Tegan Time with Tegan and Sara's Tegan
Tegan and Sara Quin are identical twins from Calgary, Alberta, whose similarities set them apart. The Quins' monozygotic bond gave them a telepathic closeness and the ability to sing together with flawlessly gilded harmonies. When their voices intertwine, and their intervals interlock, notes are raised and bordered in a plush and sugary Byzantine trim. When the sisters began, they were originally called Sara and Tegan, and their upbeat indie rock sparkers were quickly noticed. In 2000, they were signed to Neil Young's Vapor Records label and toured with Young himself. This January, the Quin twins are slated to release their seventh (as of yet untitled) full-length album. To push themselves into new sonic territory, they enlisted three different producers for the recording: Greg Kurstin (Ke$ha, Britney Spears, the Flaming Lips), Mike Elizondo (50 Cent, Mastodon), and Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83, Beck, Air). Tegan spoke from Vancouver, where they were rehearsing for a short headlining tour and dates with the Black Keys.
I love the "Carpool Confessional" videos you and Sara made while recording. There was one where you physically wrestled and Sara had you in an armlock. Do you ever hurt each other?
Not since we were kids. When we were kids, we were aggressive tomboys and we'd do karate. We definitely beat the crap out of each other [laughs]. As adults, our fear of injury is high. We don't really fight anymore, physically. The first couple years of touring were rough—right out of high school, we were trapped in a car together touring and trying to build a career; it was a tense and stressful time. Now we're more grown up about our disagreements. Our attitude is that this is something we choose to do. Why fight? What's the point? We do have an edge to our relationship. We joke around a lot and push each other's buttons, that's how we fight now. We entertain ourselves at the expense of the other.
As someone from Canada, what do you think about American politics?
We've been touring in America for 13 years, so I feel like we've probably seen more of the US than most Americans. It's almost like 10 different countries. You can't compare Florida to Washington State, and you can't compare California to Kentucky. I think your government really limits diversity sometimes, tries to fit the people into one side or the other. Like with gender, or sexuality, it's difficult to say you're this or that and feel like all your views are represented. It's a tricky time for me—so much talk about social programs, women's bodies, reproductive rights, and marriage equality—you can't help but feel rage and anxiety. I have to remind myself that I'm Canadian and I shouldn't get so emotionally invested [laughs], but my partner is American, and I live and work in America.
What's the Canadian version of the Republican Party?
There are so many parties here. The Republican comparison would be the Conservative Party, the party in power now. Which is funny, because Americans always think Canada is so much more liberal. The way our government is set up, there are multiple parties represented, instead of just two. We have the NDP, which is very liberal, which is what I vote. Even though the Conservative Party is in power, it's not as black and white as it is in America. It's still scary, though; our prime minister is a scary person. When he was running for office, he said that if he got the job, he would put gay marriage back on the ballot. People were freaked out. No! We can't go backward. Canadians reflect a wide variety of political and social beliefs, but we're a very understanding country. We're not going to give up our health care or our equality.
How long has gay marriage been legal in Canada?
About 10 years. They're not going to change it. The prime minister in office at the time it became legalized made this beautiful speech to the government. He said the whim of the majority should never have the right to affect minority rights. It's so profound to know there's going to be this massive worldwide change eventually, when we all realize that gay people are just like everybody else. We're born this way, and there's nothing we can do about it, and it's crazy that there was a time where we didn't have the same rights. It blows my mind to think that because I'm gay, I shouldn't have the same rights as everyone else. I want all the same things as everyone else. I want a family. I want to be able to take care of my partner. I want to pay my taxes. If I was American, I would be enraged.
In America, we have large pastures of nonthinking, fried-Twinkie-eating humans. What's the Canadian version of the fried Twinkie?
We have poutine, which is french fries with cheese curds and gravy. It's fucking delicious. It's much more of an East Coast, French-Canadian thing. But Americans are hard on themselves. I've traveled around the world a bazillion times, and there's bad shit everywhere. Not that there shouldn't be change, and health is good, but there are unhealthy people everywhere, there are Republican conservative types and hatred everywhere. Someone in the van was just talking about Nickelback and how there was that petition with 15,000 signatures to ban Nickelback from playing the NFL Super Bowl. They were saying, "Can you imagine being that hated, where 15,000 people got together because they didn't like you?" Sara and I looked at each other and were like, "Um, yes, actually we do know that feeling. Except it's not 15,000 people, it's millions of people who don't think I'm equal and [think I] shouldn't have the same rights." There are still nearly a hundred countries where being gay isn't legal, and places where you can be put to death for being gay.
