Tegan and Sara bring sister act to Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Tegan and Sara bring sister act to Aspen

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Tegan and Sara, a Canadian rock group headed by identical twins Tegan and Sara Quin, performs Wednesday at Belly Up Aspen. (Autumn DeWilde)

ASPEN ” The first three songs on “The Con” all begin with the word “I.” On the next two songs, “I” doesn’t appear until the second word. The use of the pronoun is not at all incidental; the album seems like an exercise is one person examining the core of her emotional interior, and revealing all. The title track reads like confession: “I listened in, yes, I’m guilty of this, you should know this.”

Though “The Con” isn’t sparse in sound ” the swirl of keyboards, drums and guitars add up to a style that is equal parts punk and teen pop, with dashes of New Wave and electronica ” it’s hard to imagine such intimate lyrics coming from a collective mind. Just reading the words on the liner notes ” such phrases as “Oh I’m feeling directionless yes, and that’s to be expected,” from “Soil, Soil,” or “Remember when I was sweet and unexplainable? Nothing like this person, un-loveable,” from “Back in Your Head” ” and you can hear the backing of one strummed guitar.

“The Con,” released in July, actually comes from two separate singer/writers. Although just how separate they are is an interesting issue. The album is the fifth from Tegan and Sara, a group led by 27-year-old, lesbian identical twins Tegan and Sara Quin. Sara says she hears differences between the two voices and the writing styles. But she admits that she hears those differences “on a microscopic level” ” listening to it intently, and from the inside. She understands, however, that all but the most ardent fans are going to be like the twins’ Aunt Rollie: “She’s know us our whole lives,” said Sara, “and whenever she sees us she says, ‘I can’t tell which is which.'”

The Quin twins were raised, in Calgary, with plenty of daylight between the two of them. There was no conflating of identities, no matching outfits. Their parents, says Sara, “definitely thought of us as very different from one another. My mother says Tegan was anxious and difficult. I was easier. I slept better and was more easygoing. And because they saw us as different, they treated us differently. We were in different classes, dressed different, had different friends. We were never referred to as ‘the twins.’ She was just my sister. We were ‘the girls.'”

Music, however, closed those gaps. As 15-year-olds, they discovered ” together, more or less ” guitars, punk rock, a recording studio at their school. They entered a garage band competition, as Sara and Tegan, and won; they made more tapes, played some local shows, did some small-scale touring. And always, it was the twins, Sara and Tegan (even though they renamed the band Tegan and Sara, thinking it more easy to pronounce that way).

Sara says that, at first, the issue of whether to pursue a career in music was far bigger than whether that career would be as a sister act. “Our mother, a single parent, had gone back to university in adulthood,” she said. “She wanted us to be professionals. So the issue was as much about being musicians as about being musicians together.”

That first question was answered when a fellow Canadian-born musician, Neil Young, signed the group to his label and had them tour as his opening act. The second half of the question, though, gnawed at Sara, even as Tegan and Sara were releasing well-regarded CDs, and getting their songs placed in movies (“Monster-in-Law”) and TV shows (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “The L Word”). It wasn’t until a few years ago, Sara says, that she stopped questioning whether co-leading a band with the identical twin sister she had always kept some distance from was a great idea.

“I stopped doing that, started believing in it,” she said. “And it was such a relief to stop questioning that.” Part of that resolution came with physical distance: It was right around when Sara moved to Montreal ” leaving Tegan in Vancouver, where the two had lived since graduating from high school ” that she became fully comfortable with the Tegan and Sara concept.

On musical matters, the Quins exist precisely on the same page. There is little tension between the two.

“What makes it special is, we’re two people collaborating. That’s the heart of what we do,” said Sara, who makes her Aspen debut when Tegan and Sara perform, as a five-piece band, at Belly Up Aspen on Wednesday, April 30, with Australian duo An Horse opening. “It’s always been very easy, very intuitive, and it’s always worked. That’s the area where we work best.

“I’m a huge fan of what she does, and she’s a huge fan of what I do.”

Which does not necessarily mean that they do the same thing, or that they take the same approach to get to their respective ends. Sara says the biggest difference between the two, at least on the musical side, is their songwriting method.

“Something I’m very envious about her ” she’s very impulsive,” said Sara. “She can get an idea and bang it out in an hour. And she’s very prolific. I can labor over a song for weeks, and she’ll say, ‘Just finish it already!’

“And she has a very straightforward approach. My songs will be more prickly, more difficult to get into. I like things with more melody.”

The business side of their partnership, however, exists on another plane. The two Quins are not always huge fans of one another’s ideas on touring, finances, band dynamics, or anything else that exists outside of the music itself. But Sara says they approach those differences in true sisterly fashion.

“We’ll roll around and punch each other about it ” no holds barred with us. There’s an intimacy and openness to it,” she said. “We just go to it if something comes up. Whereas other people will be very diplomatic about it, we’re very honest with each other.

“People say, I could never imagine bringing things up like that. But I can’t imagine just being in a band with normal people, who have to hold their tongues.”

For an album featuring two songwriters who write independently of one another, “The Con” is remarkably cohesive. Whether the songs are by Sara or Tegan, they explore difficult, tentative relationships using intimate details. There is a darkness ” tension and self-doubt ” that runs through the album as a whole; though they are only 27, there is a consistent sense that the past has built up behind them and is weighing them down.

Sara likes the fact that, though she and her sister live in separate provinces, approach music differently, and have opposing tastes, their songs seem to reach for the same sort of expression. “We don’t want the record to be schizophrenic,” she said. “I like that people can see it as being from one cohesive point of view.”

“The Con” suggests that, for all their surface differences, Tegan and Sara come from the same place, are made of the same stuff. Just don’t make too much of a point of that within earshot of Sara.

“Good god, are we that stupid? Are we that unaware, that people think we need the other one to exist? That I need her to breathe air into my lungs?” says Sara, of people who do make such assumptions. “But there is such an intense link between us. I perform with her every night, and have such a similar lifestyle.

“That’s almost against the core of who we are as separate personalities.”


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