Date: September 21, 2008
Author: Trish Bendix
Headline: Interview with Tegan Quin

AfterEllen: I was excited to see you playing with Alkaline Trio on AOL. Have you seen it yet?

Tegan Quin: Yeah, I saw it a couple of days ago. They sent me a link and said they were going live with it. I love those guys, they're awesome.

AE: So cool to see you singing with them. And Ryan Adams has covered you before, and the White Stripes. I wonder why it is that so many men seem to cover Tegan and Sara?

TQ: I think it's a big misconception that only girls listen to Tegan and Sara. I think this is a way of correcting that by male musicians covering us. I've never really heard of any girls covering us, not off the top of my head. It's mainly just been dudes, which is great in opening us up to different audiences. It's totally a nod to us, which I like, and I remember the first time that we hung out with Matt Sharp. He told us, if you guys were dudes, you'd be famous. And I'm just like "Really?" And he's like, "Totally, this is a pop record. It's a hit."

But you're girls, you're lesbians, it's just going to take you so much longer because of all the social norms or whatever. I never really aspired to be famous or rich, so, I think that, for me, it's just kind of like we'll take it as it comes, and I think it's really cool when people like to cover our music, and it's especially cool when they want to hang out with us.

AE: That's funny. The only male twins that I can think of that sing are Evan and Jaron, and the one dudes with really long blonde hair that had a couple of hits back in the day ...

TQ: Nelson!

AE: Nelson! You could have been the next Nelson.

TQ: We'd be in good company. We're all nerds.

AE: What is going to be different about this upcoming tour, besides the fact that you're playing some bigger venues? How will the set list be different?

TQ: We're going to change it up and put some older stuff back into the set. We haven't been playing four or five songs off The Con that we'll probably put back in. We're going to change it up a bit. We have two or three songs that we have requested every single time we play for 10 years now, so we're going to have the other support acts learn them, and then we'll come out and perform them with them. We're hiring a lighting director who should be creating a cool light show for us. It should be really cool!

AE: That's funny because one of the last times I saw you was at a tiny theater before your last album came out, and the lights kept going out on the stage.

TQ: Ridiculous. I like to think we're not the kind of the band that needs a big light show, but apparently we do. That was annoying.

AE: What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you on stage? Is that the worst or are there plenty more?

TQ: Oh God. That wasn't bad, that was kind of funny. I mean, we played in L.A. at the beginning of this record and someone threw gum on stage. I think the worst thing is that Sara just can't let s--t go. Sara was like "Get them!" and everyone was turning around and pointing at [the person who threw the gum], and they were like proud of themselves. And Sara's like, "Are you serious? Twenty thousand people here, and you decide you're going to throw gum on the stage and be proud of it? You're going to get your a-- kicked, are you serious?" My sister can't let sh-t go. Some girl gave us the finger out on stage the other night, and she wouldn't stop talking about her. She just has the worst temper of all time. She was just berating her, and finally I was like, off the mic, and said, "Why don't you stop? Just leave it alone; let's play the song." And she was all like "f--k you" or whatever, and afterward she proceeded to rip me and everyone around me a new a--hole, about how we weren't supportive and I was f---ed up, and it was bullsh-t. Who f---ing cares?

AE: Maybe she's getting you back for always bringing up how she fainted at Lollapalooza.

TQ: You're right, you're totally right. But that was funny. Looking back, most of the things I thought were crappy ended up turning into a really funny story.

AE: Yeah, because you're not like a silent band that just gives someone the eye and continues on.

TQ: Yeah, and have it ruin the night. We just make it into a big production and everything is all right.

AE: And then everybody puts it on YouTube and on the Tegan and Sara LiveJournal forum.

TQ: We were wondering if that night when the girl gave us the finger made it to YouTube because the best part was I screwed up on a song at one point, and I blamed it on the girl. I was like, "Sorry!" She was still doing it and everyone kind of booed at her. I said, "Everyone look at that girl for screwing me up," and everyone on cue turned around and gave her the middle finger. It was so funny, and I was like, I wonder if that made it on YouTube!

AE: Wow, it probably did. You guys definitely have some dedicated fans. Speaking of, you guys were on's hot list at #67, together, Tegan and Sara together. What are you going to do to boost it up next year?

TQ: Who were the 66 people in front of us? Are there 66 hot lesbians?

AE: Well, Leisha was number one last year. I guess they're mostly older ones.

TQ: How do we boost ourselves up on the list? I guess get older!

AE: There were some fans that were upset you and Sara were listed together as one person.

TQ: That says a lot about society, doesn't it?

AE: Well when people write it on the ballot as "Tegan and Sara" as one person, how do they want us to count that?

TQ: There are other lists like that I've read, and I was higher than Sara was.

AE: Oh yeah, you were higher on the list of Hot Indie Rock Women. Does she ever find out about that?

