Sainthood, Tegan and Sara’s sixth album (and second with Sire records), makes it clear that after a decade of prolific recording, touring, and rising popularity in a crumbling music industry, the twin-sister rock duo has proven its relevance in the face of all pressures and misconceptions to the contrary. Despite being identical twins, hower, Tegan and Sara Quin are not identical (no matter how much their trippy self-interview on Spinner fooled you). We spoke with Tegan Quin before a New York tour date and talked about where they fit on the scale between indie and mainstream, the lessons of writing songs together, and correcting misconceptions.
This is the first album you’ve primarily co-written songs together. How did that change the dynamic?
I think after 14 years it inspired us to show that there was this other way. I don’t think that we’ll exclusively write together now, but I definitely think it was a positive and successful experiment. I think we also learned a lot about each other. Sara is a very meticulous, slow writer who works on lyrics for a long time and perfects guitar parts and melodies. I sort of blow through songs very quickly. I think now that we understand the differences between it, I definitely have a different perspective on her writing abilities.
You and Sara like playing off the fact that you guys are twins. How have you tried to differentiate from each other?
We’ve been writing for our band for so long now, so we encourage other to go as much as we can in our own direction. Sara moved to Montreal eight years ago, and I lived in Vancouver, so we definitely got different influences. Sara has a lot more pop and soul, and she really has more of an indie-rock taste (I’m more mainstream in my tastes). So I think we encourage each other to be independent and have different styles, because when we’re together people will continue to see us as twins.
I think there’s a big generation gap between how you’re perceived in terms of being a mainstream band vs. and indie band. Do you feel that younger fans appreciate you any differently than older music fans do?
I think we thought we were indie for so long and part of that community, and with So Jealous, we started to get more support from that community, and then we got more mainstream attention on The Con. I think Sara thinks we’re an indie band, but I don’t. I don’t think we fit anywhere perfectly. But I do think there is an age gap. When we play live and I see teenage girls and teenage boys in the audience, I definitely think we’re in the mainstream. We’re influencing a younger generation. But I do see we’re starting to get support from a lot of indie magazines and indie websites, so there is a portion of our audience for them. Which is kind of neat; I think our music is as much for them as anyone. It doesn’t matter where they’re coming from.
The issue probably would be if you faced any major-label pressures when you moved to Sire records (with The Con in 2007).
We signed to Sire in order to get our entire catalog in one place. We’d been on a bunch of different labels, and Sanctuary was in danger of going under. Warner was the only place who offered to buy our catalog in one place. We were also grateful that they only wanted us to do two records; everywhere else wanted us to do seven records. We thought that was the rest of our career, potentially. That’s 10 fucking years. I don’t want that kind of commitment. But it was a huge step with Warner, because we were able to have a label internationally, so there’d always be someone for us to go on the road, and we’d know whether some markets were supportive or some were not.
It was also that Warner was a cool label that had a lot of cool bands. Our publicist with Warner works for so many different types of bands. That doesn’t make them all good, but sometimes I’ll look at the list of bands Warner has worked with and think, “There are so many good bands on that label that are considered indie rock.” It’s great to be on a label with them and their hit songs.
I definitely feel a lot of the critics of the band have been males who have worked since the ’90s. Now that you’ve reached your sixth album and have still been popular, have you seen any changing attitudes?
Well, at the beginning of our career we were 19 years old. In the first few years there were certainly a few things people latched on to. The fact that we were twins and really young, and that we had already come out, a lot of journalists thought, “Oh, this was something dreamt up by the record labels.” But for years we just tried to get through that by being musicians, running our band and writing our songs. And then that band T.A.T.U. came out, and I was just like “Jesus Christ! Oh, here we go.” It’s not so bad in North America, but I remember going to other countries and people would be like, “So you’re like T.A.T.U?”
We spent a lot of years undoing the damage of the mainstream version of the impressions of what we are. I definitely feel like after the last couple of albums those questions have gone away and people have moved on. The fact is we’re still in an industry that doesn’t necessarily reward women for being rock stars, feminist, business savvy, or aggressive. It’s not 1960, but it’s definitely not what it should be. I think there’s so much on the Internet now that people can find the truth. I don’t actively try to correct people’s impressions of us.
I actually found one interview where you talked about all the hype surrounding one set at the Lilith Fair. Do you think that’s going to be an issue again?
It seems that every interview we get asked about that, and we get the “misconception” question a lot. I learned early on that we can’t really control that. Whenever we do an interview or retrospective, we try to put out a very good impression of ourselves. It does become less of a concern, and as I’ve gotten older, I haven’t worried about it as much.
So where do you see yourself going in the future?
Well, we owe Warner one more record, which we probably won’t put out for another couple of years. After that, I’m not sure. I imagine that Sara and I will make music together for a long time, but I don’t know if it will be as “Tegan and Sara,” or if “Tegan and Sara” will retire and stay home and make music. It’s hard to say, but I definitely think we’re reaching a point in our lives when we don’t want to be constantly lugging it out there. We’re at a good point right now, and I think the most important think to me and Sara is that we’re comfortable with our music. I think the future for “Tegan and Sara” may hold a little less touring and more writing.
Do you think you’ll always be writing music?
Yeah, I just love to sit down and write songs. After 10 years, I’m at a place in my life where I feel pretty stable and calm and healthy (which means right now I’m writing less). [Laughs.] I think I’ll always be writing, but I can see why a lot of musicians stop touring as they get older. It gets away from the parts about music that I love.