A talented band maturing in leaps and bounds is always exciting. But the complete transformation of Canadian twin sister pop-sprites Tegan and Sara—from the harmless, Ani Difranco–influenced folk of their 2000 debut This Business of Art to the surprisingly jagged pop of 2002’s If It Was You to the their first major work, 2004’s brilliantly spiny, thankfully Ani-free indie-pop gem So Jealous—was a real shocker, knocking skeptics who’d written them off as derivative folkies on their collective asses.
So Jealous’s taut, inventive arrangements and roller-coaster melodies—with occasional sweetening from ex-Weezer-man Matt Sharp’s analog synths—fit comfortably in the pop bin next to fellow Canadian (and head New Pornographer) AC Newman. Unlike Newman, however, the Quin sisters come with built-in angles that press types take to quicker than a free buffet, including, but not limited to, the words young, lesbian, and twins. If interested in playing the U.S. press-whore game—lowering themselves into matching sparkly Canadian bikinis, perhaps—they’d be guaranteed next month’s Blender cover. Chalk it up to Canadian reserve or plain old-fashioned integrity, but Tegan and Sara consistently keep their personal stuff personal, and let their music do the talking.
On break from touring and making TV appearances—including a January 11 Conan O’Brien spot—Sara checks in from Montreal, a continent away from her sister in Vancouver.
Your bio says that you two have isolated yourselves on either side of Canada to avoid fighting. Is that dramatic bio hyperbole or is the relationship really that strained?
No, we just say that to perpetuate the idea that twins and sisters fight all the time. We figure we’re so geeky already, there’s no point in not playing up all the angles. Just kidding. I was really missing seasons and snow, and I wanted to move to a new city where I wouldn’t know anyone, where I would have to force myself to go out into the world and be social. So Montreal it was! Tegan seems to really thrive in Vancouver, kayaking, snowshoeing. It’s good for our independence.
How do you decide how many of Tegan’s or how many of Sara’s songs make it to the final record?
We pick the six or seven best songs that each of us has written, take those into preproduction, and hope for the best. We also consider the cohesion between our different material. There were some songs that just didn’t seem to mix well together, so we keep those for our side projects.
How much actual collaboration takes place in the songwriting process? Or does any collaboration take place later, once you’re in the studio?
When we hear each other’s songs, we will often make small changes or offer small suggestions to strengthen parts that aren’t fully developed yet. But for the most part, the collaboration really happens in the studio. We produce each other. It’s a good way to have perspective.
Any Matt Sharp anecdotes?
On the last day of our 2003 Canadian tour [Sharp was playing keys and Moog on that tour, in addition to opening the shows solo], Matt realized he’d left his Moog at the club. So he broke into the club, got locked in the club, set off the alarm, and had to be rescued by the janitor. He then went back to his touring vehicle to find it had been broken into and his passport and CDs were stolen. And he never got his Moog back! Poor Matt. We love him. He’s a wonderful person and fantastic musician.
Have either of you held day jobs? If so, when/what was the last one?
It’s been a few years, probably four years since I had a “real” day job. My last job was at an electronics store. Tegan’s last job was at a coffee shop.
High point from 2004?
The first show of our U.S. tour, in Seattle, was a great show on a crazy day. It was the day after the U.S. election and we were very disappointed with the result, but had a fantastic show. There seemed to be this positive energy—passionate and exciting—that the audience was giving off. It made me think that Americans will make positive changes over the next four years.
What do you hope to see happen in 2005?
I’m thrilled with the events around gay marriage here in Canada. I think that whether or not you are interested in getting married—the rights—demanding respect and equality for everyone is so important. Gay marriage is not just about gay people getting married. It’s ensuring that all people in this country will be treated equally in the eyes of the law.
The last record you personally bought?
Mission of Burma’s A Gun to the Head
What have you been listening to on the tour van?
The Arcade Fire is great, the Organ, Feist, Blood Brothers, Against Me!, the French Kicks, Mates of State…
You’ve used the same all-boy rhythm section for some time now. How does the co-ed dynamic affect life in the tour van?
We all have a lot in common. Tegan and I are pretty calm and mature and they have been through their crazy stage and are very laid back. We all read and enjoy music and are looking to work hard and realize our goals. We are ambitious people and we enjoy each others company. Tegan and I won’t share rooms with them because we think that boys smell differently and their hotel rooms smell funny. Otherwise, we seem to get past the co-ed thing all right.
Is onstage banter still a big part of your show?
We are trying desperately to be more professional with our jabbering. With bigger crowds, it’s more difficult. We remind ourselves daily that we are musicians and not comedians. It’s hard to keep that in mind, because we think we’re funny all the time.
Most humble moment on tour?
Sleeping in a Burger King parking lot after a show in San Diego.Our drummer Rob begging me to sleep on the floor so he could stretch out on the bench seat. Realizing in that moment that you haven’t really “made it” if you are still sleeping in parking lots.
You’ve been touring together for years now. Does it get easier?
I feel like it gets more and more difficult. You find ways to work around it. The biggest challenge is eating well and taking care of yourself with the limited resources you have when you are in the middle of nowhere, and you’re tired and have been in the van for 16 hours. It’s hard to be productive between shows. Mostly you’re in transit or doing interviews or laundry, so it’s hard to find time when you are not in the van or on stage to enjoy other life activities. Like going to museums, or rolling around on the ground with your cat.
Brian McClelland is the Live Music Editor for PlaybackSTL.