Have you ever had that wonderful (and all too rare) experience of completely falling in love with an album from the very first listen?
Every song sounding somehow natural and familiar, and all you want to do is just listen to it over and over and over again ....
That was my experience when I first heard Tegan and Sara's album Sainthood sometime in July. I became a little obsessive and couldn't stop raving about it to every person who cared to listen to my insanely enthusiastic rantings. The whole entire album is catchy and interesting and perfect for bike rides on the seawall. "The Ocean" is my favourite song on the album and the one that receives the most replays on m'iPod. It totally made my summer!
Needless to say my fandom has carried over into something of a dream come true, as I was given the very cool opportunity of picking the brain of a rock star - in this case, one of Vancouver's Most Awesome, Tegan Quinn. (Sort of like that Chris Farley sketch on SNL where he interviews Paul McCartney. "So Paul ... remember The Beatles?") If you haven't heard Sainthood yet you can listen to the videos posted here or - better yet - head over to the Polaris website and stream a song from every one of the albums shortlisted before heading over to Zulu Records and picking it up for yourself.
In a lot of reviews I read about you, your music, this album - the word "teenager" gets bandied about a lot. Is that cool or is it sort of patronizing? You're children of the 80s, not 90s.
We absolutely love when people pick up on the more "youthful" and "teenage" aspects of our music. Sara and I are children of the 80's and teenagers of the 90's and I think we still play music, write music and love music the way we did back then. We grew up dancing in our basement to Alice Cooper, The Police, Cyndi Lauper, Mike and The Mechanics, Bruce Springsteen and The Mini Pops. We were equal parts alternative and mainstream even as young kids. I find our press mostly boring, not really patronizing. I think our child like qualities are still really relevant in our music. I also think we look young and most journalists or even music fans just seeing us on TV or in press think we're younger than we are. That is totally fine with me. ha.
According to the oracle at Wikipedia, "Paperback Head" is the first song you and your sister have written together. Is there something special or different to you about that song in terms of its construct or how it sounds? Did you guys sit down and go, "let's write a song together," or did it just happen as a natural fluke?
Sara got really obsessed with song writing and collaborations about two years ago. I have a side project with Hunter Burgen from AFI and so I was already into that concept. We started throwing around instrumentals and that turned into a trip to New Orleans (Sara and I) to write together. Mainly it was just boring. We were highly productive and wrote 7 songs together (none of which made the record). But some of the instrumentals we had been batting around did. Paperback Head was the only song that MADE the album but Sheets (just released on ITUNES recently) was also a collaboration and we have a few more up our sleeve to release down the road. I think for us it was fun to figure out there was another way to write. Our project has been happening for over 14 years now so its great to know if we get bored we can sit together or share music and still produce interesting, Tegan and Sara songs.
The album has a distinct 80s feel to it ... I'm thinking of "The Cure" here, but it is tangible throughout the album to me, a thread (if you will). Is it just me or is that really there? Was it intentional? What were you listening to when you were writing/recording this album? Does what you're listening to when you are in "the process" affect or influence what you create? If so, can you think of any examples. (Also, "The Cure" sort of sounds like ... The Cure. Is it the synth? I am not musical at all. But it does, doesn't it? Is that intentional or my imagination?)
What's funny is that The Cure has no keyboards on it. The song is just bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums, vocals and some organ I played (on an actual organ). But its the most "80's sounding song. I love this. We love 80's music and we definitely listen to a lot of that kind of music still. But what actually influenced this record most was Hip Hop, R+B, Punk Rock and Depeche Mode. Ha. We don't ever consciously start a record with a sound in mind. With Sainthood Chris Walla and Howard Redekopp, our producers, just wanted us to all stand in a room and rock out together. Our demos are pretty extensive and so we start from there and just jam until we get something that feels real. And that sounds like Tegan and Sara. Inevitably after two years of working a record (in this case our last record THE CON) our sound has developed and changed and grown. So even though we don't consciously plan a "new sound", by the time we get into the studio to record (Sainthood in this case) the sound has evolved and we've grown. Its all very natural.
