Q&A: Tegan and Sara
By Nazirah Ashari on July 21, 2010
Having the right band name is essential for any group of musicians. Imagine Radiohead not being able to come up with the right name after given two weeks to change their original, "On A Friday," once they were signed to Parlophone. What if Coldplay was using their original band name, "Starfish"? Or what if Canadian indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara stuck with "Plunk," their original moniker? Would any of these beloved acts have made it this far? Would the name "Plunk" even fit Tegan and Sara's indie-pop signature hits like “I Know I Know I Know” or “Back In Your Head”? Ask yourself as many "what-if" questions as you like about things happening another way to your favorite band, but for twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin, selecting their own names for their band name was a spot-on way to let fans in on their unique brand of soul-baring full-disclosure.
Tegan and Sara have come a long way since the release of their debut album Under Feet Like Ours in 1999. Ten years later, with six albums under their belt, a few awards won and headlining tours across the globe, this Calgary band was recently nominated for Canada’s Polaris Music Prize and can be almost considered a household name (well, a cool household, at least). The band is busy this summer on the Honda Civic Tour with Paramore as well as supporting Lilith Fair and some other gigs around North America. The Twitter-obsessed Tegan took some time to answer our questions about the band’s recently released Alligator LP remix album, their commitment with social networking and smelly toilets at music festivals.
How did the idea for a remix album come about in the first place? What is your favorite remix from the Alligator LP and why?
Tegan Quin: Warner asked us to pick some people to do remixes to release around the campaign for “Alligator” at radio. I think they may have been looking for more "radio" type mixes but we took it upon ourselves to get dance, alternative and pop remixes by some of our favorite acts instead.
Did any remixes that were done for this project not get used? Why?
There were over 30 remixes that eventually came in and so we had to pick the ones we thought would work best together as well as our favorites so some did not get released. We encouraged all the artists to feel free and release them or play them of course but there wasn't room for more, sadly. Perhaps we'll release the B-side remixes someday!
You guys did a brilliant cover of Steel Train's "Turnpike Ghost" for Steel Train’s Terrible Thrills Vol. 1 album. How did the band get into that cover project in the first place?
This winter we spent two months on the road with Steel Train. I originally heard about them through my girlfriend who worked on a video set of Jack Antonoff's other project, Fun. I saw them playing with Hello Goodbye and Hanson a few weeks later and just loved the energy on stage and the music. After two months on tour with them hearing the new songs we were ecstatic when they asked us to contribute to the covers album that came out as a companion piece with their new self-titled record. I imagine they thought of the idea because they are geniuses! I wish I'd thought of it first.
When you first started, was there any other name besides "Tegan and Sara" considered?
Our first official band together when we were fifteen was called Plunk. We were writing punk songs but were without a band so it was Lighting Punk. So we named ourselves Plunk. Our first actual official Tegan and Sara record Under Feet Like Ours came out when we were 19 and we called ourselves Sara and Tegan. Our management at the time suggested flipping the names as there were so many Sara's already. So we did. I wish we could go back in time and have a proper band name sometimes but I'm happy now with Tegan and Sara for the most part.
The both of you update the band's blog, Tweet frequently, record and upload videos on your Vimeo and YouTube profiles… the band seems to be very engaged with the social networking and technology of the times. Are there any things that you dislike about this technology? Were you followers of your favorite musicians in the early days of this technology?
Our first years in the industry (1998-2000) was when the Internet was still getting itself going. We had a website and I had an email account that we used to put on our CDs and tapes. I liked emailing directly with fans. We also were without management for the first few years of our career so we really needed to network anyway we could. As the years have passed we have tried to keep our indie sensibilities and remain in contact with our core audience however we can. At times I feel frustrated by how little people care about the actual music these days but I am reminded that there is still an audience of true Tegan and Sara fans we are able to reach online so I try to remain positive and engaged with the social networking sites for that reason.
Our website www.teganandsara.com is truly where we express ourselves (and through our music, of course) though and where we put most of our effort. I find Twitter to be a place where people get to brag and I hate myself sometimes for posting news about our band on the site. But I think it’s a necessary evil so I do it. We could just cut ourselves off from all the social networking sites but impostor sites would pop up and misinformation is always being posted online and so we think it’s important to have our voice in the mix as much as we can.
Tegan, you recently tweeted: “No matter where u r. No matter what festival. No matter what level your access. No matter the headliner. The toilets smell like hot piss.” Despite their good qualities, what are the other things about music festivals that you and Sara dislike?
Festivals are great venues for getting new fans, playing in front of bigger audiences than you would at a solo show of your own and seeing other bands you might never get to see otherwise. The rest of it is a bit like summer camp and for a band that hated summer camp it can be a bit nightmarish. [Laughs] No sound check, hundreds of crew, bands, fans, VIP's all networking back stage, dirty bathrooms, no showers, hot sun, loud noise all day long. It’s pretty hellish. But some festivals really do a great job and make you feel special and so we look forward to playing them, like Coachella and Sasquatch.
You write many songs about love, heartache and obsessions, but you also write inspiring lyrics like in "Don't Confess". As twin sisters and bandmates, how do you help inspire and motivate one another?
I think both Sara and I look to each other to give feedback and support and criticism when writing. Generally I am impressed by all of Sara's new music. As the years have passed I have become a fan of what she does. We are not competitive in a traditional sense but I think we always are trying to impress and expand on what we've done before internally and that's what keeps the band making new and exciting music. Love is always our subject matter for sure but we cover the love of people who have died, the friends in our lives, our relationship to each other and our family as well as our romantic relationships. I think the lyrics to songs like “Don't Confess” and “I Was Married” are definitely about much more than just love. They are about the struggle to be yourself and be proud as well as explain your love to the people who don't understand or might hate you for being different. There is more to Tegan and Sara than just lust and heartbreak. But that does make up a huge part of our band. F