TQ: I don't know, that kind of stuff cracks me up, though. We recently won Best Hair for something and I was like "Wow!"

AE: That's a compliment. You don't want to be on the "Bad Hair" list.

TQ: Absolutely, but I don't worry too much about it.

AE: Have you been working on the new record at all? What kind of stuff are you working on?

TQ: We've definitely writing. We have quite a bit of music from the last year since we started touring, so I'm not sure that any of it is relevant now. At this point there's at least 15 songs that we've written. Sara's definitely writing some really good stuff, definitely writing about a lot of different themes, writing about our childhood and not necessarily about love and relationships, which is cool. I mean, we don't think too much about it. We never ever sit down and think about it and focus too much on what the plan is. Sara tried to do that with me the other day about stuff that she potentially wants to take one step further than we did on The Con, with a completely different band and completely different producers. So we'll see.

We've been writing 15 years with each other, so we're always trying to do something different.

AE: So while working on this song for Augusten Burroughs, was it difficult for you to write about something that was so specific?

TQ: It was different and fun because it wasn't about me. I never, ever, ever approach writing from someone elses' perspective. I found it really difficult. I wanted to do justice to Augusten but I was also feeling a ton of pressure because I had never done it before, so the combination of the two basically paralyzed me, and I didn't know where to start. So I read the book and started like I was writing him a letter. "Dear Augusten, how and the hell did you make it through your life?" And I felt inspired.

If you sat me down right now and asked me how to write a song, I wouldn't be able to tell you. Every time I write one, I feel like I'll never be able to do it again. For me, it always surprises me when I'm like, "Wow, I'm doing this," or "Wow, I'm writing lyrics." It just kind of happens from time to time. It just comes together and you're like, "Wow, cool!"

AE: Are you the type of person that if you were at dinner with someone, you would borrow their napkin to write down some lyrics as it came to you?

TQ: I hate people like that. If I was sitting at a table with someone and they did that, I'd be like, "Goodbye!" I don't know how I write lyrics. Usually I'm just home alone [hums] and then I write stuff down and it takes shape on my computer. I don't even want to use a pencil or a pen anymore. Then I go through some ideas and some lyrics and put a song together.

AE: I was wondering if you used a computer or if people use journals or "olden times things."

TQ: I'm sure a lot of people still use the olden days tools, but I have almost illegible handwriting so even as a teenager before the internet [I] would write lyrics on a computer and print them out.

AE: On the track you did with Against Me!, did you have any input on that, or did they just ask you to come in and sing on it?

TQ: Yeah, I mean the song itself was written [yawns] ...

AE: I'm totally boring you, aren't I? You are yawning, I can hear it through the phone!

TQ: God, I'm sorry! It's 3 o'clock and between 3 o'clock and 7 o'clock, I yawn compulsively, and I've talked to a doctor about it. I'm not tired, it's not that I need sleep. They don't really know why people yawn, and one of the hypotheses is that it's related to anxiety and around this time of the day, I get anxious for whatever reason. Go on Wikipedia, I'm not making it up! What were we talking about? Sorry, I got off track.

AE: We were talking about Against Me! Or actually, you were yawning, you were totally bored by me ...

TQ: Oh, yes, you were totally boring. [laughs] No, so they wanted to put me in the video, and they said, "Hey, come sing along," and it sounded really easy, and so I came in to sing along and do some harmonies, and then they were working on some sections with guitar and we'd pick one we liked and we all worked together.

AE: Cool. It seems like you've been doing a lot of different stuff outside of Tegan and Sara lately. Is that something you've always wanted to do, or have opportunities just started coming up for you?

TQ: Yeah, I think primarily it's that. Hunter Burgan, a couple of years ago, who played bass in AFI and played on The Con, we started writing together. I spent a lot of time in L.A. working on that project and figuring out what to do with that. I'm kind of like a yes man, I'll say yes to anything.

AE: Do you have a name for it yet?

TQ: No, we don't actually. He has a side project called Hunter's Revenge, and Sara is not into the idea of me putting Tegan in the title obviously, so a working title for a long time was Tegan vs. Hunter, but that doesn't sit well with Sara. I think part of us doesn't really want to have a band, but wants to just write songs for other people. We're both so busy with our own things.

But I think the honest answer to why I do so many things outside Tegan and Sara is that I feel like I want to explore other realms of music. I've toured with Tegan and Sara for 10 years consistently. It just feels really nice to go work with other people, especially with guy bands.

I just show up, and it's like "Sing with us!" It's kind of great. I get to use a whole different part of me and a whole different part of my brain. It's just a completely different atmosphere. It's also building up my confidence to get on a plane and come to L.A. to work because I've been invited.

AE: It seems like you always have male band members. Is that something that's conscious?

