Much ado has been made over family bands: The Jacksons, the Osmonds, the Carpenters. The thing is, while tapping a sibling to be a band mate is convenient, it's certainly no guarantee against implosions and disasters (i.e. The Allman Brothers, The BeeGees, The Meat Puppets). And sometimes band dynamics are just a little too close to family dynamics (i.e. Oasis, The Black Crowes, Happy Mondays). But electronica indie-pop sister duo Tegan and Sara seem to have found, in their decade as a band, that delicate balance between having good chemistry and being all up in each other's business.
"We write/record separately when we are working on demos, though that is changing slowly," says Tegan Quin, by e-mail. The Quins are not just sisters but identical twins; Tegan is the eldest by eight minutes. But other than looking alike, the Quins are very different: Tegan is more outgoing, Sara is shy; Tegan's writing is more heart-on-sleeve while Sara favors abstractions; Tegan lives in Vancouver and Sara lives in Montreal — which means they're based on opposite sides of Canada.
"Generally, once we are ready to make a record, we do preproduction in the same city with our band/producer,” says Tegan. “When we are preparing to tour we do the same thing. There is really no issue with us living in separate cities. In fact, I think its good for our band to have space from each other. Forces us to be our own people. We're able to bring different things to the table and our life experiences are so different, it keeps things fresh musically too."
For the past five albums, the Quins have stuck to a plan of writing separately. They both play keyboards and sing; whoever writes the song sings lead on it. But, to keep things fresh, they decided to collaborate for last year's Sainthood. "It was fun to try something different," says Tegan. "We aren't the kind of writers who need to be in the same space to create, so to force us into a creative space together was interesting. In the end it was too boring to do all the time, but we are starting to collaborate over the Internet a lot and that's more of what people will see from us in the future."
The future could bring other distinct changes as well. The Quins turn 30 next month, a milestone that Tegan calls "definitely significant." She explains that when the band signed with Neil Young's Vapor Records 11 years ago, the label boss told the Quins to enjoy their 20s, "to live and experience life and not to worry about being popular because we would make our best records in our 30s," says Tegan. "Now that I am almost 30, I am starting to worry/wonder how I'll do that. Ha."
Crafting solid songs might feel like a challenge, but the Quins have, almost from the start, written the sort of music that was snapped up by TV shows. The Hills, The L Word, One Tree Hill, Veronica Mars and Grey's Anatomy all used Tegan and Sara songs on their soundtracks.
And then there's the group's Alligator LP, which came out this year. "Alligator" is the single from Sainthood. "We asked a ton or artists to remix the song and everyone plus a ton more got back to us with great remixes," explains Tegan. The digital album includes 17 versions of the songs, from the likes of Passion Pit, Four Tet and Ra Ra Riot.
Not so surprisingly, many of the artists on the Alligator LP share certain influences and sound themes with the Quins: New wave, electronica, dance beats and an ‘80s aesthetic that shines through without coming off as retro. Tegan isn't about to readily accept "’80s" as a descriptive, though. "Our music, for the most part, doesn't sound ‘80s, or at least not the ‘80s that people think when they hear '80s,'" she insists. "We grew up on Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, The Police, Phil Collins and other huge ‘80s acts, and that's what made us want to be songwriters and career artists. Those were our first idols. I think that had a huge part in our growth as artists. Also, being teenagers in the ‘90s with artists like Ani Difranco, Nirvana, Hole, L7 and The Cranberries being played nonstop where we lived influenced our sound."
Apparently, literature also numbers among the Quin's influences. A couple of years ago, Tegan performed at a Spin.com-hosted Liner Notes event with author Augusten Burroughs. He read from then-new A Wolf at the Table; she performed a song that she had written for the audio book. "Performing together was in my top five for sure," says Tegan. "We had such a good time. I would love to write more music for film/tv/books in the future — it was a great way to get out of my own head."
And she's not thinking the novelization of One Tree Hill, either: "I would love to write for John Irving."
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Tegan and Sara
where: The Orange Peel
when: Monday, Aug. 30 (9 p.m., $28 advance/$30 doors. theorangepeel.net)