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  • 9:29:14 pm
  • Wednesday
  • 17 April 2024

Canadian Duo, Tegan and Sara

In the midst of an exceedingly busy tour schedule, Tegan of Tegan and Sara breaks it down for Tweed.

TWEED: Tegan and Sara is a band with a very distinct, almost provincial sound that, alternately, is universal and “poppy.” There’s a lot of new wave on So Jealous. I hate to trudge out the “who are your influences” cliche, but what artists helped form that sound? When writing songs, how much do you draw from those artists?

TEGAN: I think as kids that grew up in the 80s, we had the usual influences from our parents: The Police, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and the Pretenders. But I think, over time, as we get older, we have gone through lots of stages. Folk, Pop, Punk and lately, I think, a mixture of all of those genres. For this record, specifically, it was a mixture of pop-culture and Alt-rock, Emo and the classics. We love the New Pornographers, The Stills, Broken Social Scene, Cat Power and Fleetwood Mac and they all had an impact on this record.

TWEED: I always love to ask the bands we talk to—what is your songwriting process? Is there that often-alluded-to symbiosis associated with being twins? Bands often talk about a sort of chemistry between members that drives great songwriting. Considering you are twins, do you feel at ease creatively with one-another that you may not feel with another collaborator?

TEGAN: We write completely separately and so, as we live apart now in different cities, we do a lot on our own. It is sort of like 2 solo-acts combined. We really don’t start collaborating until we are in the studio. I think we fear giving negative feedback so we usually just focus on the positive and avoid talking about songs we hate. We, as sisters, pick up on the omission and relate the obvious to our brain.

TWEED: When you make a record, are you looking to capture the Tegan and Sara live performance or is there some effort to sculpt a new, different sonic idea? In other words, are you interested in being a “live band” or a “studio band,” understanding, of course, that they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive?

TEGAN: We try not to do anything we can’t reproduce live on our records but live is very different than studio. Live, you don’t have to be perfect because you have an audience in front of you that is feeding what you are doing—and emotion translates differently. The record has to be lush and emotional through the instruments and quality of sound and production. We try and balance the two. As a band, we enjoy both equally and for different reasons—so we really try to get the most from both environments.

TWEED: I’ve read many bands recount that their days leading up to what was, ultimately, their level of success, were often the ones they looked back on most fondly. So Jealous has garnered a lot of really positive, supportive attention and it seems like the band is justifiably “breaking out”—Rolling Stone named So Jealous one of the 50 best records of the year, there was an MTV “You Heard It Here First” feature—you are getting a lot of people talking about the record. It being such a unique time for you as a band, tell us how it feels. Is it exciting? Is it getting excruciating? Anywhere in between?

TEGAN: It is definitely exciting but there have been so many great moments on the other records we have made that we have to sort of take it for what it is and what it may end up being. We could blow up and sell a million records or we could continue to sell modestly and grow our career another step or two. It is hard to say at this point. I have always tried to be realistic. There is a real ‘success’ and a ‘push’ vibe with this record but we are trying to see this as part of the career we have been building and not a new thing. We are building a long story and we think we have a long way to go.

TWEED: One thing that comes up nearly across the board is your, to quote the New York Times, “salty stage banter.” Now, while I’m willing to believe that’s something of a function of journalists piggy-backing on previous press, how much is “performance” a part of your live show? Many folk/Indie acts try to keep the focus squarely on the music while you seem interested in cultivating an on-stage presence as well. Was that a conscious decision or are you guys just really “salty”?

TEGAN: I think we are artists who want to be remembered for our music and try to keep it focused on music but we are dynamic people and love the attention and love to talk and tell stories. We come from a long line of family who love to talk and tell tall-tales and it is fun to break-up the night with stories and quips. I also think it helped in the beginning to fill time when we had little material—and it breaks the nervous energy on stage for us so it is a big part of what we do now live. I think we are very salty.

TWEED: I read your “Playlist” piece in the New York Times and enjoyed it a lot, especially about Arcade Fire, who I just absolutely love. What other contemporaries of yours are you listening to? Have any guilty pleasures?

TEGAN: The Stills, Nellie McKay, Lindy, Cat Power, K-OS, Kimya Dawson. No guilty pleasures. Music is music. I like to think everything I listen to has impacted me one way or another and I really don’t care if people think it is cool or not.

TWEED: One of the things I really appreciate about Tegan and Sara is the fact that, while you’re passionate and outspoken within the gay community, your music is never didactic or preachy. Instead, there are songs about love, which is what everyone does, strives for, longs for. There is specificity about your personas, and within it, there is a universal tone to the music. How much do you consider your role as gay entertainers? You’re very open and honest about it but is it something you’re concerned about being too much a definition of the band? Does part of you want to distance yourself from it, strictly from a “band” point of view?

