Tuned In to Tegan and Sara

November 9, 2008 10:54:06 AM PST
Our featured Tuned In artist(s) this week are Tegan and Sara. They are a Folk-Rock duo from Canada. The girls were interviewed minutes before their Electric Factory concert on October 10, 2008.Here is their biography:

Tegan and Sara - "The Con " (from Tegan and Sara.com)

The Con is the fifth album that we have released as "Tegan and Sara". But first, here is a brief history:

We are born (at the same time, give or take eight minutes). We are raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Fifteen years pass.

We find a guitar. We record demo tapes at school and in our bedrooms. We enter a "garage band" competition (it was the '90s) and we win. We make "The Yellow Tape". We graduate from high school and we make two more demos, "The Orange Tape" and "The Red Tape". We play shows and do small tours in Canada.

Tegan and I make "Under Feet Like Ours" in April of 1999. We start to tour more extensively in Canada. We eventually send the album to Elliot Roberts, president of Vapor records. We sign a record deal with Vapor.

We then make "this business of art" and go on tour in the USA with Neil young. After the tour we embark on our first national tour of Canada as headliners. We tour with Rufus WinWrite and Melissa ferric, and make our first attempt at touring Europe and Japan. We play David letterman!

We head back into the studio with John Collins of the New Pornographers and David Carswell of the Smugglers in February 2002, to make "If it was You". We tour with Ryan Adams, hot heat, and manage to get ourselves to Australia for the first time! We tour Canada. We play every small, dirty club in the USA.

We go back into the studio with JC/DC and Howard Readopt in February 2004 to make "So Jealous". We finally sell some records! We get nominated for a junco! The Killers take us on tour all over the USA, and the White Stripes cover one of our songs. We buy hummers and do "an illegal substance" -substituted word in quotes.

Just kidding.

Fifteen years pass.

We tour and tour and tour. And after 18 months on the road, we decide to take some real time off. We see the seasons change. We record demos like crazy. We add drums, bass, guitars and keyboards.

We meet up with Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie). We give him the demos, and we make a plan to relocate to Portland, Oregon to record with him at his studio in January 2007.

We move into a house in Portland. We walk to the studio everyday. We tow our gear behind us in a wagon. We bring Angela Kendall (who filmed "The Making of So Jealous" and the Speak Slow video) down with us from Vancouver to film everything we do.

We focus on keeping the songs as close to the demos as possible. After a month we're finished tracking most of the guitars, keyboards and vocals. We bring in Jason Mugger from Death Cab for Cutie. He plays drums and passes along life lessons. Hunter from AFI plays bass on team's songs, and Matt Sharp of The Rentals plays bass on mine.

We film everything, we develop segments and we gather endless footage. We build a set in our basement and every night for two months we record in-person interviews and speaker phone conversations with our friends and family.

March 12 arrives, the album is finished, and the movie is ready to be edited. We go home.

I arrive in exile. Tegan goes to Hawaii in search of Dog the Bounty hunter.

The Con

Tell us about your song writing process.

Sara: Our song writing has always been done individually. We started writing songs when we were about 15, we're 28 now, so it's been a long...

Tegan:... virtuous process.

Sara: Well, we've gotten a little more refined with it so we're able to collaborate now. We don't sit in the same room doing it,. but we will send songs back and forth on the computer. We do a lot of recording at home in our own little studio so when I feel I have a song to a comfortable place, you know maybe with drums and keyboards and guitars and that sort of thing. I'll send it to Tegan and she'll sort of add her, um, her flare to it. And that's kind of how we song write.

Although we have started recently (doing instrumentals and sending each other instrumentals) and so, if she sends me something, I'll write lyrics and a melody and we'll collaborate that way. So, inch-by-inch we're getting closer and closer to a more conventional song writing process. But we were always attracted to this kind of insular, independent writing.

The lyrics are almost like listening to personal therapy sessions.

