I recently got the [lucky] chance to chat with Tegan Quin of the Canadian pop duo, Tegan and Sara. As a long-time fan, the pressure was on NOT to a). come off as a total fan girl, and b). give the same, tired interview. This didn’t end up being much of a challenge at all, as Tegan and I cultivated a rapport straight off the bat. We talked about artists the twins have worked with, politics, and how to navigate the hurdles of being famous. In fact, we talked for so long that her publicist blew up both of our phones for the last fifteen minutes of our conversation, something neither of us realized was going on until after the fact because neither of us answered our beeps. Oops. Here’s part one:
Dese’Rae Stage, PopWreck(oning): The “Call It Off” video just came out. I like that the newer videos seem conceptually really simple, but they use a lot of colors and patterns.
Tegan Quin: Yeah. Sara really likes to do complicated videos and you get treatments from people and they give you these huge concept videos. Our songs are so short, it’s tough to stuff that in. I feel like it’s a waste to spend $100,000 on a video. The director who did this video, Angela Kendall, she also did The Making of ‘The Con’ and put together the It’s Not Fun. Don’t Do It! DVD we put together a couple of years ago. She’s amazing and a really good friend of mine. The whole day she kept spazzing about the smallest things and I kept being like, “Nobody’s gonna see it, it’s only gonna get played on YouTube. No one’s even seen a video on television in ten years.” I kind of think that is really how we feel. We still feel like videos are art and we make videos because they’re part of our catalog; they’re part of something we see as another way to explain and project what we were thinking and feeling when we were making the record. But, I mean, when it comes down to it, how much do we need to spend on that? The first video we did for this record was like $75,000, which is nearly as much as we spent on the record. And it’s like, for what? Does it really sell records? I don’t think it does. I think it’s cool. I think maybe it helps to create an image for a band, but I’m not sure for a band like us, it helps our record. So I love the “Call It Off” video because it was simple and inexpensive and it looks great and we got to help out Angela Kendall, who’s an amazing director and does great videos.
PW: You guys got to work with one of my heroes, Autumn de Wilde [a photographer known for her work with Elliott Smith, Rilo Kiley, Beck, and the Raconteurs, among others]. Tell me about that.
TQ: Autumn’s amazing. It’s very rarely we work with female photographers. They just hardly ever shoot us, for whatever reason. It’s like, female producers and engineers, there’s just not a lot of them–or at least, up in that world. It was amazing. When we found out about Autumn, I mean, obviously I recognized a million of her photos, but we met her probably like six or seven years ago the first time and a million times since then. Chris Walla [guitar, Death Cab for Cutie] is also friends with her, and when we were in Portland making the record, we were talking about, “Oh, we gotta do the art work soon. We gotta do photos.” Chris was like, “You should use Autumn,” and we were like, “Yeah, fuck, we’ve never had an opportunity to use her.”
He was like, “Oh, yeah I’ll call her and get her to fly up here and we can shoot photos at my house.” I was like, “That’d be great,” so we called her up and a week later she showed up and shot the photos and was amazing. She’s so tall and we’re like midgets, so she basically sat on the floor and shot us all day, which was hilarious. She’s amazing, her daughter’s amazing. They’re really tall and talented. I can’t wait to work with her again. I love that she only shoots with film, which is obviously an expensive way to shoot in this day and age, but she’s so good it’s not like it’s a waste. And we got so many photos—we got 20 times the photos we usually get from a photo shoot, so it was incredible.
PW: I was on a bus yesterday, on the way to shoot Melissa Ferrick in Philadelphia. I finished up A Wolf at the Table and I was sitting there sobbing.
TQ: It’s an incredible book.
PW: I wanted to know if you were a fan of Augusten’s [Burroughs] prior to doing the first Spin Liner Notes event with him.
TQ: Yeah, absolutely. Well, the reason why I had agreed to write the song—I mean, I would have probably done it anyway. I mean, I’m a slut, I’ll do anything, but I was a huge fan and Sara was like, “You should take this one,” so I got the e-mail before Christmas asking if I was interested in writing a song for his book. I was like, “Absolutely.” It was also a selfish thing because I got to read the book three months before it came out. So, I read it a couple times and wrote the song and it was really difficult because I’ve never really written about anything but myself. We started e-mailing afterwards. He was really moved by the song. He’s fascinating. His books are identical to the way he is in person and e-mail. He’s not emulating anything other than himself, so it was incredible to finally meet him after six months of communicating via e-mail and text–to actually be able to sit there and have a conversation with him and then to share a stage with him for an hour and a half. He was so funny and it was really amazing, so yeah, I was a huge fan. I owned all of his books and I’ve read them a million times. I think he’s so funny and an incredible visual writer. It was great to meet him. Yay!
PW: He’s totally one of my favorites. Love him.
TQ: Me too.
PW: I know you had a side project. Are you still doing that?