TEGAN: This is a tough question. We try and stand up and be proud while not pigeonholing ourselves and, at the same time, we are protective of what we do in our personal time and lives. I think we both feel, as time goes on—and now especially with gay culture exploding in the media and so much talk about the rights of homosexuals—that we must add our voice to the movement. But we are just a band and we are trying to sell heartbreak and loss and change too so—it’s a fine line and a balance and something new everyday. We believe we are a universal band with a universal message. We believe everyone is equal and we believe all people can relate to that.

TWEED: On the issue of homosexuality—as Canadians, tell us a little bit about how you see our (American) cultural status regarding homosexuals. I’m sort of baiting you because I’d assume I know the answer to this as well, but could you see a Canadian Prime Minister doing anything even approaching Bush’s campaign for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage?

TEGAN: Our Prime Minister, Paul Martin, has said that he would never say who could get married or who could not. He believes it is an issue that is not up to him and would fight to protect that right. I think that banning gay marriage is a way for George Bush to pull people’s attention away from the bigger issues facing Americans right now. He obviously needs something big to deflect from the absolute idiocy he call’s the “War on Terror.”

TWEED: Currently, there is a battle going on in the South between gay rights activists and an Alabama state representative, Gerald Allan. Allan, part of George Bush’s base, is proposing to end federal spending on any books that may promote homosexuality. As Kim Chandler of The Birmingham News reports, “Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed.” Alan’s response was “I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them.” Obviously, the debate is no longer confined to the “gay rights” arena. How do you respond to this?

TEGAN: I feel bad for people who agree with Gerald Allan and mostly because the times are changing and this will not be an issue in 10 years. These ignorant politicians will soon be extinct and a new generation of open-minded, liberal, freethinking and less-regressed youth will be filling their places. Who are they to judge gay people as they kill, maim, starve and punish lesser countries around the world everyday? I’d say their sins are much worse than ours.

TWEED: How motivated are you politically? Is there room for Tegan and Sara to be an outwardly political band, or is that something you’d rather keep separate? Would you play a benefit show? Or write politically motivated lyrics?

TEGAN: We have been involved in a lot of benefits in the past (Rock For Choice, Under the Volcano, Amnesty, the SPCA). We have a voice and a concern and an agenda we just don’t sing about it. We are very aware of world politics and issues facing our generation. I think with the coming years and the confidence of each new record, we grow more open to speaking about our politics.

TWEED: Tell us about touring. You’ve been on tour with some pretty amazing artists—Neil Young, The Pretenders, Rufus Wainwright. Any experiences that stand out? What have been your favorite places to play? Any particular venues/cities?

TEGAN: I think the Neil Young/Pretenders tour was pretty much the most amazing things we have done but every tour has its pros and memorable highlights. I think each tour we do in the US—we get to like certain cities more and more. There are the obvious ones like NY and LA but Chicago was amazing and we love Minneapolis and Atlanta and Boise and Seattle. There are so many amazing places to visit in the US.

TWEED: How did you come to the decision to co-produce So Jealous? For two records now, you’ve worked with John Collins and David Carswell. What’s been attractive about that relationship, specifically? Also, how did the Matt Sharp collaboration come about and what has he been up to recently? Is he going on any part of the tour with you?

TEGAN: Matt, we met through our publicist in the US. He offered, after touring with us, to help come up with some parts for the new songs. We sent him a CD and flew him up for a few days and the magic flowed. He is really cool. He released his own solo record and is touring and doing a lot of stuff right now with another artist, Golden Boy. John and Dave, we worked with twice because they have a way of producing that works well with Sara and I. Feeling creative in an environment that is so forced and on a schedule is really tough so you need the right people around you. They are great at giving suggestions and also just backing off and working later to compliment what we have come up with. We decided to co-produce as we had 18 demos recorded and arranged with vocals all worked out. We were going to stay very close to the record. As the record continued, we did stay very involved and were there through the mixing process and decided to take a producer credit.

TWEED: As for Neil Young, you’re currently on his record label, Vapor Records. How did your relationship begin with him? How did you get signed and on tour with Neil Young? How has the relationship been—working with him as, ostensibly, your boss?

TEGAN: He is a really nice guy. We don’t have a phone relationship or anything with Neil but the label has been very good to us and allowed us to make three records now for them. It was wonderful touring together and a nice gesture as our first record had just been released. From a distance, and without a lot of involvement, we know he is out there, helping. It is a nice, quiet relationship.

TWEED: What do you see in the future for Tegan and Sara? What is, ultimately, the goal for the both of you with this band?

TEGAN: I think we will make another record for sure. We love music and we hope to grow as artists, live musicians and performers and make better and better records. I think that we will always be in music in some capacity. We love this business and we have such a great fan base and support system. I think we will stick around for a while longer.

* * * * * *

William T Wallace contributed to this interview. For more information on Tegan and Sara, check out comprehensive fan site or the official website

Timothy Rogan
Monday, 07 February 2005

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