Tegan: Yeah, I think back when we first started writing music, I think we were teenagers so we were like sitting at home in your room writing lyrics that are incredibly personal, but you think that you're being, you know, random and general and enough that no one knows that you're talking about. But I think that we always sort of. That's just how we started writing and I think we still do that and it's still very much about our relationships, or our take on relationships around us.

And, I think we've gotten better at maybe being a little more universal and general about those kind of things, but in terms of singing, um generally who ever writes the song sings lead on it. But I think it's great to have a built in back up singer with sort of a similar voice, so Sara and I definitely sing on each other's songs whenever we think that it's necessary.

So we play with that a little bit and I really think it's gotten, as Sara said, we've learned. It's gotten a little bit closer to me being a little more conventional. You know we sing chores and all of that type of stuff on each other's songs. Generally now more often then not.

Is Tegan and Sara a band with interchangeable parts or are you a duo?

Sara: I think we think of ourselves as um...

Tegan: ...we're a band.

Sara: [We're] not necessarily a conventional band. I mean we never perform as a duo. We are the band leaders, and there's two of us. So we've always gravitated to the idea that we are, you know, you're sort of your standard rock-pop band. And we just sort of have a rotating background, or backing musicians.

You've made a couple of documentaries on the making of your albums. How did that idea originate?

Tegan During our "If It Was You" era, which is our third record. At the beginning of 2000 and 2001 we finally got cameras and a video camera and started documenting everything. We hadn't done that in our first two records we missed moments. One of our first tours was opening for Neil Young and The Pretenders all through the U.S. and we don't have one picture to document it. So we got really obsessed with capturing as much of our lives as we could, but not necessarily us with celebrities, but more like us and the band all just hanging out, and gossiping. And we made all of these funny little candid documentary kind of little three minute spots that we would put up on the Internet or on our web site. When we made "So Jealous," our last album, and "The Con" our recent [release] we decided to actually like, you know, spend the money and time and energy and find people that we feel comfortable with and film the whole process. With "The Con" we didn't want to have a conventional sit down and have an interview portion because we felt cheesy cause it's like us hiring ourselves to do an interview about us, which felt like totally too much us. So instead we, um, we were all living in a house together in Portland and we set up like a TV studio in our basement and we built a fake set, and we called family and friends, and other musicians and we would just gossip and talk about what we were doing and that just sort of helped almost narrate the movie about the making of the record.

How did you select the film maker?

Tegan: Well, when we met her she was working professionally. Her name is, Angela Kendal, and she did both documentaries, and she also does music videos, it's just like an all around kind of helper. Helper, filmer, what did you call her that one time? Video taper?

Sara: Videotaper. And she was like, 'I think that it's more like a film maker.'

What do you feel is the role of the record producer?

Sara: I think the role of producers is so different for each band and each genre of music. And for Tegan and I, we think the producer as somebody who can be like a mediator, like an editor - someone who can sort of step out of the project and give like unbiased direction or suggestions or whatever. And, you know, sometimes when you're so fully immersed in the projecting, in the songs like we are, you need somebody to just bounce your ideas off, you know, just to sort of give you perspective and for us, Chris was so great because he really became so into the project - like it was almost like his album too, and so he knew every lyric... so if we screwed up a lyric he was on top of that and we had never really worked with people who had been so microscopic about the process with us. So it was kind of like we were all being like OCD. Like we worked the exact same hours every single day. Before we made the album we knew, we knew the songs and we knew the sequencing of the album and so we recorded in sequence.

In the past we had worked on, one day this song, one day drums, this day was guitars, whatever. And then on this record Chris was so...he really wanted to work in sequence. And so it was amazing because at the beginning of the record you have this sort of fresh, you know, bushy tail, bright-eyed energy and it's like those are the first few songs on the album, and as the two-and-a-half months progressed, so did the album. And by the time we were doing "Call It Off," you know it's really the end of the record for us. We're almost done making the record, and we're working on the last few songs on the album so although I know people aren't really interested in the sequential progression of a full album anymore, especially with the Internet and downloading of individual tracks.