Learning the The Mini-Pops were a musical influence suddenly makes everything very clear.
Everyone (musical artist) always says that every song is like their "child" and they don't have favourites. Is that true for you? Do you have any songs you feel extra love towards on this album? If so, what are they and why? Are there certain songs that are more fun for you to play onstage than others? If there are, what are they and why?
Songs are definitely like children. At least the ones you love. The songs I don't love are more like...ex girlfriends or friends. Ha. I love Northshore, Alligator, Red Belt, The Ocean and Don't Rush the most. But songs like Someday and Sentimental Tune have such hope in them, more than our music usually does, that I love them too. Playing anything new live is a bit of a combination of excitement and awkwardness. I like playing older music on stage more only because I can relax and rock out. I'm hyper sensitive for a year or two about new music. I love playing songs like Arrow and Don't Rush and Are you Ten Years Ago on stage because they are so challenging (Paperback Head too). They use so many elements that we have never used before (electronics, pads, samples) and that can be very nerve wracking. I like that though. Keeps you on your toes.
My favourite song on the album has to be "The Ocean." I just love it. I spent hours listening to it on repeat and biking, getting lost in it a bit. One of my songs of the summer, for sure (and of course I listened to it - at Third Beach!) There's such a sense of urgency there. The chorus is so incredibly melodic and catchy, the way it changes throughout ... it has a real sense of a music video to me, or it's very cinematic, like I want to experience something visual when I hear it. Because it's my favourite song on the album, can you talk a bit about it?
I wrote that song after a very uncomfortable incident with a girl I was dating. I had been chasing her for two years and when she finally agreed to date me there was a relief but also a new level of intensity and fear and awkwardness. I was trying to remain calm. I was trying to "be the boy" (advice Sara had given me) and so every once and awhile my emotions would spill over and I would have a fit. A crazy, dramatic, cinematic style fit. The Ocean was in response to one of those fits. I realized that a lot of the fire and love and fun had been left behind. Even though we had just started dating, we were already two years into a relationship. The chorus "Its been so long since you said, well I know what I want and what I wants right here with you" is silly. I mean..we were dating, of course she wanted to be with me. Why did she have to say it? Well when you start dating you say things like that. You reassure the person you're with. But we had been "together" for two years as friends...all that romance had been said. It was confusing. My inner child who had issues with commitment, divorce, trust etc was really visible at that time. I'm afraid you don't want me, even though you fought with me to have me. That was what the song really was trying to say.
Tegan and Sara joined by fellow Polaris nominee onstage at the Polaris gala last Monday, singing "Ocean."
How do you guys go about picking singles? There are so many good, strong, catchy pop songs on this record...
Its a combination of record label input, management input and band input. Instincts.
"Alligator" is fantastic and such a great pop gem. I love that you guys jammed with puppets. It has a pop purity to it, and for some reason I associate it with Feist's "1,2,3,4." Can you talk a bit about this song and the video? What is going on with the igloo? Also, what is going on with those snowsuit onesies? I have really mixed emotions about those. I also have dreams about those woolly sweater things you are wearing. I want one. Did you get to keep them?
Ha. Sara and I wrote a basic treatment and then the director got involved and turned it into something we could actually shoot in a day. The idea is that Sara and I have only each other to save one another. We're alone in the elements. I think. Ha. The woolly things are amazing and Sara kept hers yes. When Sara sent me the demo for this song I was SO excited. It sounded like the Jackson 5. Sara got really into Motown in the last few years and really loves pop music. I think she did a great job of capturing her influences in this song.
[As it happens, Tegan and Sara are releasing a remix album of Alligator, featuring 17 artists' different takes on the song.]
What ARE the feathers of an arrow in reference to? I don't get it.
Ha. Arrow is definitely a bit of a metaphor song. At least to me. Sara sort of created this world. Where you have to use a bow and arrow to capture your love. She was chasing someone who wanted her but then didn't want her depending on the day. It was a secret affair. The arrow I think was her metaphor for her desire? Ha.
I have had the experience, at one time or another, of getting all of these stuck in my brain. Do you ever get your own songs stuck in your head? Which ones?
