It's Feb. 15, and Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara is discussing how a single lady from Canada with a day off in New York spent love's official holiday. Instead of sulking and pouting, she and some unattached friends made the most of each other's company. “We wanted to feel like we could go out and have a nice evening, so we tried to pick something that wasn't going to be romantic,” she says. They decided on sushi.
Quin knows a thing or two about love, especially the romantic kind. She and her twin have devoted countless hours to the topic, inspiring lines like “It's been so long since you said, 'Well, I know what I want, and what I want is right here with you,'” as heard on their latest album, last fall's Sainthood. It's a subject that can get tired in the wrong hands, but Tegan and Sara succeed by delivering thoughtful, heartfelt sentiments on the theme.
“Tegan and I grew up listening to pop and rock music, and everything was always about relationships beginning and ending. That's totally what we like to write about,” says Quin, who resides in Montreal while her sister lives in Vancouver. “It's what we've done since we both picked up guitars when we were 15.”
Fifteen years later, the twins — who turn 30 in September — are enjoying the fruits of their labor. Since they released their first album in 1999, Tegan and Sara's fan base has grown steadily over the years, a process that got a boost in 2005 with the single “Walking with a Ghost.” Their last two albums, 2007's The Con and Sainthood, have continued the ascent, drawing in new fans with clever lyrics, sharp pop nuggets, and those otherworldly voices.
Sainthood is the first release to feature a song (“Paperback Head”) co-written by the pair. Quin says the rest of the material they wrote together in New Orleans will eventually see the light of day. The album was influenced by Leonard Cohen's “Came So Far for Beauty,” which talks about practicing “sainthood” to gain someone's affection, an idea that relates to both of the sisters' love lives.
“Tegan ended up getting what she wanted and what she was practicing good for,” Sara says. “I didn't. What was so attractive to me about 'Came So Far for Beauty' is that in his pursuit, she didn't reciprocate, and it didn't matter that he had devoted himself. There's natural frustration and sadness when you feel something for someone and they don't feel it for you, but I do think [practicing sainthood] is still worth it.”
Great albums aside, it's their live show that helps Tegan and Sara really collect avid followers. From the stage, their winning formula involves fitting in hilarious stories and interactions with fans between heartbreaking songs about the human condition. Sara says their knack for banter started out as a “nervous tic” brought about by the realities of being an opening band. “It was almost like overprocessing,” she says. “I blame my mother. She was a therapist. We would constantly check in with the audience, even if they weren't our audience.”
Looking ahead, Tegan and Sara expect to stay busy for most of the year, splitting their time between hitting the road and being hopelessly in love with the idea of being hopelessly in love. “I don't know how I would make music if it wasn't about romance,” Sara says. “There's something so bottomless about the idea of love and pursuit of love. Love is like death — it's all-encompassing.”