Sara: We're still like dinosaurs. We were like a pterodactyl. We want to make something that you can listen to from beginning to end. So I hope people do that.

Tegan: I think so, yeah

Sara: I like to think about it sort of didn't fit from beginning to end, it really wraps nicely.

Tegan: It's kind of weird. People hate using the word concept, but it kind of was in a weird way like a concept record. Because you have two different people working on a similar theme, but also like different branches of that theme you know what I mean, and then the last song on the record it was called "Call It Off." It's about an end, but it?s also about ending something in hopes that something else comes of it. And then I was married, which was all about fighting against everything to be together, just like you know how. Just like, I think that we got really weird and nerdy about it, like thinking that there was like that it ends and it comes right back to the beginning where everything starts again and I think that we were sort of able to shape the rest of the record after that. We were able to find like a vibe. It was like we saw it as chapters almost. Like a progression almost, which is kind of weird because we were starting to put together new stuff for the new record. And, when it came time for sequencing I just put it all chronologically and it felt like I tried for days moving songs around. I was just like, it should go here and this one should go here, and listening to intros and outros. And then I was just like, 'Ahhh! Screw it!' and just put it chronologically, and I kind of like it. And I was kind of like this, it actually is like just going to that next step, and say this is the progress I've made.

You've been on the road for a while. When will the current tour end?

Sara: This current leg is going to be over at the end of October, in Los Angeles. And then we're going to take a break, and then we go to Australia, and that's sort of where this record is in Australia.

And we're sort of. We've actually been touring for 14 months on this album. But we are, even though it's been so long, it feels sort because this is all the touring we're going to do for the next two tours. And we're sort of anticipating getting right back into the studio, and recording our new album. Although it feels like we should be touring more, I think like we've done as much as we want to do with this particular album. We have talked about maybe focusing on markets like Japan or even other parts of Asia, um, maybe South America. But, to be honest after 14 months I'm just sort of like, "I think we've done good here, we've done good, lets stop. Let's take a break. We really focus on making in roads in Europe. Things have been going so well in the U.S, Canada, Australia. Europe was kind of the monster that we took on this time, and I think it took a lot out of us. But I feel really good about where we're at now.

As a band that doesn't get a ton of exposure on radio, television, that sort of thing. We kind of rely on touring and it can be exhausting.

Have you noticed a difference betwwen Erupoean and American audiences?

Tegan: I think for a long time I didn't think that it was much of a difference, but I think kind of as we started doing it more and more often, it really is different, I think the mentality in Europe it like, well the shows are on a lot later, and people drink a lot more there. That's for sure. We just can be really fun and really rowdy. Like, we want to play theaters and we've never been able to do that in Europe. They don't understand the concept of going to see a rock band in a theater, which is really interesting. One of my favorite countries to tour was probably Australia. For whatever reason, they are really efficient, and the audiences are really friendly, and they drink, but not too much.

Have you played in stadiums or outdoor arenas?

Tegan: No, this time around, we actually are going to do some outdoor stuff, and that'll be interesting. But, we've only ever played theaters and clubs there. But everywhere is so different, and I think that America has a special place for us because we've been touring down here for ten years. And, we did well here before we did well anywhere, even before in our own home country. And it's such a big country it's just like Canada, it's like in every state, or in Canada it's ever province you go to it's a different type of person and a different type of vibe. You know, to go from the South to the East Coast to head all they way back to California all in a couple of weeks, you're going to see a different type of crowd every night, and it keeps it really interesting that way, that's for sure. We went and saw big artist that was playing an arena in Baltimore and event though that seems exciting to sell thousands and thousands of tickets and sell out arenas like that all over the world, I think that it would maybe be too boring. It's kind of nice to get to a new club every day and have to deal with like a different vibe, but um...maybe we'll get old and you want clean bathrooms so you might like playing in arenas.

