Tuneful Twins: Tegan and Sara commit no ‘Con’ with their breaking-big fifth record
After landing on SheKnows' Ear Candy, Tegan and Sara had to be tracked down to talk music, twins who jam and work with Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla.
Just before the duo is set to tackle the stages of the world for a tour that has them reaching the shores of the British Isles at the end of November, Sara Quin, one half of the Canadian twins, sat down with SheKnows while at her Canadian home taking a breather before the expedient world tour. Sara was the most effortless form of delightfulness I have encountered in years.
Their new CD, "The Con," was a title that involved serious discussion. The entire feel of the record, from the lyrics, each individual track, and the liner notes all breathe the air of a classic novel. The look of Tegan and Sara's "The Con" appears to be out of literary history and the musical pages turn as vibrantly.
Their actually reasoning behind their album's (i-'Con'-ic????) moniker speaks volumes to the rich material that has influenced the artists that are touring the world's stages performing for 20,000 people.
That is a long way from a garage in Vancouver with a guitar they only bought a few years before their "Back in Your Head" single found them creating sonic succulence.
SheKnows: There is a certain kinship forged between fellow musicians playing in a group. I can't imagine what it is like to work with your twin. Do you notice a different chemistry with your sister, versus others you have played with?
Sara Quin: People play their whole lives together and have very deep connections and bonds. You can walk through a room with a person and really feel like they're very skilled. Certainly, the people we have playing in our band, our drummer and bass player, have been playing with each other since they were little kids. You can tell when they start playing together. I never worry about locking in with them. That's what they do. They lock in with us and really follow us. I've known great synergy between musicians before, but there is definitely something that Tegan and I can do, not just even musically. You are in front of 20,000 people, you have to banter to a crowd that has no idea who you are and Tegan and I can find a natural place to talk and draw people in. I think that's more of what I notice between Tegan and me. It's not always musically that we have some special connection. I think it's that we as people have a special connection and that makes doing what we do a little easier. I love the idea that what Tegan and I do is really special and unique. But, to the outside ear, it sounds very similar, because we do sound pretty similar. (Laughs.) Yet, we hear the same music differences, for instance, that we see in our faces. People walk up to us and can't tell the difference between us and to me, she looks as different from me as my guitar player who has a beard. (laughs)
SK: I've heard that from twins! Now, the name of the record, "The Con," how did the two of you come up with it, and by chance, does it speak to the joy of doing what you love and getting paid for it?
SQ: (Laughs.) You know Tegan came up with the title and I felt it was applicable in a lot of different ways. I really like the idea that Tegan wanted to stress. The idea that when you're getting into a new relationship, you are putting your best foot forward, not necessarily showing all the parts of you that are really what is going to ruin your relationship. (Laughs). And I really like that idea. We are so often trying to be strong, attractive and confident to the person we are trying to partner with and what lies beneath is vulnerability. It takes a lot of trust to expose yourself. I like the idea that you are kind of conning someone into loving you and then sort of unleash what's really deep down inside of you. In terms of a career perspective, I never thought about it. We worried that people would run with the idea that we were conning people. If people take that approach, then they're jerks. There's something really fascinating about having to go on a stage in front of a ton of people and take something that's intimate — that you wrote about — and have to make it applicable for a huge group of people that have different values, concepts and sexualities. You are really dealing with so many different things every single night. And you're trying to make something that you feel and you think that is so specific and so special to your life, consumable for a lot of different kinds of people.
SK: I can't help but notice how the album feels like a novel. Are you two enormous literature fans?
SQ: Actually we both read a lot. When we got out of high school, I remember people asking us why we were still reading. 'You think that's fun?' Yeah, I do read for fun. I love the whole idea of writing. It is an amazing medium where they are words on a page, but they are living in your own imagination. So much of art, music and television, things that are projected and manifested by someone's brain or someone's ideas, it's really interpretable, but not 100 percent. Where there's something about reading to me that you create what the character looks like. It's really your projection, solely based on words. I love the idea of writing and literature. And when we were starting to put together the visual element of the record, photos to the artwork and the title of the album and the website, there are so many things that come together. We really wanted something that felt literary and felt like you were finding an old book on a shelf. And here are these ideas and stories and illustrations. It was special.
SK: Were your parents musicians? Did you two grow up in a musical household?
SQ: No, actually. I actually think my parents are the least musical people ever. But what was so inspiring about them is they both loved music. They had parties all the time and always had music playing. We always had multiple stereos in the house and listened to music in the car. My grandparents loved music. They had a bar in their basement where they would have live bands play. We always had music around us growing up. We had a real intense love for it. It's weird because the older I get I realize too that it was really how I developed as a musician. I didn't have a guitar when I was a kid. My instrument as far as I was concerned was my voice. I loved singing. I can remember as a little kid in my room with the door closed singing along to Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Michael Jackson and the Police. I always knew I wanted to be a lead singer. So guitar and keyboards, all those things I got into as mediums to write songs. I love those things, but ultimately I could make a song out of anything as long as I was able to sing and write words.
SK: Well you two did acquire a guitar and as you two began playing garage band music, did you ever think that Chris from Death Cab for Cutie would be someone you'd be recording with?
SQ: When we first started out I had no idea how the music business worked. We really fell into it. It was one of those weird mazes where you're looking around every corner not really sure where the exit is or even what your exit strategy would be, just taking it all in stride. I never really understood having someone produce your music. For so many years, Tegan and I made our own demos in high school. No one was ever influencing what we were doing. I felt me and Tegan would make albums ourselves. Once we got a record deal it all kind of started to make sense. I mean, this is our fifth album. So when it comes time to putting together a team of people, we're at a level where you can approach someone like Chris Walla and give him our songs. And if he likes them maybe he would work with us. In the beginning, I didn't even know that was an idea that existed, applicable in our lives. All of a sudden, you're thinking 'of course, I can ask Chris Walla. I had no idea that these were things that would happen to me and now it's happening. It happens over time and there's a gauntlet that you have to run through and end up in this place where it all makes sense.
SK: Why wasn't the band called Sara and Tegan?
SQ: The first run of CDs we did was Sara and Tegan and people used to get confused. They thought it was Sara N. Tegan, it was one person. People were always confused. Maybe, if Tegan were first. Maybe if we really pronounce the Tegan, people will know it's two people.
SK: I can see that. Sara N. Tegan sounds like a singer-songwriter out of Greenwich Village or something.
SQ: (Laughs.) Yeah, totally, it sounds like a hippy-dippy thing.