Sara Talks, Sans Tegan

The twenty-something sibling rock duo Tegan and Sara have had a devoted cult audience since the late ’90s, when they played as part of the Lilith Fair tour. Subsequent tours with artists like Neil Young and Ryan Adams furthered the sisters’ profile, making them staples on college radio. Although their sound has often been described as folk, their new album, So Jealous, was recorded with something of a power-pop dream team – members of the New Pornographers and ex-Weezer/Rentals keyboardist Matt Sharp.

Can you talk a bit about your current live shows?

SQ: Right now we’re playing with our five-piece band, but Tegan and I both like to showcase our self because we are selfish and we like people to pay attention to us, so we talk a lot. Sometimes we’re funny and sometimes we’re awkward. People like it when we banter back and forth and make fun of each other, but lately we’ve been trying to be nice to each other, so we just pick on the audience or members of our band. We sound pretty good, too, I think.

We like to talk to our audience. We think that’s what connects us to the audience more than just getting up and having them identify with our music. We like to make sure that they leave feeling like we’ve bonded. It’s how we get comfortable, too. I think it started as a nervous tick. We used to be really nervous being on stage so we would just talk to the audience. Now, it’s getting a bit more difficult the larger the audience gets.

I’d imagine it’s harder to maintain the same level of intimacy when you’re playing with a full band.

SQ: We did start out as a duo and people kind of liked that intimacy. But after a couple years of doing that we were like “Oh my god, we’re so bored.” We wanted to play with a band. Even with the band, we try not to lose that intimacy. We still try to strip it down a bit and talk to the audience, but the record is a full-band record and we want to represent the material we’re doing right now.

Your albums have gradually become less acoustic and have begun to embrace full-on power-pop. Can you comment a bit on the transition?

SQ: Tegan and I never sat down and thought about what kind of music we were going to present to everyone. We just kind of did what came natural. At the time, we happened to have an acoustic and an electric guitar, so we’d play and people would say “Ok, you’re folk, or you’re folk-rock.” But most of the time we were listening to bands that had acoustic guitars in them but we never would have considered folk, like the Talking Heads or the Violent Femmes. Then when we got in the studio, and we’d decide that we wanted drums in a song, or a full-band on a song. So it was just sort of natural change.

It also helps that we chose certain people to work with. Like on this last record we worked with John Collins and David Carswell and they work with the New Pornographers and a lot of other Canadian bands that are sort of alternative or pop-rock music. They help accentuate what we’re doing, which is writing pop songs.

Has the change in your sound or your increased audience led to any resentment from older fans?

SQ: Not really. I can remember when we did our last record occasionally having some people say “How come you’re not doing the acoustic thing anymore?” But, I don’t know, we just want to play with a band, it’s a creative thing. It’s an artistic growth for us. We explained this to people, but I think that we were a bit naÃ?¯ve initially. We were getting up on stage and being exactly who we were, and at the time the people who were doing that were Britney Spears or Christina Agulara. There weren’t a lot of people aside from like a Gwen Stefani or a Courtney Love doing that. So we’d get these mainstream kids who would hear about us and say “Wow, these are girls that don’t have to wear make-up and bathing suits on stage but still sing music that’s really cool.”

The people we were looking up to were people like Kathleen Hannah, the Sleater Kinney girls or even the Donnas. There are actually tons of women playing music that don’t where bathing suits on stage, but we were excited to be making a cross over. We get the occasional e-mail that says “How come you don’t play more benefits?” or “Howcome you’re not talking about your sexuality, or politics?” and we do take each of those and weigh it and see if we’re doing what we want to do.

It seems odd that so much attention is focused on your sexuality [Tegan and Sara are both lesbians] and your politics when your music is largely apolitical.

SQ: Our sexuality was something that we never hid, so people put it in interviews or in the press without us even talking about it. I’d do an interview, then the interview would include what I said, but it would be intertwined with other things they had to say about our sexuality. I never felt that I had to say anything in our music, but because other people were talking about the political aspects of us, people thought that we should be responding, via our music. I never felt like that.

So just like anybody, I feel the conflict of do I make a statement through my music, or do I just make a statement through the way I live my life. Because I’m in the media and because I’m in the mainstream and on stage, people want me to make a statement through my art. We make statements every day about who we are, and it’s been hard to piggy back that into our music, but I don’t expect that we’ll go our whole life without writing political music, it just hasn’t come up already. Any fans that are disappointed because we’re not political, I hope that they hang in there, because I don’t think that we’re going to go our whole lives without saying something that they’re going to believe in and that they can stand up with.

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