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Tegan and Sara: An Interview with 'The Con' Artists

Tegan and Sara paint their game faces and brace for The Con,

their highly anticipated new album.

Indie rockers Tegan and Sara launched their music careers, Canadian idol style, as teenagers in 1998, when they won a garage band contest in Calgary and caught the attention of Neil Young’s Vapor Records. They later toured extensively with Young, The Pretenders, Rufus Wainwright, Weezer and Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair - all before releasing their breakthrough album, So Jealous, in 2004.

So Jealous, with its singular mix of daring harmonies and pop hooks layered with New Wave synth, garnered Tegan and Sara, the one-time folk fiends, critical acclaim and widespread attention. Rolling Stone hailed the work as one of the 50 best albums of 2004. The duo shared their thoughts about success, and other topics, in a conversation now available on AfterEllen.com, our favorite source for all things related to women and entertainment.

Talk about anticipation. Appetites for Tegan and Sara’s follow up effort, The Con, were so ravenous that the album leaked over the Internet more than a month before its official release date of July 24. The pair in response offered two of the new tunes, “Back in Your Head” and “The Con,” to listeners on their MySpace page.

NewNowNext spoke recently with Tegan and Sara, who are set to embark on a major U.S. tour in the fall. They talked about developments in their music and lives, and their enduring admiration for Phil Collins.

There’s one more thing. Tegan and Sara are also twin sisters and out lesbians - but they’d really like you to focus on the music, please.

Catch the full interview with Tegan and Sara after the jump!

Tegan and Sara: women at work.

NNN: Do you feel pressure about the release of The Con given the success of So Jealous?

Tegan: I think with each record we’ve seen so much growth. Each record we’ve seen so much happen and so many great achievements accumulated over the lifespan of the record. Even though in some people’s eyes this is our second record, it really is still psychologically for us our fifth record. I think we’ve come to a place where we accept whatever happens, happens, and that we’re only capable of making so much happen.

NNN: What musical direction does The Con take?

Sara: I definitely think it’s a darker record. It’s not that So Jealous wasn’t a dark record. I think we were working with a production team who were involved with The New Pornographers and The Smugglers, and it’s a lot more like a 60s/70s pop rock music type thing. The New Pornographers could be singing about the dark things and it still makes you want to get up and be like, “Yeah!”

This record we did with Chris Walla from Death Cab for Cutie and we just let what came naturally out of us become what the record was. And I think that it is darker. I don’t think there is that kind of pop sensibility about all of the songs.

NNN: What process do you use to make the music?

Sara: We write the songs independently. We don’t ever collaborate during the song writing process. Once the song is actually written, when there’s not much more I would do to add to it, I generally send it to Tegan. This time, once we sent the songs to each other, we had so much time. This was really the largest period of time we’ve had off since we started making music and graduated from high school. We really took a good chunk of time off and said, “Let’s write songs and let’s really flush them out so that when we get into the studio they’re just kind of done.”

The Con: "I definitely think it's a darker record," says Sara.

NNN: Who are your musical influences?

Tegan: My mom and her boyfriend were really big into Led Zeppelin, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Police, The Pretenders. I remember a very interesting afternoon when they took us downstairs and played all their old records. They were playing Alice Cooper and told us all these crazy stories about seeing Supertramp and David Bowie play. We just ate it up. We loved it. We’d invite friends over and be like, “You have got to hear this band! They’re so cool!” and we’d put Supertramp on and they’d be all like, “Don’t you like Janet Jackson?”

NNN: What about your well-known love for Phil Collins?

Tegan: Sara and I have a deep love for Phil.

Sara: When you’re a kid you don’t understand the good and the bad, you just like all of it. Or at least that’s how it felt when we were kids. We were just as appreciative of “Groovy Kind of Love,” and so many Genesis fans were just like, “Ew! What the hell happened to Phil?” We were just kids and we thought, “You could sing along to this one with your stuffed animals.”

The thing with Phil Collins, though, is that I remember really explicitly wanting to be Phil Collins. I wanted to actually be him. I thought he was really wicked.

NNN: What are you listening to right now?

Sara: Right now, I just walked around last night listening to the new Electrelane record, which was great. I downloaded the new The National record, which was great.

Tegan: I just learned something. You don’t want to say, “downloaded,” because that implies that you got it for free.

Sara: Well, I bought it off iTunes. The new Feist record is great. When we were in Portland I really got into the new Menomena record. You know what the weird thing is that since I’ve been done the record, though, I’ve been listening to a little bit of new stuff, but I’ve been really living between 1997 and 2002. I bought Sunny Day Real Estate records and the other day I put on Atari Teenage Riot and I just got so excited.

Tegan: The other day, for no reason, I woke up at 1:30 am and just had this unbelievable urge within myself I went padding downstairs, opened up my computer, went to iTunes and downloaded Erasure’s I Say, I Say, I Say and all night: “Always, I want to be with you!”

Sara: That first Ace of Bass record that got really big in the early 90s - love that record. Everything But The Girl, that big popular record that they put out in 1997 or whatever, that I’ve been listening to. I have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of CDs, so I go through eras. My girlfriend makes fun of me, she says, “Oh, we’re going through that year now,” because I’ll just be hooked on a year where I’ll play all the music from that year that I loved and then move on.

NNN: Have you always been out in your careers?

Tegan: Since the very beginning. In the beginning, they don’t ask, nobody gives a shit. Nobody asks whom you’re dating. They’re all like, “So you’re on Neil Young’s record label? Ok, great. Well, I think I’ve got what I need.” And then they would leave.

Then we put out our second record and all of a sudden everyone was interested in, “Where do you get your hair cut?” and, “What was it like to tour with Ryan Adams?” and, “Do you guys have boyfriends?” And it was like, “No, we have girlfriends,” or “No, we’re not dating anybody.” All of a sudden, people wanted to know about us. But that first record, nobody gave a shit about anything, let alone our sexuality.

"Girl fight tonight!" Tegan and Sara plan to bring witty stage banter your way.

NNN: What is it like being prominent women in a man’s industry?

Tegan: We’ve always worked really hard to educate the people around us, because we do work with so many men, about the fact that we are girls, and it is different for us. And we do struggle in some ways.

Things have changed so much just even in the last couple years. So many more alternative female acts are coming act. And there has just been so much more progressive female music, female fronted music coming out. More and more, we’re seeing female DJs and female photographers, and even female tour managers. It’s kind of exciting because it is definitely a male dominated industry. But that’s changing slowly and it is getting better.

NNN: Do you find yourselves dealing with any level of celebrity?

Tegan: We tend to look at this as a hobby/job that we feel like we fell into and we just feel really lucky to have it. I don’t know if we’re reaping the rewards or the benefits of that, i.e., going backstage afterwards and having a slew of girls brought back for us or partying it up and schmoozing and flying around to hang out with other bands. We definitely are not reclusive, but we’re definitely really shy.

NNN: Are both of you in relationships right now?

Sara: I’m married. I’m not really married, but I’ve been in a relationship for a long time - four years.

Tegan: I’ve been single for a year and a half. It’s a lot harder than it was five years ago before when I was single.

NNN: Do you feel in control of your careers at this point?

Sara: I think we’ve set up a really cool infrastructure since we started making music. We’ve always gotten a lot of support from the people around us. We’ve got a good group of people around us who understand what we want to do. I feel like we’re in control. We have a pretty tight knit family of people.

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