TQ: We don't change our band very often. We played with our original band for almost five years... You'd be surprised at how hard it is to find musicians. We have to find people that live in the same city and that narrows things down a lot. The older we get, the more difficult it is to find people, because the older they get, the more they want to be paid. Even though we're growing with each record, it's not like we're playing to 20,000 each night, so it's really hard. They all have families, and our crew changes a lot more often than our band because they are a lot older and have families, and what we pay, we pay out of our pockets so...

We work with a lot of women like our designer, Emily, to our tour manager. For every female I meet, I meet 10 men. We get asked a lot do we feel like there's enough room for women in music. A lot of the time, you never meet female engineers or record presidents, it's hard. I also feel like Sara and I are a lot, like, we're enough girl for everybody. We have two girls on tour with us right now, and so it's four girls, four boys, and we're so dramatic and so emotional and we talk nonstop. It's always one of us saying, "I'm so tired, stop talking!"

AE: Well, you've both brought girlfriends on the road at different times. Do you feel like that's mostly a positive thing?

TQ: I think for Sara it was a positive thing because Emy is such a big part of Tegan and Sara. She was like the third band member. I used to tell people, "Every idea I have gets voted down!" And they'd ask, "How do you guys decide? It's just two of you. And I'm like, "Nuh-uh!" She's so involved. She really has a say in who we are and what we do, and is so invested and puts us first so often and was so in it, that it's not uncomfortable. She's such a part of us and what we're doing. For me, I haven't had that kind of relationship yet. I don't feel like anyone that I've dated has wanted to be a part of the organization in that traditional sense. I don't feel like I'd want to put one of my partners on the payroll. I'm one of those people that like to have my own thing going on, which of course, causes lots of tension and breakups in my life. But that's good. I try at least once in every relationship to bring someone out so they can at least see an idea of what it means to be in a band.

We don't party, we don't have alcohol in the rider, we don't bring fans backstage. Mostly it's really boring and long and we sit around all day so we can play for an hour. And for the people just watching and hanging out, it's not that exciting because they don't get that payoff. We do this to get the payoff and they don't get that. They have to be involved and I love including my partners in what I do so I write songs about them.

AE: Do they get any say in what you're singing about them?

TQ: [laughs] They don't! I have a song called "When I Get Up" that I actually wrote in bed. One day, not feeling very good and laying around, my girlfriend and I were just hanging out, and I never played guitar in front of her, never wrote any songs in front of her, we just weren't like that. I pulled out my guitar and started f---ing around, so I started writing, "When I get up" and made up a chorus line, and she's like, "Hey, that's really good! Hold on!" She got up and got a piece of paper and a pen, and she wrote it down. I was like, "Oh my God, that's so cute."

AE: That is cute.

TQ: In six years that was the only time we did that, but it was cool.

AE: Have you ever had a girlfriend that didn't like your band?

TQ: Yes.

AE: You have? What did they say: "Im just not that into it"?

TQ: I feel like the further along I get in my career, the more girls I meet that don't necessarily not like my band, but say, "Oh, I've never heard your band before."

AE: Oh, they're lying. They're totally lying!

TQ: Honestly, it's just what I do. It's just my passion and my heart and who I am, but you don't like it? That's cool. But the girl that I'm dating right now likes my music.

AE: I'm sure you guys get a lot of groupies or what have you trying to get backstage. You never hang out with any of them?

TQ: No because most of them are 16, and I'm like, are you joking? Some of them are like, "Tegan, will you please go out with me?" and I'm like, "Oh my God, I don't want to go to prison. No way!" I'll tell you the one thing I miss I mean, I'm so proud and so glad about where we've gotten in the past couple of years but what I miss so much is being able to sit at a table me, Sara and Emy and we would sign things for hours. Nobody ever scared us, nobody ever got crazy, we didn't even have security. Then I don't know what happened. Over the last couple of years, I can't even tell you how many times we've gotten grabbed, kicked. I just can't even go out anymore without security. There are teenagers grabbing us, saying they've been standing outside for three hours, and it's our job, like a million other jobs, so we can't just stand outside for hours, and it's dangerous. That's the one thing I regret. The bigger you get, the less you can connect with people.

AE: But you guys seem to do your fair share of secret and smaller shows, too.

TQ: Totally, which is why we do small tours before each album comes out, not just for promotional reasons but so we can spend more time and hang out. The best thing is when I'm in the grocery store and two girls come up, and they're like, "What are you doing here? What are you buying? You live here?"

The other day, I was on the bus in sweatpants and no bra, and these girls were staring at me and asked me, "Why are you on the bus?" I'm like, "I don't drive!" But I love that. It was funny.

In everyday life, it happens more and more, but I love it because I interact with tons of people all day long who don't know who I am, and then randomly I'll be at a restaurant and a girl will walk by and ask if she can get a photo and all the people will be like, "Who the hell is that girl?" and I'm like "Who the hell am I?"