Thursday, November 29, 2007
Interview: Tegan and Sara
Tegan Quin appreciates music. Along with her twin sister Sara, she’s been writing songs throughout the last decade, but the duo isn’t limited by their immediate material. They’ve covered everyone from Bruce Springstein to Rihanna, enlightening the young and obscure-minded alike. They’re as well connected as some of their fellow Canadians, but their unique personalities and style have made them easy to appreciate, but impossible to duplicate – twin aside.
Tegan and Sara began recording their most recent album, The Con, in January 2007. However, they began the process long before they entered the studio, demoing extensively after tour support for their last album So Jealous ended. These seventeen demos convinced Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla to get involved with the project. Tegan described his approach as preserving the positive qualities of the demos and building on them. They recorded vocals at Walla’s Portland, Oregon studio, the Alberta Court, over a month and a half, and later added drums and bass at the nearby Kung Fu Bakery.
They also had additional musicians contribute. The Rentals’ Matt Sharp, who played Moog on So Jealous, returned, switching to bass because the sisters were already using their own keyboards. AFI’s Hunter Burgan also played bass, and Death Cab’s Jason McGerr played drums after Walla sent him the demos. They also enlisted Ted Gowans, who is part of the touring band, to add instrumentation. “I love all his weird, quirky parts and he doesn’t overplay and he really accents the all the different stuff we’re doing,” says Tegan.
As with the production of So Jealous, the recording process was captured on film. Although, Tegan wasn’t always pleased with having a camera in her face, she still saw it as a positive experience.
“I regret it every time we do it. But I’m going to love it I know twenty years from now. It’s going to be amazing to have all those tapes and to have documented the whole process. It’s also really great to put out that stuff for the fans. It’s something else to put your energy into. In the past I’ve been so obsessive about the records and about how they sound and I get really stressed out and to have something else to funnel my excess energy into made the whole process like a fun thing to do instead of work,” says Tegan.
The effort is consistent with their DVD release, It’s Not Fun, Don’t Do It. Along with a collection of music videos and a recording of their February 16th, 2005 show at the Phoenix in Toronto, it features extensive commentary and a selection of photographs that transverse their career. Tegan explains that this effort as an outgrowth of her own expectations as a fan.
“When I buy bands’ extra additional footage and it’s five minutes of grainy, weird, narcissistic interviews and then their music videos I feel so disappointed. I want to see how they made the record and what they’re like and what the band dynamic’s like, so we really document as much of that as possible. I think we’re the kind of band that you can buy the record and that’s it and just love the record and be done with it, but once you see us live and you see all the funny little videos and watch the movie and go and look at the DVD, you end up starting to feel like you know us,” says Tegan.
One band that echoes the sentiment is Florida’s Against Me!, and Tegan appears on their album New Wave with the track “Borne on the FM Waves of Heart.”
“I interviewed them at Warped Tour last year in Vancouver. We were all kind of mutually gushing and then I made a joke about how they should ask me to play on the new record. Three months later, they called and said that they wanted me to sing on a track that Tom had written and I was like, ‘I’m so in,’” says Tegan. She compared Against Me!’s steady growth in fanbase over multiple albums and the way they interact with their audience to her own experiences, which involved creating their own niche instead of latching onto a preformed one.
“We’ve always been excluded from every scene because we’re so different, we didn’t fit in the indie world and we didn’t fit in the rock world and we didn’t fit in the folk, singer-songwriter world. I didn’t feel like we had a home and in some weird way I relate more to the Against Me! and Death Cab for Cutie and Dashboard Confessional of the world. That DIY, emotional relationship with our audience is exactly what we’ve been doing in the last ten years,” says Tegan.
It’s an attitude that embraces the internet’s independence, and the band has recently seen the benefits of connecting with its audience, and the power of the web.
“We just went and did a European tour and it was all sold out, and we didn’t even put ads out. It was just listed on MySpace. The credit’s due to the audience; people are creating their own scenes and their own industry online. I don’t agree with downloading and music being so cheap and free and turning our industry into a bit of a garage sale sometimes, but I do agree with fans having power and control over what they want to hear. That’s why satellite radio and internet radio make so much sense than a modern rock station that’s playing the same ten songs over and over again, and beating them into you. I think the fans are taking the control back and I like that,” says Tegan.
However, she’s not quite ready to support musical anarchy.
“I’m reluctant to say that labels should be gone, because I think labels create the marketplace and the value in music by spending all this money,” says Tegan, who has a positive view of their new label Sire, a division of Warner. “For a major label, they still have so many indie bands. They’ve been really good, very hands off. We handed them a finished record and they put it out. No one’s really micromanaging us, which I enjoy. I like the freedom.”
Still, freedom has its downsides.
“Two of the people in our band are huge Radiohead fans and they went and downloaded the record and they didn’t pay anything for it. They both ordered the box set, but I was just like, ‘You fail!’ This one time you had an opportunity to put money in their pockets and you chose not to. We all laughed about it but I felt really sad because even our favorite bands are worth nothing to us, because we’ve got a culture that’s convinced that we’re rich,” says Tegan.
Music’s status as a commodity has become increasingly tenuous, and while there’s incredible opportunity for an artist to be discovered, translating that recognition into a stable lifestyle is incredibly difficult. Despite Tegan and Sara’s longevity and recent success, it’s apparent that their profession remains far from easy. But the fact that they continue to evolve and grow is a testament to their qualities not only as musicians, but as human beings.
Thanks to Tegan and Brendan for making this possible. Here's the band's appearance on XPN at the World Cafe in Philadelphia, recorded on August 3rd, 2007. Enjoy!
2. Dark Come Soon
3. Banter - Sick Day
4. Like O, Like H
5. Hop A Plane Intro
6. Hop A Plane
7. Banter - Tragedies
8. Back In Your Head
10. The Con
11. Banter - Karaoke Package
12. Where Does The Good Go
13. Walking With A Ghost
14. Banter - Thank You
15. Living Room
Entire Set: Mediafire
MySpace: Tegan and Sara
Official Site: Tegan and Sara