Sara: Arena life is just much easier then the club.

Tegan: I can't believe we just said that...yea. I guess that would be nice. I don't know it's kind of exciting. I mean we're not there so for now I'm just taking in that it's kind of nice just to be playing in a new city and a new kind of vibe every night.

Any plans for solo projects?

Sara: Tegan has a solo project with Hunter Burgan from A.F.I., and we've collaborated with other bands, I think that they both... well, I realize more and more that collaborations with Tegan is probably one of the more challenging collaborations I'll have to deal with in all my life, just because we're sisters. So on top of what is sometimes difficult when you're working with an artist on artistic sacrifice and choices and whatever, then throw like a sibling relationship on top of that and that can be very challenging. I used to be quite hesitant about working with other people; nervous, you know, insecure, like, "How will it feel? What do I do? How do you collaborate?" Now, I realize that if I can make it work with Tegan, pretty much everything else is sort of a little bit easier, you know. And so um I think we both probably have a long future in music and the arts community, and I imagine that if it's not music it'll be something else. And we're collaborative people so I'm sure we'll be involved in a lot of different, different projects.

You are both openly gay. Has that helped or hindered your careers?

Tegan: You know, the first couple of years we were openly out, it wasn't even something that crossed my mind. I remember being constantly asked about it and I remember thinking, "Oh, no, it hasn't hindered us in anyway, and then there was years that it just wasn't relevant. And then we started to get more popular in the main stream, it started to come up again. So, I really, I've battled that question in my head before. I've battled that question before. Because I've never felt that I've suffered any direct acts of, like you know, like homophobia in our industry, but I think it's more sexism to be honest. I think as girls we have it a little easier then our gay brothers, who still aren't accepted like you know big jockey dudes are sitting around being like, "I really think it's cool that dudes are getting it," you know, I think that they can imagine girls together so for whatever reason this makes us less threatening. So, I don't think that it's necessarily that that's hindered us, but sexism, for sure. Especiall in our genre of music. You know, you look at Inde or Rock charts are you don't see women on them, so I think that it's more sexism that has like plagued us a little more, which is again, not direct. It's not like anyone is sitting around thinking like we don?t want Tegan and Sara or a female act on the charts we just don?t think that people wrap their minds around the idea that guys could rock out to a girl band.

Sara: People are always making apologizes or saying like...

Tegan:...'I didn't think I'd like your band I don't listen to girls, you know.'

Sara: Or even today a guy came up to me and he was like, "Oh my friend is even more of a man - big 'guyish' then I am, and he loves you guys," and I was like, "Oh yea...who cares?"

Tegan: I think that we have spent more time developing... or, or you should say, like debunking myths like that. That you can't like girls if you're a guy. Just recently. I mean like, I love music, and I love literature, and I love film and whatever. And it's sometimes so often to forget that people ask me, "What are your favorite musicians? What are your favorite authors?" And I will list all male authors and musicians, and I don't say like, "They're all boys. I mean I am really girly, but I mean I like boys." I mean it's so common in our society to accept that a male can be a story teller or musician ,and that anyone can understand that. But, when a woman does something it's like, men are just like, they're...they're just amused if they can relate to it or what ever. Also, it's not only men. Because I had a really good friend, right after I graduated high school and Sara and I started playing music and one of the first times I made her a mix CD, it was all girls on it. And she was just like, "Wow, I don't think that I own one female artist." And I was just like, so blown away by that, you know. Cause I just had grown up with that.

Sara: I just meant more that men sometimes that yeah I think women sometimes like same thing. Like don't really necessarily listen to female music or female authors or listen what ever. What I mean is sometimes feel that men will just um pigeonhole the music of women or the art of women and say, "Women can only understand this," because I think for so many centuries or whatever we don?t use women as a reference. We don't see society reflected through women's eyes. We see it reflected though male eyes. And so there's a tendency to sort of like apologize or excuse you know men from having to participate you know in, you know, what women put out.

