Date: September 26, 2008
Author: Allison Cwyk
Publication: The Triangle
Headline: Finally: The Complete Sara Quin Interview

The Triangle: I’ve been to a ton to Tegan and Sara shows for the past few years and I’ve gone with all different types of people: male, female, gay, straight. Everyone really enjoys the performances and atmosphere. Why do you think your music appeals to so many different types of listeners?

Sara Quin: I think the first couple years of our career, we weren’t necessarily thinking about whom the audience would be—we just wanted to make music that we wanted to make. I think that we sort of progressed and realized that the bands that we grew up listening to and were really influenced by, were quite diverse and in a lot of cases were pop and rock icons. I grew up in the 80’s listening to Bruce Springstein, U2, The Police, Cyndi Lauper, and I think that we were really inspired by that. And we want to make music that appeals to a mass group of people. I think that most art and music should be that way, regardless of who the person is: their gender, sexuality, background, class whatever.

It makes me very happy to see a diverse audience. I want people in the audience to like the music and ultimately come from all different kinds of places—that makes me excited. We’re writing pretty universally themed music, so it makes sense to me that there would be a lot of different people in the audience who could understand or relate to it.

TT: Aside from enjoying your music, I love the stage banter at shows. It’s absolutely hilarious. Do you and Tegan plan out what you’ll talk about, or does it just kind of happen and you play off one another?

SQ: Oh yeah, we’ve never talked about it in advance. I think that we are lucky that most of the time it goes off well, but there have been some real train wrecks. Sometimes the train wrecks are funny, but I think it’s kind of a natural nervousness that’s kind of grown into a staple of the show. It makes me feel connected to the audience to tell them things and to sort of rip off of each other, but also to them as well. If it’s a great audience, it becomes more of a time of talking about things that they might find interesting about us or shed some light on stories that pop into our brains.

And on the other hand, with a really shitty audience, it can really provoke hilarious banter because that’s how we take our frustration and channel it into something that maybe will win the people over. Like, if people are being kind of chatty and annoying, sometimes it takes a little bit of banter and a little bit of sarcasm to remind them that we’re not television and we can hear them. We understand that they might be bored and not paying attention and that they are more interested in taking pictures of themselves for their Facebook accounts. Sometimes I feel like I’m a teacher and have to get the kids under control. I think it’s better than being introspective. We’re an indie-pop band and we want people to pay attention for our two-minute songs. And we want people to pay attention when we tell stories about whatever. Like, my mom’s hair in the 80’s. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for an hour for people to pay attention. So it’s a big challenge for us to do it musically, as well as verbally.

TT: You’ll be playing in Philadelphia on October 3rd. Is there a theme to this fall’s North American tour?

SQ: We just started rehearsals yesterday [Sept. 17] and we’ve all been playing these songs now for, well our first tour was in July of last year, so we’re a little burnt out on the music. We know that for us it would be really interesting to change all of the songs and do them in a different way, but that would probably annoy a lot of the people who are there to hear the songs the way they want to hear them.

We’re definitely pulling a bunch of b-sides and old songs and some of our classics. We’re trying to diversify the set a little bit, so the audience gets to hear a wider selection from our catalogue but also it keeps us kind of on our toes. Not just muscle memory. We can probably play a lot the songs from the last record in our sleep, without even thinking about it, but a lot of the songs that we’ll be playing on this tour, they are going to involve a lot more of like “how the f–k do I play this?” and probably more connection between the band. Sometimes when we play songs that we play all the time, like “Living Room” or “Back in Your Head” or “Walking with a Ghost,” we’re in sync with each other because we’re on tour a lot and we’ve played them a million times. And now I’ll actually have to think about my drummer. I hope that will be entertaining for people.

TT: For the past few years, the band has played at all types of venues, from tiny rooms to summer festivals. Do you prefer the more intimate shows or the larger audiences?

SQ: I absolutely enjoy the smaller spaces and if it wouldn’t take an eternity to tour, I would much rather do small stages. My ideal is 600-800 people, but it’s a different concept. We’re bigger than that now. It’s very difficult to keep everyone happy. If you play too big of a room, people complain “Oh, I remember when it used to be so intimate,” but if you play really small rooms, then the tickets sell out really quickly and people who didn’t necessarily have money when tickets went on sale are forced to buy tickets on eBay, or not even go to see the show. It’s complicated as an artist because you want to be successful. I’m practically 30. I want to have a family and I want to know that this is something that I can do for the rest of my life. So you want to be successful enough that you can do those things, building an audience that becomes bigger and bigger, which means not necessarily playing the type of venues you want to play. But on this tour, we’re trying to this were we can sell a decent amount of tickets, but we don’t want to play a 4,000 seat venue. So we’re doing four nights in LA. We’re trying to keep ourselves happy but also play more intimate shows. If we did that in every city, though, we’d be touring forever.

