Let’s get this out of the way: Sara and Tegan Quin are not only identical twins, they’re also lesbians and Canadian. Nonetheless, they’ve made it into the mainstream. Rolling Stone magazine voted their last album one of the 50 best of 2004, the White Stripes covered one of their songs (“Walking With a Ghost”), and Grey’s Anatomy—which has an average audience of almost 3 million viewers—has placed a number of Tegan and Sara hits in its episodes. The duo has just released its gorgeous and complex fifth record, The Con (Vapor Records). Here, Sara candidly tells GO about the album, her hair, and her sister’s crocodile tears.
GO: The Con in many ways has a darker sound than some of your previous albums. Do you consider this album to be more mature?
Sara Quin: I feel like a lot of that has to do with production. I loved working with producers John [Collins] and Dave [Carswell] on our previous albums, but they tend to have a more ’60s/’70s jangle to their sound. They love 12-string guitars and vintage gear. I think that had a huge influence on the songs we were writing and the sounds we were creating in the studio. This time around, our demos had very organic, “found sound” instrumentation…I think we have a tendency to be dark, and we fully embraced it and didn’t let ourselves pop it up to hide the stress or tension of the original compositions.
One of the lyrics from your title track is “Nobody likes me, maybe if I cry.” Are either you or Tegan guilty of conning people into liking you by crying?
I definitely do not do that, [but] I think Tegan was trying to say that she does. Every human has a way of getting attention. Some of us tell jokes, some of us are shy, some of us are troublemakers. There are all sorts of ways people have learned to get positive and negative attention. Tegan can be very emotional and go for the heartstrings. I think that that line is maybe a watered-down way of saying that.
You’ve shared tour bills with indie-pop bands like The Killers and Hot Hot Heat, and Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla produced the album. Has this influenced your sound at all?
Matt Sharp [former Weezer bassist and producer] was a big influence during the So Jealous recordings. He brought keyboards and a moog [a type of synthesizer] to Vancouver to contribute some ideas and we were blown away by how it expanded our sound and relieved some pressure on the guitars. Having almost 12 months to write the songs for The Con gave both Tegan and me ample opportunity to experiment and write a zillion keyboard parts for the album. I always felt limited on the guitar, but through exploration of sounds in keyboard land, I’ve been able to really change and develop ideas on the guitar that mimic the melodies I like to create on keys.
How did you feel when you found out The Con was leaked more than a month before its July 24 release date?
We knew it would leak; I was only surprised it leaked so early. But the people who download the album early are the kind of people that are excited about music, so it doesn’t bum me out that much.
That’s a very good attitude.
I don’t know how you could have a different attitude about it these days, because if you say that it bums you out or you hate it, then people get in your face. It’s almost to the point where you just have to give up on that old idea of music being sacred, of waiting for the record to come out and getting it from the record store. That just seems to be such an old-fashioned idea to most people; it’s kind of arcane to talk like that.
Have you ever thought of doing anything solo, without your sister?
We really think of ourselves as solo artists anyway. We don’t really write together, and we live separate lives when we’re not on the road. For now, I really like being able to write songs and then give them to Tegan and have her fill in the holes. I assume that we’re going to live long, healthy, happy lives, and I’m sure we’ll branch out at some point, but we’re not rushing into anything.
You’ve described yourself as being 45 and Tegan as being closer to 19. Why?
When we were writing the songs on the album, Tegan was doing a lot of traveling, meeting up with friends, drinking and partying, and she was single, so she was kind of behaving like a 15-year-old. A lot of the album was written when she was falling in love and having her heart broken. And I was at home—I bought a place—and I was like Suzie Homemaker, settling in and bitching about my taxes and watering my plants. I was like the oldest 26-year-old on the face of the planet, at least in my mind. So the record was written from two completely different perspectives. But I feel like it’s cohesive.
Are either of you currently dating anyone?
I am in a relationship. Tegan is a happy bachelor.
Do you remember the first time you actually came out and told someone, “I’m gay”?
I don’t remember! I usually just told people who I was dating, and then they would ask, “Are you gay?” and I’d say yes. For some reason that felt safer. It’s funny how much easier it gets.
I read that your mom said she thought being a gay musician meant you had a rough path ahead of you. Have you found that to be true?
At the time, I absolutely, 100 percent thought that she was right, and I felt it myself. Before the Internet, there wasn’t really a way to discover a community. You don’t just go to a bar and find [someone] and socialize that way. So I completely agreed with my mom at the time, but certainly it’s gotten easier. In North America and parts of Europe and Australia, sexuality is becoming less and less of an issue as time goes by, but it’s still tough sometimes. I don’t feel like I neglect that part of who I am, but it’s a fine line to walk, especially in the rock community that we’re a part of.
Has anyone ever accused you of using lesbianism as a gimmick?
I don’t even know how they could say that. Tegan and I are just sisters who write songs who play in a band. It’s not like we have an overtly sexual image. Just by being alive, just by being two girls who happen to be gay who also happen to be sisters who also happen to be twins, people automatically put that spin on it. But I don’t know how much less we could play that down. I think anyone who’s paying attention to the music would know that, but there’s obviously the odd person who thinks that this is some sort of weird, porn-fantasy thing.
One more thing: Canadian radio listeners voted you and Tegan as having the best hair of anyone in the Canadian indie-music scene. Do you two share a stylist?
We don’t have the same hairstylist, but we both care a lot about our hair. For the first 21 years of my life, I didn’t care about my hair. I was a total tomboy; I thought my hair was like being born with a limp or something. My mom was a very feminine, girly-girl-type mom, but after about six years she threw in the brush and comb and was like, “Fine—have ugly rat-nest hair, I don’t care.” And then all of a sudden I was 21 and started caring about my hair because I met this really wonderful stylist. I don’t like to think I’m obsessed with my hair, or that it’s a vanity thing—but I love my hair. It’s a total love relationship. I’m very excited to get it cut; I like to have my hair touched”.
For more about Sara, Tegan and The Con check out teganandsara.com or myspace.com/teganandsara.