Have you chosen a name for the new album? What about Big Pimpin' with Tegan and Sara?
We have chosen one, but we're not announcing it for a couple weeks. I think the label is scared they'll announce it and then we'll change our minds. We're releasing the first single, called "Closer," on September 18. Big Pimpin' with the Stranger. I like that.
Why did you choose to work with three different producers on the new album? How did you decide on those three?
When we were writing new songs, we set out to do the album that we've never done before. There's always pressure to sound fresh, and we do feel like our job is to create. There was internal criticism between Sara and I. There were songs where we thought, "We've already written songs like this or talked about this; we've already sung like this." We needed to try different things, to change our perspective, write about a different time period, write in a different voice. When it came time to pick a producer, we were buff. Ready like we've never been ready before. We wanted someone who would be diplomatic and supportive of us as artists. We felt so strong, engaged, and tough—we didn't want to go with our usual suspects for producers. We said, "Let's find people we haven't worked with. Let's find people that worked on big projects, for mainstream music. Let's see what they do to Tegan and Sara. Let's see how they beat us up." I interviewed about 15 producers, and Greg, Mike, and Justin stood out. They had all worked on such incredible records.
Were you worried the album would sound too scattered or disparate, having three producers?
Yeah, that did end up being a challenge. And it did end up sounding a bit disparate. We ended up going with a majority of the Mike tracks, because his sounded most cohesive. But I wouldn't have done it any other way. Each producer, because of the field they work in—hiphop, electronic, and pop—there's no room for anything. It's not like indie rock. It's not like, "Oh yeah, let's just layer 15 different guitars." Which is what we usually do when we get in the studio. With them, the thought is, if it's not a hook, or if it doesn't make your ear sing, if it doesn't have a place, lose it. We learned so much with them. We shed a lot of weight, musically; we learned how to hit a home run without having to layer 55 different things. It's a different record for us. I think some people will feel very challenged by it.
How do you take your sound to new places without alienating core fans?
You just hit the nail on the head there. The number one issue going into this album was: How do you keep fans happy and stay inspired? How do I go on the road for another three years playing these songs and stay excited? I met with all these amazing producers, basically the producers that have made every one of our favorite records, and across the board they all said, "Stop thinking about that. You'll always sound like Tegan and Sara, your voices sound a certain unique way. You are yourselves, just write good songs and don't worry about what they're going to sound like."
And now that Justin has produced you, you sound exactly like Nine Inch Nails, and your new album is a soundtrack for a goth movie about MySpace.
Shhh. We're not supposed to give away the news [laughs]. Total goth. It's gonna be weird.
Did you record the new album in one studio?
We did it in five different studios, in and around LA, which was nice because I live there part time. We worked reasonable hours, too. The music is what's most important, but our health is also important. We worked from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and were home in time for dinner. It was great. The fairy tale life.
In one of the "Confessional" videos, y'all break glow sticks, and immediately you're chewing on them and eating them. I hope you didn't get poisoned.
It's funny what happens when the camera is on. It's like recording, or playing a show. It all seems like I'm not conscious. I'll get nervous and reach a point where I'm not really thinking about what I'm doing. This other Tegan comes out and performs. A Tegan that eats glow sticks [laughs]. She's a risk taker.
Tegan and Sara were in India last year, right?
Yeah. It's incredible. The fabrics, the colors, the food, the smells, the traffic, and the pollution. It's a magical place. Mumbai has 13 million people living in it. I complain about traffic in LA, but Mumbai is another level of density. It was really eye-opening. I think everyone should travel and see other parts of the world. Americans don't realize how good they have it. I have friends that complain all the time, and I'm like, "Dude, you need to visit another country and see how they live. Even Europe, to see how much less space they have." Elsewhere, people's expectations are so different. In America, some people think if they don't have a house with a four-car garage, and a big backyard, it's still not enough. I'm grateful that my experience as a musician has shown me so many places—shown me that I have everything I want. A little perspective would do us all good. We should all be nicer [laughs]! We should all get along.
And we should all eat french fries with gravy and cheese curds.
Absolutely. Gravy helps.
And you're touring with the Black Keys?
Yes. I love their albums. They're hilarious and awesome. They're similar to Sara and I in a sense. There's a lot of humor involved, but it really comes down to the music. I also can't wait to do our own shows. Thrilled to come to Seattle and get in front of our own audience again. It's been over a year since we toured. I'm really nervous, and I love that feeling. We do our best work when I'm terrified.