By Alex Distefano
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Tegan and Sara's subtly subversive, tart pop
Tegan and Sara Quin are the living, dual-headed Übermensch. Had philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche been slightly more realistic and forward-thinking, he would have known that his fully mastered hypothetical "superman" would most likely emerge in a young, self-aware Canadian lesbian twin team that cleanly funnels the messiness of human emotion into tart and kicky pop songs. They also manage the gross, leering industry attitude toward them by being smart and successful and have fast-tracked through the artistic learning process by starting out in their teens.
Though twins/band mates, these darlings of open-minded indie rockers and, increasingly, regular people live far apart. Tegan subscribes to the "West Coast, Best Coast" philosophy in Vancouver, while Sara lives among the international sex spies in heady Montreal.
"Montreal is a real exile-slash-transition sort of place," Sara says of her adopted city. However, the twins don't need geographical proximity to stay productive. "We write songs separately from each other. When we're off the road, it's kind of a moot point where we physically are, and we send sessions on the Internet or on CD or whatever."
Though there isn't a new record behind this series of dates, Tegan and Sara have a large back catalog. Though it lacked an easy hit like "Walking With a Ghost" from 2004's So Jealous, their most recent release, the Chris Walla-produced The Con, consisted of solid pop with brazen lyrical investigations into girl emotions.
Sara speaks with the articulate, fluttery insistence common to women who love books and ideas. She's deep into feminist author Susan Faludi and gender concepts, and she approaches her band from both a dreamy artistic and an org-chart business perspective. Sara is actively engaging all corners of her persona in the service of doing her life right. She responds emphatically when asked if she feels any tremors of the storied quarter-life crisis. "We always feel like we're experiencing cycles of trauma and cycles of comfort," she says. "This record has been bittersweet. Since [The Con] came out, it's been a hard year, lots of transition and changes."
Looking forward, Sara says, "I certainly have these moments where I'm like, 'Am I going to do this for another 10 years?' and, 'When am I going to pop out a couple of kids, settle down in Montreal, and have a book club and learn how to cook?' . . . [Tegan and I] both talk about this idea of nesting a little more, and it can be frustrating; it does seem to be a gendered thing. I'm totally selfishly independent, and I talk obsessively about having babies . . . [and] I think that there's completely a divide where I see guys in this industry, and they've been touring for 50 years, and they're all crusty. It's so fascinating as a woman and as a gay woman to be working with all men."
There is a new album intended for fall 2009, Sara says. At the mention of an old review that calls her style more "complex" than Tegan's, she replies, "Tegan is much more linear about her writing and lyrics and stuff. We definitely have a different approach; I overcomplicate everything."
And it is complicated, especially for them, and especially approaching the molten core of media outlets that still embrace boring norms in young women. Sara is excited about her and Tegan's potential in this kind of paradigm. "If I thought the only purpose [of being openly gay] was to be exoticized by heterosexual males, it's worth all the obsession and subversively homophobic and pornographic conversations," Sara says. "At some point, I was thinking, 'I'm a queer kid in the '90s,' and there were a few people I looked up to and felt inspired by their visibility in the media, and I wanted to be like that. It seems extreme but brave saying, 'This is what I am, and I'm going to be a role model who people can look up to.'" So über!