TQ: I am, yeah. I started sending songs that I hadn’t used that weren’t really Tegan and Sara-like to this guy, Hunter Bergen, who plays bass in AFI a couple years ago. Since then, we’ve collaborated on probably another ten or fifteen songs and we’ve talked a lot over the past year about what to do with them. You know, should we put them out? Should we tour? Should we sell them to other people? Should we give them away? Should we put them on MySpace? What do we do with them? We’re still deciding. We had some preliminary talks with some bands. We’re thinking about being more like a writing team, but eventually all the songs will see the light of day. I’m not sure in what form or who will be singing them. They’ll definitely get out there. It’s nice to work out songs and do stuff with someone else. I’ve been making music with Sara for 14 years, so it’s nice to vent in another form and I’m also emotionally less attached to the songs. I feel like I’m learning a lot while writing with someone else because I’m able to take feedback and criticism in a way that I can’t with my own music.
PW: That totally makes sense. So, I read something about a new album next year?
TQ: Yeah. Two or three times during the demo-ing process, we make a CD with lyrics and send it out to this collective of people whose opinions we really appreciate. They give great feedback and we try to eliminate excess [tracks] that we don’t think are gonna make it to the next stage and we kind of move forward ten songs or whatever and start writing again. So, we just did that last night–made the list and burned the CDs and sent them out. We’re gonna tour and get some feedback and start writing again. My goal is to make a record next spring. We’ll have the summer to get the video made and the press done and the pictures taken and put a record out right away in September. We’ll start touring and not do the long lead-up. I don’t think that’s necessary for a band our size anymore, you know? We’re not Mariah Carey. We don’t need six months to lead up to a record and get singles out there and try and get a million downloads on iTunes. We just need to get new music out there and keep trying, so hopefully everyone will be hearing new Tegan and Sara by next summer.
PW: That is awesome and fast and I love it.
TQ: Yeah. I mean, I’m projecting, but once you get past September, it’s really hard to release a record, so we’re gonna try to do it really quick and I think that’ll be possible because after this US tour, we’re pretty much done.
PW: Speaking of, I noticed that the second New York show is the Amnesty International ‘Small Places Tour’.
PW: I have no idea what that is.
TQ: I don’t know what it is either, but— (laughs)
PW: Hey, at least you’re honest.
TQ: …but obviously you know what Amnesty International does and the Small Places Tour–I mean, I’m not exactly sure if there’s some specific thing about it. We just approved it a couple days ago. Basically, they just take a cut of the money and put it towards Amnesty International. They take artists from all over the place. It’s not like a tour with two bands going out and touring the US. They’re gonna get tons and tons and tons of artists all over the world in different venues to contribute a percentage of their merchandise or the ticket from the show to Amnesty International. So the tour is kind of like a play on that. It’s not actually a tour, it’s just a whole bunch of artists on their own tours contributing. We’re gonna contribute our profits from the second night’s merchandise to the tour.
PW: Cool. Good deal.
TQ: Yeah, it’s gonna be great.
PW: This song has actually come up a couple of times with a couple of different artists I’ve interviewed. I’ve seen five or six bands cover it at this point, but I wanted to know why you decided to cover “Umbrella.” It seems like a lot of my friends are like, “Fuck that song, it sucks,” but honestly, it’s one of the only pop songs I can think of right now with a positive message.
TQ: It’s a great song. I love the production. I love that kind of music. It’s something we would never do, so I really appreciate it. You know, from a completely different perspective, just hearing it. Riri [Rihanna] is so hot and when we were covering it, no one had really covered it yet, so we weren’t doing it to be ironic or for any reason other than we thought it was great. It wasn’t a huge song yet. It was big, but not huge. It hadn’t taken over the world yet. I just thought it was a great song. First of all, I think she’s a really good role model. She’s smart and intelligent and has a huge part in what she does. I love that she plays with her sexuality and she’s not a a traditional hot pop star female with the long hair and big boobs and, you know, she kinda dresses like a tomboy from time to time. She really plays with this kind of lesbian look with the short pixie hair cut and the tattoos. I just think it’s really cute and fun and hot and I think it’s a great song, so that’s why we were doing it. Then it got to the point where people were calling for it before we’d even started playing and I was like, “We gotta stop playing that song.”
PW: So, do you guys write everyday as a practice?
TQ: I like to play music as much as possible. Some days, like today, I won’t get to and I definitely feel like it’s an addiction. Sometimes I forget that I’m not just writing songs to write songs, that I need to put a record together and they need to be the best songs I’ve ever written and I need to stop pushing them out so quickly and let them sit inside and gather speed and stuff.