My own personal preference though, absolutely smaller venues. Sometimes we’ll do an in store show for 50 people or play for a college radio station in front of 20 people—that’s what I like. You could put me in front of one person, even a grandma, and I’m happy. There’s something very thrilling about playing in front of 10,000 or even 20,000 people at a festival, but that’s more about adrenaline, and “Look, we’re rockin’ out in front of a lot of people,” but in my heart, what I really like to do is be in front of a group of people and look into their faces. And feel that.

TT: You said that if you toured the smaller venues that you’d be touring forever. It seems as though you’re already touring forever. You’re touring all around the world and never stopping. Do you ever take any breaks and relax?

SQ: When we are lucky, we get to have off—which is great. You know the first half of a break, where you feel like “Oh my God, I needed this. I never wanna work again!”? And then overnight, you’re like “I can’t wait to get back to work.” I love to work. Clearly, it’s something that we both love to do. We are always traveling but we do spend a lot of time writing. I’m hoping, in the future, while we are on the road playing, we’ll get equal time to rest at home.

TT: You said that on your breaks, you write music. How does that work when you’re in Montreal and Tegan is in Vancouver? Are you collaborating from coast to coast? Do you get together?

SQ: We rarely get together, but we do collaborate a lot. I’ll write a song and lay down 50 million tracks. And then I’ll send it to her and she’ll do her recording sessions. That’s sort of been our collaboration to date.

We’ve both done a lot of writing for the next album. We have about 25 songs—not all will make it. They’re quite prolific. It probably has to do with the fact that we’re both single. I think we’ll actually get together for a week to write, which will be our first time since…ever. We never just sit in a room and try to write a song. We’d both kind of laugh nervously.

TT: On the last EP that you released, “I’ll Take the Blame,” the songs are very heavily electronic and synth driven. For future projects, do you think the songs will be more like that or similar to “The Con” or previous albums?

SQ: I think what happened with a lot of our demos was that the instruments were at home and it was easier for me to use keyboards. But I think people will look to the middle of our songs and realize that it’s still our type of song, with our vocals. It’s at the core. I don’t know what the future holds. I think it’s about personal preference of time. When we were making “The Con,” I was listening to Brian Eno and Tegan was listening to a lot of synth rock. Hopefully, whatever we turn out with, we’ll be happy.

TT: This question comes from my little sister. She asks: How did you like performing on “Pancake Mountain” and getting to sing along with a sheep puppet named Rufus?

SQ: I love “Pancake Mountain!” It was so much fun. I think it’s incredibly genius. Those kids were so unlike me when I was a kid. If you had asked me to go on stage and dance, first of all, I would have cried. So I wouldn’t have done it. I was so impressed by these kids. They were so confident and they were dancing like crazy. I was really inspired by that. And then Rufus the puppet, he really made it. It was so cool. I was surprised they even wanted us to be on it. I was like “Are you sure?” It was a cool show.

TT: These next questions come from some fans via e-mail. The first question states: I like your taste in music. Can you share your current playlist?

SQ: Things that are making me very excited right now are actually Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls. She put out her solo record a couple days ago. It’s fucking good. Tegan and I were just talking about it. It’s amazing.

I honestly haven’t been listening to too much because I’ve been writing and I don’t want to accidentally get too into something and rip off of them. But, I still listen to the Justin Timberlake “FutureSex/LoveSounds” record.

TT: I listened to it last week, to be honest.

SQ: How fucking good is that record? It’s so catchy. I love the vibe of that record. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Ryan Adams. My playlist changes all the time.

TT: If you could go back in time and change your band name, what would it be?

SQ: Oh, wow. I have no idea. I think in a weird way, it’s better to have a really cool name. On our last record, we were thinking “Wouldn’t it be cool if we were Tegan vs. Sara?” And people were like “Are you guys competitive? Do you hate each other?” No, Mother Fucker! We’ve been in a band for ten years. If we fucking hated each other, why would we still be in a band? But there is a part of me that is like, we are competitive, and that’s probably what makes us good collaborative partners. I’ll write a song and she’ll be like “Oh, that’s so good.” And then she’ll write a song and we kind of inspire each other. But no, I don’t think I would change our band name—even though I think we’re geeks.