Interview: Tegan and Sara

words by Heather Schofner | photo by Autumn deWilde
| Friday, September 7th, 2007

teaganOriginally published in Verbicide issue #21

Tegan and Sara’s 2004 release So Jealous was the biggest hit for the duo yet, landing them on Rolling Stone’s “50 Best Albums of 2004,” and thrusting them to a level of fame which they (and their tight knit fan base) weren’t accustomed to. Critics everywhere were charmed by their honest lyrics, sweet harmonies, and pop sensibility. Now, three years later, they’ve their much anticipated follow up, The Con, and Sara Quin, one half of this amazing pair, took the time to chat about this new album and how it came together.

For the first time since beginning their musical journey over a decade ago, Tegan and Sara decided to take a break to write music, to concentrate on the songs alone, and see what came out. For nine months they tinkered in their homes, and almost every song on The Con has some tiny element in it that came off the demos created during that period of time. Sara says that little parts stick out in her mind when she’s listening to the album. She’ll think to herself, “Oh yeah, I remember when I wrote that! I was, like, in the closet, and it was July, and it was hot.” The lead vocals from “Are You Ten Years Ago” and “I Was Married” were recorded in this way, in private, months before they had ever set foot in the studio. Tegan even laid down some drums and bass at home.

“When we got into the studio, there was a really extensive blueprint of how each song was created,” says Sara. “The beginning stages of each song in the studio would sort of be us, sitting with [producer] Chris Walla, going through our individual tracks we had recorded at home.”

Multi-layered vocals have become a signature style for Tegan and Sara. They originally started doubling their vocals before their 2002 album If It Was You to create a fuller, richer sound without the need for expensive microphones. On The Con, they used this same approach, despite Walla’s initial protestations to the method.

“For every song, we would double or triple our vocals, and I can remember by the end of the record, that was just what we did, we didn’t even think about it, there was no debate. Chris was totally into it.” Sara recently got an email from Chris, and he was working on a song for a Radiohead cover album. He said to her, “I’m totally changed, I just did this song, and there’s millions of vocal tracks. I’m totally converted!”

Some longtime fans might find themselves outside of their normal Tegan and Sara comfort zone when listening to The Con. Sara thinks this is a good thing.

“When it’s a bit more challenging to get into a record, it sticks longer. I’m hoping that people will have that experience with this album, that they’ll give it a chance and that they’ll maybe initially feel a little uncomfortable with some of the songs, or the ideas, or the arrangements, but that eventually those will be the ones that really stick with them, that really make sense to them.”

Sara says that time will tell, that perhaps after the dust has settled from this record it might be time to take a break — not a working break like they took to write this album, but a real, actual break. Free time has become a foreign concept to the pair, and Sara fantasizes about what it would be like to take a year off from everything.

“Sometimes I literally feel like an addict! I feel like there hasn’t been a day in 12 years that I haven’t played music, or thought about music, or worked on music. We’ll see, you never know what will happen.”

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