But yeah, Sara really likes to write and blog and get out there and we definitely have a million different ways and forums to do that. When we go out this fall, we’re going to shoot another show like we did before when we were making the record and touring (Backstage Bilingual and Trailer Talk). We’re gonna do a political show while we’re out. We’ll shoot a backstage show about the elections in Canada and the US which are both coming up, obviously, and they’re huge, huge topics of conversation in our world and we’re both obsessed. So, we’re gonna do that. We’re always trying to do stuff to get ourselves out there. I think we’re more than just a band. We’re at this point where we’re personalities in our own little world—at least in our heads. We’re gonna work on a book for the new year and continue writing the record so there’s definitely a schedule of writing, working, talking, music-making.
PW: I wanted to know, because you guys do spend a lot of time in the US, how the current political climate affects you.
TQ: It’s terrifying. The idea of John McCain and Sarah Palin getting in makes me rethink my whole life. I’m just kind of like, “Can we really go down to the states and tour another four years with a government who’s fundamentally against who we are as people?” That’s really tough for me. It used to bother me, but now it’s actually affecting me.
Emotionally, I feel really upset—panicky, almost. We just dissolved Parliament in Canada and they’re calling a new election. It’s so confusing. The show, I swear, the political show we shoot this fall, should be called, “You Think Your System’s Confusing, Imagine What Ours is Like.” It’s so difficult, the way it’s set up. It’s just so confusing. I’ve lived here 28 years and I feel like I don’t understand what’s going on. I’m like, “You can dissolve Parliament?” Anyway, the US, comparatively–I feel like, no matter what happens, the way our government is set up is really different. In America, it’s a popularity contest and it’s literally left or right and it’s really hard for me to swallow. It’s hard for me to understand. I just can’t imagine over the last few years, how on earth you guys would collectively come together and allow them to run the country. It’s so horrifying to me, it makes me sick to my stomach. I can’t imagine why a gun loving, anti-gay, anti-choice—I just don’t understand how it’s happened. It seems like a nightmare to me. It just feels like time is going by so quickly. I just feel so upset and like I wanna go smack the Democrats around and be like, “Hurry up, get it together! What’s happening?” I just feel so upset about it, so I definitely feel like there’s gonna be a lot of venting on-stage. But who am I venting to? I’m preaching to the converted. I say that, but I was just in New York and I was venting on-stage and went off about how I wanted to sleep with Sarah Palin, like, you know, antagonizing. This girl came up afterwards and was giving me a piece of her mind, ripping me a new one about how she was a Repulican and how I didn’t understand and blah, blah, blah, and I was thinking–this is a 25 year old girl at a Tegan and Augusten Burroughs show in a book store raising money for an AIDS organization. It was like, “Who are you? Why are you at our show?” So I say that I’m preaching to the converted, but I’m not. And obviously, with the way that our fans are, after every show there are a million YouTube videos, so I’m hoping that we can make as much change as we possibly can with what power we have. We put the Rock the Vote widget up on our MySpace page and they were saying that, out of all the bands that did it, more people came from our page to register to vote than anywhere else. So I know we have a really progressive, alternative, excitable young audience, but I think that they actually do have a lot of power, so we’re definitely gonna try and use that voice as much as we can in the next couple of months to inspire people to wake up. I thought people were awake and then I was in New York when they announced Sarah Palin. I was just like, “Oh, God.” Like, “Oh no, this is going to be so stupid. ” This whole thing is awful.
PW: That woman is terrifying.
TQ: Terrifying, terrifying. The confidence and the patronizing attitude and the whole thing is so insane. My mind is blown. I’m having a hard time articulating what it is that bothers me more. So horrifying.
PW: I feel the same way. I’m a gay woman and I’m terrified to live in my own country.
TQ: Yeah, absolutely. You should be. Everyone should be. I was watching John McCain on The View when he was talking about how they were going to elect people to the Supreme Court who were going to follow the Constitution as it was written and Whoopi [Goldberg] was like, “Can you say that again? Should I be worried? We amended the constitution for a reason. Are we going to have slavery again? Am I gonna be a slave?” People should be that outraged that he’s saying that. It is unfathomable that we would be taking steps backwards at this point in America. We’re already so backwards, how can we go any further? We’re like, two steps away from going back to slavery, it’s true. I just don’t understand. At the same time, you have Barbara Walters being like, “How many houses do you really own?” And I’m like, “Yeah, Americans are stupid.” Barbara Walters is an example of the complacency and the obsession with fame and fortune, rather than someone’s actual belief system and what that actually means on the whole, in comparison to the way the rest of the world is run. What Americans claim to hate so much is exactly what they are. It’s incredible to me. So anyway, blah, blah, blah.
PW: I totally agree with you. I’m gonna change the subject, though.
TQ: Dear God, I could talk forever about it.
Note: The views expressed herein are those of the author and artist being interviewed and not necessarily those of the publication or record label which they represent.
Filed under: interview with | Tagged: angela kendall, augusten burroughs, beck, chris walla, death cab for cutie, Elliot Smith, featured, politics, rilo kiley, tegan and sara, tegan quin, the raconteurs |