Don't bore Tegan and Sara with talk of being Canadian, gay or twin sisters. They've been asked and answered it all. Style Weekly caught up with Tegan Quin just before the U.S. leg of the duo's tour kicked off in Northampton, Mass., in support of their sixth disc, “Sainthood” — a tour that sees an appearance at the National on Thursday. In this far-ranging interview, we uncover a few lesser-known details about the duo's life on the road and their profound fascination with k.d. lang's muumuu.
Style: You usually write your lyrics on a computer instead of in a notebook. Did that hold true while writing “Sainthood.”
Tegan Quin: Yeah, definitely. I don't know if it's the Virgo, the OCD in me, or maybe the bad penmanship? I just have this desire to have clarity when it comes to what I've written.
Speaking of what you've written. You Twitter. Is that something that's an addiction or is it under control?
Oh, I definitely have that under control. When I first got my account it was private and blocked, just so I could follow some friends. Then, Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls) outted me on her page as someone to follow. I was like “F**k.” I think we would've gotten one eventually for Tegan and Sara though.
Sounds like you are kind of tepid about the whole thing.
I like the idea of it, the concept of being able to splash an update to your fans and friends. But, it almost feels like bragging to me. Somehow, because it's all on a computer we just put up with having to know what all of our friends or favorite bands are doing every second. I'm starting to get grossed out by it (laughs). It'd be fine if it was just bands and magazines, but I'll be reading and then there's my friend at-replying to six other friends about having dinner with some person and telling them that they should all come. I'm like “Ugh.”
Kind of like those annoying foodie friends who post the ingredients of their dinner and pictures of it. It's strange.
Yeah, I totally agree. I actually did just have a friend post what she's having for dinner. I'm like “Really? Get a life. Are you going to Twitter every time you take a s*@?” I'm really starting to second-guess everything I post. Like, is this annoying? My fans might be interested in something that my friends would not be.
You've been doing this for a good 15 years or so, well before social media took off. How has that changed your relationship with the industry?
I think it's definitely changed things with the business for the good. There are some bad things that come with it. Twitter, for instance, creates the illusion that we're all friends. It's kinda mental and creates this competitiveness, not just in terms of followers, but in how much you will give. How much you will expose. How close you will get to your audience.
That was my next question. How does it impact your relationship with fans?
Since 1998 when we got our Tegan and Sara Web site, we always signed it “Your Friends, Tegan and Sara” so in a way it's our own fault. It was really more of an idea that we needed to get close. That was in the late '90s when you wanted to make music and entertaining felt personal and small. I like that the intimacy that started at the beginning of our career, when we could talk directly to our audience. At the same time, it created that illusion. I'm not close with my audience. I'm not. They don't come over for dinner and they don't know me. I don't cry to them when I'm sad. They're not who I call when I wake up in the morning. It's hard. I'm telling them what I'm doing on the road, not what I'm doing at home. It's a very one-sided relationship and it feels a little unfair sometimes. For me, what we're trying to create is not an illusion. It's just music. The good side is that we get to put out that music and tell our audience directly about it.
Your fans are really dedicated to you all and I'm sure most are perfectly sane. Are there a few that have gone a little far?
Yeah, totally. Not often though. I feel like all bands have dedicated fans. I think what makes us different is for the level that we're at, we've accomplished a lot for very little because we have a very loyal fan base. They will go see multiple shows. They love the stories and the atmosphere. They tailgate … like Grateful Dead style. I think that's cool. I really like it. But, yeah sometimes that line does get crossed. We have had some aggressive suitors. I mean, I understand being passionate. I slept in a parking lot for Smashing Pumpkins tickets one time. But …
You take the album's title” Sainthood” from Leonard Cohen's “Came So Far For Beauty.” Big fans I assume?
We're both fans for sure. I actually didn't know Sara did it. When she would write songs that didn't have lyrics, she'd put in Leonard Cohen words to place hold. She would choose stuff that was thematically attached to how she was feeling and that would act as a stepping off point when she wanted to write her songs. I always find Sara's lyrics to be beautiful and poetic. It was really inspiring because “The Con” was about death, the end of relationships, losing my grandmother, and hitting that age where you realize life goes by really fast and things end. It was a dark time and a dark record. “Sainthood” is much more hopeful. It's about the beginning of a relationship where you aren't yet in love, but you are obsessed and you have all this hope. You want to be good and inspire.
Back to Leonard Cohen, who does the best cover of “Hallelujah” in your opinion?
Obviously, Jeff Buckley's is amazing. K.d. lang does a pretty beautiful version too. I'm getting a vision of her singing barefoot in a muumuu. It's pretty amazing.
She might win for that alone.
Yeah, her voice is just stunning. I remember as a kid seeing that cover of Vanity Fair with her and Cindy Crawford. So hot. When I conjure that image up, I'm like, “your version wins.”
I know you just wrapped the Canada leg of the tour and signed a bunch of posters to benefit Haiti that were sold at the shows. Anything like that planned for the States?
That was just for Canada, but we fundraise pretty much on every tour even if it's not public. We tend to raise money for organizations that aren't necessarily getting a lot of attention. For our last record, we did a fundraiser for an organization in Quebec that sends [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] youth to camp together. They all get to hang out, get support and therapy. We raised about five grand and that was like the their budget for an entire year. We're kind of obsessed with finding small charities that we can make a huge difference with.
Do you consider yourself an activist?
Yeah, I was raised in an activist household and was very political from a young age. In my personal life, I'm very up to speed with what's going on in the world and I try to balance all of that with what I do for a living. Sometimes it feels ridiculous to know how horrible things are around the world and you're sitting on a tour bus and playing music. It's kinda like “What's the point?” We both consider ourselves activists, but we don't necessarily use our music for that. I'm not interested in political songs, but I like the idea of donating money that I make from my songs to organizations. Everything I do though is kind of political. I'm out; I'm challenging stereotypes, boundaries and homophobia all the time. We've been facing sexism our whole career, so I feel like I'm an activist just by getting up on stage.
How do you stay sane on the road?
Alcohol helps. We actually don't drink a lot, we don't even put it on the rider but knowing there's a day off coming where we can all go to a karaoke bar and get drunk, dance, sing and laugh helps to make it feel like a family. Kinda like a normal life. For me, the road needs to feel less like the road so I need to have my family and friends out, I need to be able to bring my girlfriend, have space and my own room so I have alone time. We don't tour for more than three weeks at a time usually, so that allows me to stay sane and keep my life at home too. Those are the things we've implemented over the years to keep people happy and healthy.
What vices would you admit to bringing out on tour with you or putting on your rider?
During the summer we bring street hockey gear. I love that. Our rider changes from day to day, so I guess we're not your typical band. We don't put a crazy amount of stuff on there or ask for tube socks. We try to do healthy food and change it up so no one gets bored. We also bring DVDs that we can watch as a group. You spend your whole day working, so there's not a lot of time to bond with everybody, so we force bonding. Whether it's having a peanut-butter sandwich all together before bed or watching a couple of episodes of “Better Off Dead,” we do what we have to do to create a good vibe.
Last question, you are playing a couple of Lilith Fair dates this summer. Are you surprised we still have to defend it more than 10 years later?
(Laughing) No. I'm not surprised at all because I deal with it every day. I'm quite aware of how little has changed in that time. I'm happy to have been asked to play. It's a great concept and I wish more artists were brave enough to stand with other women. It's OK to be a part of Lilith Fair.
Tegan and Sara play the National on Feb. 18 with Holly Miranda and Steel Train. Tickets $30-$32.50. Doors open at 7 p.m. For information, go to nationalva.com.