Date: December 6, 2007
Author:
Publication: Ultimate Guitar
Headline: Tegan & Sara: 'There Is Such A Natural Dynamic And Energy Between Us'

Thereís very little that is not intriguing about the duo Tegan And Sara. The fact that the fresh-faced girls are openly gay twins may be what have originally peaked peopleís curiosity, and understandably so. But after hearing Tegan and Saraís music, it soon is apparent that these girls are much more than a novelty act. At 27 years of age, the twinsí melodic offerings have earned respect from the likes of Neil Young, Rentals/ex-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp, and The White Stripes (who covered the girlsí single ďWalking With A GhostĒ back in 2005).

Although Tegan and Sara have written independently in the past, their latest record The Con took that one step further. Each twin would record as much material as they could before meeting up, and the album even features some of the original demo recordings. When Sara Quin spoke with UG writer Amy Kelly, she revealed that setting up a makeshift studio in her closet was a godsend before meeting up with her sister. For Quin, hearing the rough, on-the-spot ďcloset sessionsĒ were the most honest moments of the recording process.

UG: How different was the songwriting process for The Con in comparison with your previous records?

Sara: We always write independently, but itís a totally different level of independence. Because weíve been living in the same city, we would write songs. I know before we did our 3rd record If It Was You, leading up to the actual studio, we would write songs and a couple times a week we would hang out with our band. We would go to the rehearsal spot and actually work out songs. So when we went into the studio to do the album, we were kind of going in as a band, an actual band.

But with out previous record So Jealous, it was like me and Tegan wrote the songs. She was living in Vancouver; I was living in Montreal. We wrote the songs completely independently, and I moved back to Vancouver for a couple months to work on the album. It was pretty much like we showed up and spent 2 weeks trying to figure out drums and bass, then went in and recorded it.

With this album, we kind of expanded on that idea even more. Tegan and I just tried to record everything ourselves in demos: the ideas, drums, bass parts, guitar, keyboards, vocal. Then we would send the songs to each other. I would send her an MP3 and she would load it into her studio, then she would record over the top of what I had done and add her ideas. We would send it to Chris Walla (producer of The Con and guitarist for Death Cab For Cutie) and he would sort of dig through, sort of highlighting for us what he thought was keepable and what wasnít.

So when we actually started recording the album, a lot of times we were using elements right from the demo as starting points. That was really exciting for me because I always really like our demos! I love our albums, but I love our demos because I donít necessarily write a song and then sit and play it for 35 times. I will literally sit down and record as Iím writing. So the demos are actually a record of the song being really written. Itís not like a recreation of something I had playing over and over again.

Which songs on The Con featured those spontaneous moments?

Like ďBack In Your HeadĒ for instance, I literally sat and recorded in my closet. I was recording the song and thinking about what I wanted to sing. I just started singing that line, ďI just want back in your head.Ē In my demo version of that song, I can really hear that idea starting to take shape. What was great about Chris was that he heard those ideas taking shape in those demos, and a lot of times he would want to recreate what we had already captured. In almost every song there are elements of our demos actually on the album. There are actually vocal tracks that were demos.

Has it always come that easy for you?

No. We always used to record ourselves. I think we knew what we were doing, but I think there was a point in our lives where we had been for years doing something that was really intuitive and coming really natural for us. That drew the attention of people who were like, ďOh, my God. What youíre doing is really, really cool. Why donít you come to my studio or why donít we go into the studio and weíll make a record? Iíll help shape what youíre doing so that itís more successful to the public or to a record label.Ē

So there was a time in our career where I think we maybe werenít as vocal or aggressive about what we knew we could do naturally. So there are a couple of albums for me, like our first couple of albums, I feel a little bit like itís the other peopleís vision. The songs are ours and the voices are ours, but the production and some of the ideas and arrangements, they donít fit as well with me.

Iím like, ďWhy did we do that? Why did we let that happen?Ē I donít feel as strong about those albums. But our last 3 albums, we were being more aggressive and confident about what it was we wanted to do. Each record you get stronger. Maybe you couldnít sit down and mix the album, but Iím pretty aggressive about what I want. I think a lot of that comes from just having so many years of recording myself.

A lot of times itís just bullshit, too. People will put really expensive mics in front of you, and it sounds like shit. A lot of my demos I recorded with like a $40 microphone that I got in high school so I could play live. The vocals for instance on ďI Was Married,Ē all the vocals and background vocals are vocals that I recorded with my $40 mic in my closet. There are electric guitar parts, all the noodling stuff, and a lot of the melodies on the album. I donít have like 50,000 pedals. I have an overdrive and a digital delay, and Iíll sit there and spin the knobs tiny, tiny millimeters until I get a sound.

Did you use that approach in choosing equipment for the latest album?

