out of a long-term relationship, while her sister found her footing in her heart's The Con ‘s bookend tracks express similar anxiety, although each songwriter's lyrics stem from different perspectives. Sara fondles with her relationship's fidelity on "I Was Married," while Tegan's intimate "Call It Off" flowed from being lovelorn, but both express harmonious vitality.
"I was just out of a five-year relationship and into the fray of singledom," Quin says. "It was the first time I had been single in a really, really long time. The band was on a break, I was single and had a significant amount of free time where I wasn't really obligated to do anything. I had a lot of emotions, feelings and reflecting to do.
"I was jumping right back into dating, so there was a lot of pandemonium around, happening in my world."
In reality, Tegan and Sara bicker back and forth more than most unrelated bands banter. One cannot say something without the other smugly suggesting an alternative opinion—in their live show they are infamous for stopping and starting a song nearly half a dozen times, for one always tends to interrupt the other.
But almost a decade into their musical careers—after a Letterman appearance, the creation of their own DC designer skateboard shoe, tours to Australia, Japan and Europe, and soundtrack appearances on The L Word and Grey's Anatomy—the girls seem to know when to put their sibling rivalry aside.
A limited edition of The Con features a DVD documentary of the album's creation, directed by Angela Kendall (who also helmed their short film The Making Of So Jealous and their "Speak Slow" video). "With Sara and I living in different cities, it made sense to focus on one area, instead of just picking Vancouver or Montreal," Quin says. "It would have meant uprooting a lot of people and a lot of travel, so we figured we could just go down to Portland and rent a house together. We all moved into together, we had the director of our movie there. There was like eight of us living there, it was great."
In true Tegan and Sara fashion, there are guest appearances from their mother, Sonia Clement, reverend Rental Matt Sharp (ex-Weezer wunderkind), AFI's bassist Hunter Burgan and Death Cab For Cutie's drummer Jason McGerr, not to mention a brief monologue by Dr. T.R. Quin (AKA Tegan) about her ptosis eye condition and plans for corrective surgery.
"Sara thought it would be cool for Matt to play on her songs," Quin says. "And I have a project with Hunter from AFI, so I could use him. We used the same drummer, but different bass players. I think it gives the record a really different feel, as there is a big difference between the production of my songs and Sara's songs.
"It's still a cohesive record because of the themes we were writing about, the fact that there are vocals and keyboards on each other's songs. I think the fact that you can feel the differences between each different player develops the album, making it unlike the others."