Interview: Tegan and Sara
Wed, 27 Aug 2008 11:04:05
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Tegan Quin loves talking about her music. She laughs, "No part of me ever hates doing interviews. I get excited about them. In fact, I always volunteer! I'm always like, 'I'll do the next set of interviews!'" Even after a few minutes of conversation, Tegan's unbridled passion for her art comes through. More importantly, her benevolent side is instantly apparent. She just finished up a music video with Against Me!, and she's gearing up to play a September 4th show for Housing Works—an organization that focuses on providing proper housing for AIDS victims. The show is taking place at the Housing Works bookstore/café in New York, and it's sponsored by Spin's book club. Tegan will be co-headlining alongside author Augusten Burroughs. It represents a new kind of concert, and she's psyched about it.
As one-half of Canadian indie rock duo Tegan and Sara, her output has been equally poignant, especially on last year's The Con. She delved into the show, the impending tour, her favorite charities, possibly writing a book and much more in this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.
How was filming the video for "Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart" with Against Me!?
It was awesome! I sang on that song from New Wave, and I just did the video with them in L.A. They mentioned that they wanted to do a new video, and they asked if I was interested in coming down. I was like, "Hell yeah!" I think it's a great song. I love everything that they do, but I really loved that song when I heard it. When I went to the studio to record it, I told Tom that he basically summed up my whole year in one song. It took me a whole record to do it, and I didn't get it across as well as he did in a single song. I'm super stoked to be doing a video with them for it because I love that song. It was a lot of fun. They're a great band, and Butch Vig is a great producer. It was easy. I'm really proud of it. I think we have the same type of audience and sentiment in our music. It's cool. It's great to partner up with a band that you like.
Onto another collaborative effort, how did you and Augusten Burroughs start working together?
Months before his latest book came out, my management got an email from his publisher basically saying that Augusten had this idea for the audio book. Instead of just reading the book like most authors do, he wanted to put a soundtrack with it. He wanted to have a score for the reading. I thought that was a genius idea, and I was also a huge fan of his. I had all of his books, and I knew his whole story. I was beside myself with excitement and exploding with enthusiasm for it. I was like, "I want to do it! I call that! That's my job!" [Laughs] I spent a couple weeks on it. I received the book, read it twice, wrote the song and sent it to him. He loved it and was super excited. For me, it was a really personal song because I had never specifically written about somebody else before. I had always written about my own relationships, but I'd never written about someone else's life. After reading the book, I was like, "Where do I begin?" I didn't really know what to write. I didn't understand what I was supposed to do until I sat down to write a letter to Augusten. In the end, that letter ended up being the majority of the song's lyrics. It was still about me, but it was about him [Laughs].
It must've been a fun challenge.
In a weird way, I think it was one of the more satisfying things that I've done in the longest time because I really had to challenge myself to write about someone else. I know that sounds so narcissistic, but that's what I do. I write about my life and my experiences. I do it in a way that will hopefully be relatable to the masses, but, with this specific situation, I wasn't doing that. I was actually writing about him. The other songs that I heard on the audio book are more universal thematically. In my song, I talk about Augusten. I use his name in it. It was definitely a challenge, but I like that. After 15 years of writing music, I sometimes forget that writing a song is a hard thing to do. I do it the same way every time. It was really nice to get out of my comfort zone and contribute to this. When Spin approached me about doing this book club event, I was like, "What about Augusten Burroughs?" They were like, "That's what we were going to ask you! How should we reach out to him?" I was like, "I'll ask." I emailed him, and he was like, "Let's do it."
What's the story behind the event?
It's such a great thing. All the money goes to Housing Works. It's an organization that basically works to get people with HIV and AIDS appropriate housing. We've worked with a lot of different charities in our time. One of my favorites was a group that came together to get culturally appropriate food for people in need. It doesn't seem appropriate to give the First Nations people Canada Kraft dinners or something. This organization aimed to get people culturally appropriate food. Housing Works is doing something similar. They allot money and resources towards finding a cure. They also work towards helping the people with HIV or AIDS that are afflicted with dependency problems as well as housing, working and financial issues. So, in addition to working towards social change and raising awareness, they work towards getting housing for people living with HIV. I just think that's fucking awesome. I was like, "Yeah, I'm in."
Would you say that the literary and music worlds are intertwined?
Absolutely! Actors want to be musicians. Musicians want to be novelists. I think novelists just like what they do [Laughs]. For me, it was extremely gratifying to be able to read a book and interpret it. Augusten's doing the same thing I'm doing. We're writing about our lives. He just takes 400 pages and beautiful word structures. I write rhyming songs over punk rock chords. We're doing the same thing. We just have incredibly different ways of approaching it and passing it onto the world, which I love. It was great to bridge the gaps between our two worlds. I think it's an amazing idea. I really hope that I get to do it more often. We talk about how boring it is to go on tour and simply bring out bands all the time. It's boring in some ways, but it's awesome. We've toured with some of my favorite bands. I've been inspired by what those artists do every night. I always thought it would be cool to bring a writer, comedian or comedy troupe out. I want to involve some other form of artistic expression in our live show. I think this is really an exciting challenge. I like the idea of sitting down with a writer and using different vehicles to get our message across.