We would sit in Chrisí studio, where he has beautiful, amazing, incredible gear, and we would spend like an hour trying to get a sound that sounded like what I had come up with. He would just be like, ďForget it! Weíll just record your part and weíll fix it in time with what weíre doing here. But we donít have time to figure this out and it already sounds great.Ē That was really frustrating, too, because sometimes when Iím making my crazy demos, Iím thinking, ďNo one wants to listen to this besides me.Ē Chris really loved so much of what we had done. He was totally happy just forgoing the process of figuring out what we had done on the demo. If it happened naturally in the studio setting, it was like, ďForget it. Letís just fucking use what you already did.Ē I was like, ďI love it!Ē

It seems like you and Tegan have been playing and recording for ages. What was the instrument that inspired you to start it all off?

We took piano lessons, but I donít ever remember writing anything on the piano. That totally wasnít my instrument. I didnít write songs until I was a teenager, but I always loved music. I would listen to the radio. Tegan and I, really early on, we were borrowing our parentsí record players. We would always, always, always be listening to music and lip-syncing! I was passionate about singing music. I love singing. Singing, to me, is my instrument.

I know a lot of people who are great guitar players and stuff, and they have to play guitar everyday. Have to. Theyíll just jam for 45 minutes or an hour, and then theyíll feel better. I donít have that. I donít need to sit down and play guitar everyday. I donít. But I need to sing everyday Ė and Iím not that good of a singer! My voice sounds good within what I do, but you put me in a karaoke bar and no one would ever believe that I was a singer!

Iím not trained. Iím not choir. Iím not any of those things, but I need to get out whatever it is that Iím getting out. Whatever it is that makes my friends sit down and play guitar for 45 minutes, I have to sing. It doesnít matter if you put me in headphones and Iím singing along to Phil Collins or me, I just need to sing to make myself feel better. Itís like Iím exercising some sort of instrument. When I was 14 was when I realized that I loved singing along to other peopleís music, but I also loved singing along to my own music. That was when I started writing my own songs.

You play guitar and keyboards on the album, but does a vocal line usually inspire you before anything else?

It kind of happens all ways. Literally everything sort of comes all at once. Generally Iíll start a guitar riff or a piano part or even a bass part just to get something. Then Iíll start creating melodies right away, and Iíll usually build the rest of the instrumentation around a melody for the vocal part that I come up with. But usually I try to write choruses first, then the bridge. Iíll go back to sort of fit in verses. I always feel like I need the choruses because I want to know where Iím going first. I want to know whatís happening, then Iíll go back to the verses and try to make sense of it all.

When I truly get into the zone or whatever, I get so much more into it and intuitive. Whatever is supposed to happen kind of happens, which is ridiculous because obviously Iím in control of what is happening. A lot of times itís almost stream of consciousness. The way that some people will write stream of consciousness, I feel like Iím taking a musical stream of consciousness.

Does Tegan take a similar approach to songwriting?

I think she does it more straight and a bit more refined. I think sheíll sit down, sheíll write lyrics, and then sheíll just start trying to write some melodies and chord changes. Sheíll really be following a pattern. But itís still very similar in a lot of ways. It will sort of go off of what Iím doing. I think sheís doing it, but I just think sheís a little bit less free-formed about it.

Who is the more prolific write of the two?

I think that I spend a lot more time. I think I could be more prolific if I didnít obsess so much over what I was already doing. Tegan can write a song and sheíll never touch it again until weíre recording it. Sheíll also write a song and then just play it right away. Sheíll play it in soundcheck or play it onstage or whatever. Iíll write a song and Iíll work on it for months. Iíll just go back and noodle on it. I might not even send it to anyone or play it for anyone. Youíve got some impressive guests on the album. How did Chris Walla, Matt Sharp, and Kaki King get involved?

Matt Sharp is a friend. Weíve toured together and he played on So Jealous. When we started working with Chris Walla, we needed someone to play drums. Heís like, ďLetís get Jason McGerr from Death Cab to play.Ē When it came time to play bass, Chris played bass. I really wanted to involve Matt somehow. Heís always involved in projects, so it really became like, ďHey, what are you doing this week? Do you want to come down and play bass on my songs?Ē Then itís like, ďYeah, Iíll come down and play bass.Ē So itís kind of like that.

Kaki is a friend and sheís just an absolutely amazing guitar player. She used to make jokes that if we ever needed a lap steel player in our band, she would offer her services! So when it came time to start adding details on some of the songs on the record, I knew that she would be a great asset because she has a whole different approach to melody. Sheís really talented. So it was cool to just be able to have people come in and add their little flair to things at the end, and certainly get their perspective about how the song was.

Considering the amount of work you did independently on the latest record, could you ever see yourself going solo?

I think weíll always sort of be together with what we do, certainly from a performance aspect. Obviously, we have lots of confidence in writing songs alone and that sort of thing. I have confidence in my ability as a solo artist. But the career we built, our fans, how we perform and all of that is very much something that Tegan and I do together. I have no interest in putting that on hold or ending that relationship anytime. Sometimes Tegan has a side project and I write music for other people and I write music for myself. Definitely there are other projects in our future. Right now, doing what we do, there is such a natural dynamic and energy between us that I canít imagine giving it up.