I recently sat down to talk with the Tegan half of Calgary's indie–pop–duo Tegan and Sara for
the first time in over a year. And it was to talk about the same album.
Few albums this decade have had the legs or lasting appeal of The Con, the identical twins' much celebrated 2007 LP. The girls are still touring in support after 15 months and Tegan says the life and vitality of the music is still there for both the band and their fans. As it should be, since The Con remains a sizzling display of guitar pop brilliance in brevity.
So we caught Tegan at the end of an era and looking forward to what is coming next. Here in this SSv exclusive, Tegan tells us all about her side project that will never be and why she's finally giving in to write with her sister (even though she's terrified).
SSv: You guys are just now finishing the final tour dates surrounding The Con. How does it feel to still be riding that wave?
Tegan Quin: Is that your roundabout way of asking if I'm bored? I think that we're still having a really good time. We have the confidence and flexibility to choose what we want but also if we want to play any of the current stuff, it's ready to go and exciting. It's absolutely been a long year, so it's nice to go back to our old catalog to play that stuff. But there's no pressure to play the new stuff, too.
SSv: How much new music and how much of the older catalog are you playing?
Tegan: We're playing 10 songs from The Con and then 10–11 older songs. We're playing some from each record and a couple unreleased as well.
SSv: That's a nice-sized set.
Tegan: Well, all the songs are a minute or two. So when you get past us blabbering on stage constantly, it's still only about an hour and a half. The Con has 14 songs and is only 44 minutes and the rest of our records clock in around the same. We play them the very same on stage, but it does feel like a substantial amount of music. Even when we're playing an hour long set, we're still playing 16 songs or so. When I see a band and they only have six songs on their set list, I'm like, 'Oh, my god!' I can't handle that. I'm too ADD. You only need to hear the chorus twice, so moving on...
SSv: [Laughs] So there's no jamming out to be found on a Tegan and Sara tour.
Tegan: Oh, hopefully not!
SSv: For the amount of time you've been able to be in this season of The Con, did you believe the momentum from that collection of songs would last as long as it has?
Tegan: Absolutely. I think that... you know, 'yes.' That's my answer. I will leave it at that. [Laughs]
SSv: Why does it resonate with so many people?
Tegan: I really don't know. I think it resonates with us and our audience is connecting with us. So I think if they were over it, they would let go of it, too. There's a lot in our old catalog I don't like, but I guess it's personal preference. There's a lot of themes on the record that are very universal and everyone goes through them multiple times in their life, if they're lucky. Heartbreak is part of life and we're writing about that experience. One writer was telling us that that she gets in bed with all of her friends and they play our record and just lay back and listen to it. They're all only 19-years-old. To imagine all those girls listening and wrapped up in their lives. I love that picture and I think the record will stay current in that sense.
SSv: Last time I talked to you, you mentioned that you didn't have the heroes growing up that were your own age to look up to. And then here you are telling this story of a group of 19–year–olds finding an anchor in your music...
Tegan: Is this the Britney Spears question? Do I like being a role model? Yes. I think it's great. I think that it's awesome to be an artist and people are looking up to us. They respect us and I really appreciate that. And we really respect and appreciate them. We respect the fact that they are listening to us and hanging out with us for an evening. I think there's a mutual appreciation. We're not getting wasted and falling off the stage and talking shit. We consistently tour and bring a great show every time and keep our prices low. I think we're a good example and we're also really respectful of our audience.
SSv: Wait, what's the Britney Spears thing?
Tegan: Everyone always asks if you're a role model for people and wonders about that. People do look up to you. Last night, we asked how many were under 30 and the whole place erupted. We were standing in front of a lot of very young people and we have to be conscious of that. I think that all people in our position have that responsibility. It's a cop–out to say that you're not a role model. You are.
SSv: Well, what I was really aiming for was going back to what you mentioned before. You said you were looking toward Melissa Etheridge and Ani DiFranco and yet they were a generation older than you. There weren't the female singers you could really embrace that were more of your peers.
Tegan: Yes, but I also think we didn't really know any better. But when we started to perform professionally, I remember thinking that we were really in this thing alone. A lot of those artists you mentioned were massive and you couldn't go to them for advice. Our role models were only the bands who were touring with us and those were mainly males. On this record, we've had the opportunity to tour with all female acts, except for one. And that's been very helpful and exciting for us. We don't think that it has to necessarily be that way, to be all female acts, but it was nice to be able to help out other people and these women to get to where their potential is. That's a plus for sure.
SSv: What can you tell us about the new music?
Tegan: It's always hard to start to pinpoint where the change happens because we're consistently writing. We were writing immediately after The Con and even around that same time and all of a sudden there were these changes. All of a sudden, you realize you're writing a new record and you decide to just go with it. It's always random, too. There's acoustic stuff and keyboard stuff and weird experimental stuff and crazy loud rock stuff. It's all out of place right now, so I don't know what will become of all of that. Then we're going to go and write together for the first time in 14 years. We're going to go somewhere random for a week and make a truly collaborative effort on this record. We'll see how that goes.
SSv: What's the thought process behind finally getting together and writing after doing things solo for so long?
Tegan: Well, Sara was having this conversation with another musician about recording and writing. They said that in order to really challenge yourself, you really have to go to a completely different place where you're uncomfortable. When someone asked her what that uncomfortable place was, she said, 'writing with Tegan.' So then this person said that's what she should do. When I heard that, I thought that it was absolutely true. I don't want to write with anyone. The thought makes me very uncomfortable, even with Sara. But we hope something wonderful comes from it. Or it will be a disaster and a waste of money, but that's fine.
SSv: Why so uncomfortable? Is it a matter of letting someone into that vulnerability?
Tegan: I think so. I do have a side project, so I've done some of that before. But it takes a lot of energy to write a song and I don't like to share that in front of someone. Sara will be different because I don't get embarassed in front of her. But singing out of tune, finding words that fit, trying to find a melody, playing one chord over and over and over again until you get it right... it's just tedious. When you're alone, you just in this state when you don't have this pressure to get to the end to see what it sounds like. But that will be there with someone else. Every time we do a new tour or a new record, we come to the table with a new cover song. After five minutes, we're so frustrated with each other. But I guess we'll find out and maybe it will work. It might be this new chapter of Tegan and Sara.
SSv: What's this side project, by the way?
Tegan: A couple years ago, Hunter Burgan from AFI and I started hanging out and talking and emailing. I sent him a couple songs that were b–sides that weren't even Tegan and Sara songs. They were just just Tegan's weird experimental stuff. He started adding this instrumentation to them and they turned out really neat. So now, anytime I have something like that, I just send them to him and he comes out with something different. He sends me instrumentals and I write songs around those. The first couple songs were way more electronic and now they're more poppy.
I don't know what we'll do with them. We're signed to different labels and the state of the industry right now... it just doesn't seem like the right time for the two of us to do another project. Neither one of us want to be in another band or tour or anything like. We'll probably just end up trying to get others to record the songs and do a writing thing together.