Sirens from the North: Tegan and Sara

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As the old tale of the sea goes, mythological creatures called Sirens resided on rocks far enough from shore so that when their sweet voices lulled the ships and sailors near them, the ships would crash on the rocks. The last sounds those sailors would hear were the Sirens’ angelic voices. It’s kind of morbid in a sense, so if you take out the rocks/sailors/shipwreck and leave in the voices of the Sirens, then you’ve got an inkling of how powerful Tegan and Sara are, especially on their latest release, So Jealous (Sanctuary Records).

Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Tegan and Sara are bringing a certain amount of frosty acoustic rock to the table, which draws inspiration from bands they were listening to in the early ’90s, as well as a healthy dose of classic rock, passed down from their parents. The sisterly combination, along with the fact that they’re twins, is a powerful source of inspiration for Tegan and Sara, but can also be a bit of problem when it comes to disagreements. Luckily, separation seems to breed creativity since Tegan lives in Vancouver and Sara lives in Montreal, which is basically on the opposite ends of Canada. Suffice to say, when Tegan and Sara get together to make music, a connection is formed—and having two heads focusing on writing songs is always better than one.

As evidenced by previous releases and again on their latest album, Tegan and Sara compliment each other perfectly; voices reach beautiful harmonies, juxtaposed by loves-lost lyrics and stellar instrumentation. With drummer Rob Chursinoff and bassist Chirs Carlson rounding out the band, So Jealous was born from Tegan and Sara’s tape demos, made during time off after their previous tour. Further expanding upon their delicate pop sound, former Weezer/The Rentals band member Matt Sharp makes a guest appearance on So Jealous, bouncing between the Moog, Casio and organ to create some deliciously melodious hooks.

In 2000, Tegan and Sara released their debut album, This Business of Art, to much fanfare, and from there began a cult following of folks who loved the clever lyrics and intertwining lead vocals of the acoustic guitar-toting sisters. They released their second album, If It Was You, in 2002 and, as most artists are prone to do, they managed to grow and expand on their sound. With the release of their latest record, Tegan and Sara helmed the production seats, making sure that all parties met the integrity of their vision so that the intimacy of their home recordings could come out of the project.

Although the girls got their start in their teens, their interest and participation began much sooner than that. Sara says, “We actually started playing guitar and playing in bands when we were about 15. Our parents were super into music. They were really young when they had us—total ’70s parents, so there were always records lying around, and there was always music. So my whole life I’ve always been listening to music, and even my grandparents and everybody around me has always introduced me to different types of music.

“When we were in [seventh grade], I would say we started branching out and getting into our own style of music. Instead of listening to what our parents were listening to, or listening to the radio, we started getting into alternative music. There was a radio station that started up on the AM dial in Calgary that was sort of similar to a college radio station but slightly more mainstream or whatever. That’s where we discovered bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement and the Replacements—that kind of stuff, which got us into indie rock. In high school, again we were branching out further, musically—eventually to the point where we wanted to start playing our own songs.”

She adds, “We used to go to gigs and punk shows, and I never really thought I could do it until I started playing guitar, and then I knew that I really wanted to do it.”

Tegan and Sara had the requisite piano lessons growing up. “I played piano for eight or nine years, but it never lent itself to how I approached guitar,” Sara says. “I really didn’t think of it the same as far as with piano I was learning scales and classical pieces, and it never really inspired me to write my own songs. But with guitar, it was easy to emulate who I was spending all my time listening to, you know? As soon as I started playing guitar, I was like ‘screw’ lessons; I was ready to start writing my own songs.

“I think in a loose kind of way [piano lessons correlate to guitar]. I mean, I wasn’t terrific at guitar theory because I was competent in piano theory, but I also think it gave me an understanding of how music works. It had developed a rhythm in me, one that I had hammered out for years and years, so it was definitely a natural instinct. I definitely think more classically and technically about the piano than I do about the guitar.”

For being in the same band and being twins, Tegan and Sara take an interesting approach to songwriting—they don’t write together and “never really wrote together,” according to Sara. The first song Sara ever wrote was inspired by her sister. “The first song I ever wrote, Tegan was sick and she had these purple Etnies shoes that I loved, and when she was sick I asked her if I could borrow them. That was the only time I got to wear them was when she couldn’t go to school. So anyway, when I got back from school that day, we had both started fooling around with our guitars then, and I remember she was really sick and asked me what school had been like that day, so I started writing a song. It was called, “Tegan Didn’t Go to School Today,” and it was about her being sick and me having to go to school all by myself—we used to hate not going to school together. We had this routine and it was always awkward for one of us to be at school without the other.”

She adds, laughing, “So that was the first song I wrote!”

Now, several years later, Tegan and Sara have truly come full circle with So Jealous. Working with John Collins, David Carswell and Howard Redekopp on the boards, Tegan and Sara have crafted a warm, indie-pop-fused record with lots of contagious hooks. “It was a lot more formal this time around because we were in a studio instead of recording in people’s houses like past records. Actually, I liked it more because when we were recording in people’s houses it felt like we were never done. When we were done, we’d just close the door to the room, but it was the same house you’d been sitting in the whole day. But with the studio we had it locked out for 12 hours, and when we were done, we’d go home and have dinner and do laundry and watch TV in [our] own house and so it felt more like a job. Or, not like a job, but it felt like there were more boundaries, I guess.

“But the actual recording process of this record differed because we co-produced this record. We were there a lot more, so we had a considerable amount of control on how it sounded and what we wanted it to sound like. We were kind of learning by the seat of our pants but also taking some of the skills we had both learned by working with Pro Tools in the past and applying it in the process. I definitely felt more confident in the studio this time, but I also felt that I had a considerable amount of more work to do as a result. I kept thinking, ‘Why couldn’t we get somebody else to do this?’ because some days I just wanted to leave, but there were decisions that had to be made so that we got exactly what we were looking for.”

LATEST NEWS:
Tegan and Sara are currently gearing up for a North American tour in support of The Con, their debut for Warner Brothers and first major label release. Recorded with a big fat budget by Chris Walla, featuring Jason Mcgerr and some other highly talented members of Death Cab for Cutie. Tegan and Sara do a lot of outreach, like playing the Bridge School* Benefit Concert in San Francisco, an all-acoustic concert founded by Neil Young to benefit children with severe communication disabilities. They were first signed to Neil Young’s imprint, Vapor Records.

*The Bridge School is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that individuals with severe speech and physical impairments achieve full participation in their communities through the use of augmentative and alternative means of communication (AAC) and assistive technology (AT) applications and through the development, implementation and dissemination of innovative life-long educational strategies.

The Bridge School is an internationally recognized leader in the education of children who use augmentative and alternative communication and has developed unique programs and trained highly skilled professionals in the use of state-of-the-art assistive technology.

For more on the concert and school, click here bridgeschool.org

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So Jealous was an amazing record. I’m just getting used to the idea that Tegan and Sara are probably going to get really big this year, relatively speaking. It is time that music and artists who make records take back the spotlight from the single making folks, even if its only for a short time. The title track on “The Con” is one of the stand out tracks. Pick it up. I’ll be doing a review for HYPEzine on it, so go check it out!

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