Tegan: My point about this friend of mine was that I also feel that sometimes that it's women who are fighting against liking other women, which again is like another thing that I was going to add to the list of things I felt we had to work against is this idea that, you know, like, if you're a girl and you like our music, then you're a certain type of girl. You know, so when we came out it was like a lot of like kind of, I had a really, really close friend who was sort of you know, well like, "well it's dyke music and it's lesbian music." Or we used to constantly get compared to artists we didn't sound anything like, but who were out musicians. And, so I think that like both community-- I think that it's not one group of society that's working, you know, or that we've been trying to change. We're just an anomaly in weird some way.

Or we were like at that time, you know, I think that it has obviously changed a lot, but you know, ten years ago it was a lot of different things. It wasn't just like, "Oh, people just don't understand us since we were gay". It's just like even in our own community we were...it's sometimes often hard to figure out where we fit.

Sara: It's difficult just to get people...it's such a basic concept in my mind, it's like...it's so important that people understand that we're women and that we're gay. But, I mean, music is not a women. Our music is not a gay women. You know, it's music. It's just...it's something, you know. It doesn?t have a gender, it doesn?t have a sexuality. So, although it's important that people, we feel it's important to be visible about who we are. I don't think that necessarily taints our music that way, or gives our music something that makes it confusing for a heterosexual male to understand. Like a prism or something, you know, it's still music.

Tegan: Do you not understand prisms?

Sara: I'm so confused by a prism. Yeah, I don't know.

What is your opinion on the music industry, downloads and Itunes?

Tegan: I think the state of music is really great. I mean music itself is flourishing and doing wonderful. There's a million bands that you can go and listen to. You know, I was looking through the paper here today and you know, everyone - I - some one was up on stage the other night talking about, "people are canceling tours!" And, "no one can tour!" And, "the market's flooded." But, I mean I'm looking at all the bands that are touring, and it's still and exciting time to see music and to support music and there's lots of variety out there, and even with all these stations closing down, and formats tightening up and play lists getting smaller. It's still and easy time for us to go out and find it. You know, find new music and get inspired. And music's cheap.

Right now, so um the industry itself, I mean it's crumbling in on itself and people are panicking, but you know, just like with the American Economy, I mean changes have to be made. There's been too much greed and too much excess at the top level for too long, that you know, bands like us will suffer from people downloading and tealing music or what ever, but it's the bands up top that are going to be the ones that actually suffer. The bands that used to sell 20 million records that went on a break for three years and then came back with their new rock record that scanned 100,000 copies, and everyone was like, "Woah..." The rest of us we've sold the same amount of records... I mean exponentially we're growing, but like comparatively the amount we're spending we're selling the right amount of records every time we put out a record. But our budgets are reasonable, we cut corners when we can, we never... we don't have any excess. We keep our selves really stream line, and we are a touring band, and that's where we make our money from. I mean, we don't take tour support so it's like, you know, so it's like those top level just like, you know, it's not necessarily us down here, like the smaller bands are feeling it so much, but the smaller bands are defiantly going to be feeling it from the prospective that labels aren't going to be signing or spending as much money. A baby band is not going to have access to tour support, or the marketing budgets, they used to but you know, that's good. Bands will become more self sufficient, you know, they'll become more connected with their audience, and hopefully in turn the audience will become more connected to the musicians again, and it won't be so fickle and so cheap for them anymore.

Are your tours sponsored?

Tegan: No, but do you have someone?

Sara: Not yet, unless you know someone.

Tegan: No I mean I think that we've definitely had those talks, I mean every time we start a tour our manager will come to us and ask, "What do you want to do?" I would love to like, you know for the next record go out on a bio-diesel bus and in order to have that and that have someone dropping off fuel and doing all that stuff, I mean we would defiantly need someone, I mean we wouldn?t be able to have that, we wouldn?t be able to afford to do that, so there's always those kind of options, but Sara and I are pretty responsible in that area, you know, we've always been really reluctant to take money from someone and have to brand ourselves for anyone. But, we'll happily take money, as long as we don't have to tell anyone that we took it.