Absolutely. If something is stuck in my head I know its a good song. Its been nearly 7 years since I wrote Living Room and it still gets in my head. Alligator too. And The Ocean.
As poppy as the album is there is an undeniable hard, maybe rougher undercurrent happening (I am thinking of "Hell" and "Northshore" here). There's an interesting contrast between a song like that, and, say, "Alligator." Is there more of that harder edge lurking there, musically speaking? Could you see an entire album of material in that vein? Also ... halfway to the Northshore ... is that on the Lions Gate or the 2nd Narrows? Any places you like to check out on the Northshore? (This is Vancouver is Awesome, after all!)
Sara and I have always made records that have different sounds on them. Look at Terrible Storm and I hear Noises or Time Running and This Thing That Breaks My Heart. How about Call It Off and Nineteen. We always play with different sounds, genres and emotional sounds on record. We aren't good at sounding similar from song to song. And Sainthood is no different. You can't get any more different than Alligator and Northshore. They actually work really well next to each other in a set though. Ha.
Northshore was actually written about this terrible movie (also called Northshore). I was dating someone who lived in Southern California and was a surfer (I found this so hot) and was trying to play it cool (same girl as The Ocean) and kept dropping hints that she might teach me to surf at some point. She suggested I watch Northshore. The movie is about a guy who wins a surf competition in Arizona and goes to Hawaii to surf the Northshore (crazy waves and good surfing). He's an indoor surfer though and doesn't understand the power of the ocean and almost drowns his first day. He befriends an old surfer dude who teaches him the ocean and the way it moves and in the meantime he meets a beautiful Hawaiian girl and falls in love.
The movie is awful. But it made me crazy. What was the message? Did this girl want to teach me or not? I made a list of things that I would NOT say to her in our next conversation, as I watched the movie. Those ended up being the lyrics to Northshore.
There are a lot of interesting sounds on the album, sort of that inorganic or mechanical (bleeps, bloops) element I was referring to earlier - like on "Don't Rush", "Night Watch", "Alligator." There are sounds there that make me think of a (80s-era?) video game. How do you guys come up with these little elements, where do they come from? Does that make any sense or is it just me?
We both took classical piano for 9 years so we like to do anything but play piano. We love keyboards and so we spend a lot of time just messing with keyboards and pedals and finding new ways to explore having many different melody lines on a song without competing with the vocals.
You collaborated with last years' Polaris Prize winners, F**ked Up, on their charity Christmas single - funded with earnings from Polaris. Can you discuss how you got involved with that project?
They reached out and we LOVED the idea as well we loved them. It was easy to say yes to F**ked up!
The Polaris Music Prize hasn't really been on my radar until recently... when you heard you were longlisted and then shortlisted, what was your reaction? Is or was the Polaris Prize on your radar, something you knew a lot about? What do you think about the Prize as a whole? I had the opportunity to speak with Polaris President Steve Jordan the other day, and he spoke a bit about where the brainchild came from - something about less "mainstream" artists not getting the kind of critical praise or attention placed on them here as much as they do internationally, and part of his goal was to bridge that gap - both in and out of Canada. Do you have thoughts about that?
Yes, The Polaris Music Prize has been on our radar for awhile. We were THRILLED when we were short listed. Beyond thrilled actually. It is a real honor to be on the list. Whether we win or not is really not as important as being placed among so many wonderful and talented artists. We tour the world and never hear the end of how much international music communities respect what's coming out of Canada musically. Its nice to get that praise in Canada.
Have you heard any of the other albums shortlisted? Thoughts?
I felt like the list was really representative of what happened this year in music in Canada. I love all the nominees. I have all the records.
Are you excited about the Prize? If you win, what do you think you will do with the Prize? Any thoughts? Oh - and what are you going to wear?!
No idea what I'm going to wear. I've been on tour for over 2 months. So something from my suit case. Ha. If we win, we'll probably donate the money. A lot of my songs from the record (Hell, The Cure, Don't Rush) were written about living on the Down Town East Side in Vancouver and so perhaps an organization down there.