It sounds like the show is going to speak to people musically and emotionally because you're involving so many different forms of artistic expression.
It's going to be really great. Hopefully there will be more of them. The tickets sold out immediately. We just did a really cool festival in Vancouver called "Under the Volcano." It's another social change group. They get together millions of pamphlets and fliers and solicit all of these ideas to people gathered in a beautiful park in Vancouver. They had been talking for years about getting Sara and I to come back and play. We played it ten years ago. Sometimes, I feel like we're preaching to the converted. Breaking into the mainstream is important to me because I have a lot of ideas and thoughts. I live an alternative lifestyle. I think being embraced by the mainstream would make a step towards having more acceptance for people who are alternative and gay. Also, it would promote more acceptance for women in rock music. There are so many things I can do by just being me. Having us headline, the festival told us it was their biggest year in 18 years. It wasn't that they sold more tickets, but they had more people that had never been there. Our audience is very young and mainstream. The festival felt it was a really amazing year. Pulling together Augusten and I is amazing. I think it would be wonderful to do even more stuff.
How similar are writing lyrics and narrative storytelling?
I think they're very similar. Sara and I have been writing music together for 14 or 15 years. Sara writes really visual lyrics. You can imagine a song like "Back in Your Head." When she sings about, "Laying in bed with a wall of books between them" and being unfaithful, you can imagine a story playing out. It's very beautiful and poetic. I'm starting to see our music that way. I think I'm very rudimentary with my writing and lyrics, but I feel like the way I write is very universal. I think people really relate to the ideas and themes. If you write out our lyrics, they lay out a story. Deep down inside, I think we both want to be writers. We're just too chickenshit to do it yet [Laughs].
Could you see yourself writing a book someday?
Whenever I take time off, I always start a new book. I've started three books in my lifetime. I have these really hilarious, anecdotal accounts of my life that I've started writing. Eventually I'd love to put them together. We're talking about having a book in the new year. We want to have a photographer follow us around for a month. We're talking about putting together a big coffee table book with photos, our artwork and stories about our lives. That would be the first time that we'd put our stories out there in printed form. We blog and write online too. It's baby steps though. It would be so limiting to just be like me—this artist that I am. I love working with other artists and performing songs with other bands. Now getting into other forms of expression would be really great. I'm probably never going to do interpretive dance or anything like that, but I think other forms of artistic expression would be amazing [Laughs].
Are there any surprises in store for this tour?
I think this tour is going to be interesting because we're playing smaller places. In L.A., we're doing four nights. We could've done one big place and been done with it, but we wanted to make this tour really special because it's our last tour of the states on this record. I think it'd be amazing to do a different kind of show each night in the cities where we're doing multiple nights. In the past months, we've done some acoustic shows as a four piece. We've been reinterpreting some of the bigger, more electric songs acoustically, and it's been a lot of fun. The rock show will still be a huge element of this upcoming tour. We're bringing out an amazing lighting director. We're still going to highlight the rock element of Tegan and Sara but still have an acoustic portion as well. The supporting bands, City and Colour and Girl In A Coma, are amazing bands that I love, and I think people are going to love them. We've taken out some amazing bands on the tours for this record. I think our audience really gets into whatever we're into. I think we're going to perform a song with each of them. I know we're not doing anything new, but I think it's going to be new for our audience because we haven't done it before. It's also going to be a lot of us talking about ourselves too [Laughs].
Are you writing for the new album yet?
We've already got almost 18 songs written. Until we're truly off the road, I don't think I'm truly able to reflect and write properly, but we're definitely writing and inspired. We're talking about producers too. Every time we make a record, we say we're going to make two separate records, but we always end up doing it together. Sara really wants us to be Outkast, so she's really pushing for two separate records [Laughs]. We'll see what happens. We don't know what we're going to do, but we're going to record a new record in the spring and maybe early summer. We'd love to get it out right away. Hopefully we're going to get out there and make new music really soon. Already, I'm feeling on the cusp of a big writing fix. I've been spending a lot of time in the states. I'm working on a side project with Hunter Burgan from AFI, and I feel really inspired. I really enjoy what I'm doing. The older I get, the more comfortable I get with what I'm doing. I don't really care about selling records, being famous and being rich. Collaborating with Augusten Burroughs and performing with Against Me! are the most exciting things. I love playing music and writing music. There's nothing more exciting than standing up and playing in front of tens of thousands. It's really when I'm at home making music that I feel like I'm truly myself. I get really excited for these periods in my life where I get to take a year off, just hang out and write purposeful music that I'm passionate about. They're really inspiring periods of time.
(Photo by Autumn DeWilde)