Your dream tour would be...?

Sara: Oh my goodness, I think that we've been really lucky on this record. We got to tour with our friends for the first time, like we in previous years we've done a lot of support gigs or taken a lot of local bands out on tour and that sort of thing. But, um, we've toured, you know we've been touring America and Canada and Australia playing to 2,000 people a night, and every night we get to watch bands that we love and adore open for us and support our show. Bands like Northern State, out of New York, a band out of Australia called An horse. We got to tour with them in the states in the spring and that was amazing. Right now we are touring with a band from California, oh no, they're out of Texas. Girl in a Coma, a band from Canada called City in Color. These kind of tours are the dream tours for me because we get to watch what we like to listen to every night, and then we get to perform our own shows in front of all of these kids that love us, and sing our songs - it's not really a job.

Tegan: It's pretty cool.

Sara: It's pretty awesome. yea.

Tegan, did you ever go to Hawaii and did you meet Dog the Bounty Hunter?

Tegan: I did. Yea. Well, I was on an island that had a satellite office, so, one of his sons runs it, but I took pictures. It was pretty exciting. I actually admit that it was pretty terrifying. When we pulled up I didn?t really want to go in. My manager's parents had a house that I was staying at for a few days, and it was incredible. When they told me where it was..I was just, like, shaky, sweaty palms... I was really nervous and scared I was going to go there and actually see him. It was a weird feeling... I mean any of them. I was actually afraid to see them. Not afraid, I actually did not want to meet them, as it turned out. And then, not too long afterwards, the whole like scandal happened... like his son leaked a tape of him being racist about...because his son was dating someone that he didn't approve of and so he was arguing with him about it on the phone and...

Sara: And it was his son that released it?

Tegan: Yea, they were in this huge fight and then he said...

Sara: Lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Tegan: He was inappropriate and said something that was really horrible. And the son was so mad at him because he was stepping in and trying to interfere, and he released the tape.

Sara: Basically, Tegan had to stop idolizing them.

Tegan: I had to stop talking... absolutely, I was like oh my god that's so horrible I mean I understand in the heat of the moment saying something inappropriate, but that crossed the line. You know what I mean? Especially to talk to your child that way. I was like, Oh god, any ways so they kind of canned the show for a while, but I knew they'd put it back on because you know everyone has an attention span of like 30 seconds here. So, it's just like Oh! Dog the bounty Hunter, I love Dog the bounty hunter! You know what I mean, everyone got over it eventually. So they put it back on the air, but it was I talked about it so much in press at the beginning of the record before this happened, that I have been given like his books so many times and have just like, "Oh thank you." And then I'm like pushing it under the table. I'm like, "I'm not friends with a racist!" I had to take the Dog the Bounty Hunter clock off the wall.

Sara: It's so funny. It's like how I used to talk about the Dog Whisperer all of the time, and people [would] get me the Ceaser Milan Dog Whisperer Book all the time. It's so cute, it's endearing.

Tegan: And it turns out that he was...

Sara: No, he's rad. There's nothing wrong with Ceaser Milan. You bring me a fact about Ceaser Milan that he's not a rad rad rad man, he's awesome.

Tegan: Yeah. It was exciting nonetheless.

When can we expect the next Tegan and Sara album?

Tegan: We're trying to get into the studio as soon as the Spring and you know, I would love to, like a band like our size, especially with the way the market is now and the industry... I don't think we need a three or four-month lead up to put the record out. I mean it just gives people more time to leak it.

Sara: Hopefully something next summer.

Tegan: Yea, we'd love to get it out like right away, so we could put it out right after we record it. That would be amazing.

Sara: Yea.


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