It’s been ten years since Canadian lesbian twin sisters (try saying that five times fast) Tegan and Sara released their first album, and seven since their breakthrough record, the power-pop classic I Hear Noises. This far into the game, the outspoken duo knew exactly what they wanted to achieve with their newly-released sixth album, Sainthood.
“The whole time we were making this album, I thought so much about what a Tegan and Sara fan would want it to sound like,” said Sara Quin, on the line to Southern Star between band rehearsals in Tegan’s home town of Vancouver.
“We wrote about 50 songs, and I was really conscious for the first time of only including the songs that would excite our fans.
“I get really nervous around this time though, when an album’s about to come out. All I can think is ‘Oh my god, I hope our fans don’t hate it!’ ”
It seems unlikely — with tracks like the blistering Sara-penned On Directing and the off-kilter Paperback Head (surprisingly, the first-ever song for which both sisters share a writing credit), Sainthood may well be the strongest Tegan and Sara album to date.
And with an album title like Sainthood and a lead single called Hell, it seems they’re exploring some rather weighty issues this time around.
“I never really put together all the religious themes until people pointed it out to me. We did our first showcase of the album live in a church, and I was wondering whether I should announce we were born-again Christians,” she laughed.
So you’re not trying to tap into that lucrative Christian rock market, a la Creed?
“Oh my god, are you kidding? No, most of the album really doesn’t deal with religious issues.
“At the time were writing the songs, Tegan was going through a few serious relationship issues, and she claimed that she wasn’t going to write about it. Then she started writing songs using these big vague metaphors, and I’d have to say, ‘You’re writing about the girl, OK? You can fool everyone else, but I see through this metaphor’, ” Sara cackled, clearly tickled by how easily she can get under her twin’s skin.
Sara’s concern at what fans would think of the new album is indicative of the twins’ unusually close relationship with their supporters — marriage proposals from baby dykes and arty gay boys alike are common at Tegan and Sara gigs.
“We’ve always had very loyal, intense, excited fans who invest in us on a personal level. I think a big part of that is because of who Tegan and I are as people — we’re both very honest and passionate,” Sara said.
“The response from our fans over the years has made us realise there’s real power in letting people know you who are. And I’m into it, because when I was a teenager I felt that way about Kathleen Hanna, Ani DiFranco or Billy Corgan.
“I remember writing to Billy Corgan and asking if he could send me the lyrics to [Smashing Pumpkins’ debut album] Gish. I was that kid. So I totally understand our fans when they’re like ‘Dear Sara, I just think we could be really good friends…’ because that was me.”
Fans were in for a surprise recently when the sisters surfaced on something of a leftfield collaboration — Feel It In My Bones, the highlight of Dutch trance DJ Tiesto’s recent Kaleidoscope album. How did two indie rockers find themselves reinvented as trance divas?
“I’m very out of the loop in the dance world, so I didn’t really know who Tiesto was,” Sara admitted.
“But he did a remix of Back In Your Head off the last record [2007’s The Con], and he had us come along to a show of his and perform it with him. It was crazy. Twenty thousand people dancing at three in the morning. I’d had no idea how exciting it felt to be on stage playing music that wasn’t rock.
“From there, he sent us the instrumental for the song on his new album, and we wrote our song on top of that. It was great for us, because it was such a new experience to try and write a dance song. It was a challenge — how do you write a song like this?”
In recent interviews, Tiesto said he thinks the twins were born to sing electronic music. It’s a genre Sara admits she has a newfound interest in.
“I take his comments as a great compliment, because I’ve always been self-conscious about the way we sounded. I never thought we had natural singing voices. So to know people like Tiesto appreciate our voices fills me with a new confidence.
“I have to say, I would happily sing on any gigantic electronic artist’s album any time in the future. It’s my favourite thing now!”
Careful what you wish for, Sara — for every ethereal cut like Tiesto’s Feel It In My Bones, there’s a big dumb dance hit like David Guetta’s Sexy Bitch. Speaking of blatant misogyny, is it something Sara comes up against in the rock world? After all, there aren’t many gay female identical twin musical duos out there (except perhaps ZZ Top — well, who knows what’s going on underneath those beards?).
“It’s institutionalised in our society — to say that there isn’t homophobia or sexism would mean I’d been lobotomised and don’t pay attention to anything,” she sighed.
“It can be so subversive, casual, or happen in a completely not-meant-to-offend way. You have to pick your battles. I used to get emotional about things, and I still feel that way at times about homophobia, because it’s still out there and it’s still strong. That’s why I think it’s been so important for Tegan and I to be open about being gay, while still maintaining that our music isn’t ‘gay music’, it doesn’t have a sexuality — we have a sexuality.
“It’s an ongoing battle, but I’ve never in a million years regretted anything we’ve said or done. It only takes one kid, parent, sister or brother coming up and telling us ‘you’re great’ to make it totally worth it. In my head, I don’t care why we make them feel that way, I don’t mind if they can’t put it into words — all I know is it makes me very happy.”
info: Sainthood is out now through Warner Records.