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Tegan and Sara Open Up

Defining their career playing for audiences other than their own

By Brian Baker · August 10th, 2010 · Music
Most bands aspire to a large fan base that will eventually turn out in headliner-defining numbers, making its opening slot status a relic of leaner, hungrier times. The Canadian Indie/Folk/Pop twins of Tegan and Sara are certainly eager to attract more fans but they have absolutely no interest in abandoning their role as an opening act.

“We just went out and did our own American tour and it was fantastic, but we were playing in front of our own audience,” says Sara Quin from her Montreal home on the eve of T&S’s opening slot on the Paramore/New Found Glory tour. “It’s exciting to play in front of 10,000 kids that don’t all know us. It gets the adrenaline pumping and we’ll try to win over some people.”

On Thursday, fans in the Cincinnati area can experience T&S’s versatility firsthand. The duo plays an intimate acoustic in-store performance at Shake It Records that afternoon before heading to Riverbend’s PNC Pavilion to play in their full-band guise with Paramore.

It’s clearly a strategy that has worked well for Tegan and Sara since they started out nearly a dozen years ago as amazingly talented 19-year-olds. Even then, the twins could work alone with a pair of acoustic guitars or expand to a raucous Punk outfit, which led to an interesting demographic within their following. Of course, at that point, stories about Tegan and Sara offered a bullet-pointed résumé that was key in broadening their audience: Young; twins; lesbians; acoustic duo; Punk band; Canadian; Neil Young is a fan; Joan Jett-tough; Indigo Girls-tender.

The amazing aspect of all this is that Tegan and Sara have managed to hold and expand that disparate fan base for over a decade.

“Because we were so versatile with the way we would perform — if someone needed us acoustically, we could do it, or we could support The Killers and do it as a band — it was helpful in building an audience that wasn’t limited to one kind of band,” Quin says.

“We have really seen that diversity in our audience over the years because we’re able to support so many different kinds of artists. Now that we’ve developed our own fan base, although that’s amazing and we’re so grateful, it’s helpful to get out in front of somebody else’s fan base every once in awhile just to remind a whole different genre of fans that we exist.”

Most importantly, the diversity that Tegan and Sara have been able to display on stage as a support act has naturally translated to the twins’ work in the studio. Their catalog is an incredible wire walk of evolution and consistency, from the Folk/Punk/Hip Hop swagger of their early work to the Power Pop/New Wave slant of their subsequent releases to the ’80s Dance/Synth Pop buzz of their last two albums, 2007’s The Con and last year’s Sainthood, both of which featured production assistance from Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla.

On Sainthood, Tegan and Sara’s sixth album in 10 years, the pair crafted a synth-driven set that they claimed was about an obsession with romantic ideals. In typical T&S fashion, Sainthood was a concept album without an actual concept.

“Tegan and I are always throwing around things that help us connect, because we’re both writing from different perspectives,” Quin says. “But we realize that it’s important, musically and thematically, to have cohesive ideas so that the album won’t seem disjointed or awkward. Sometimes it feels silly to even say that the record is about one thing or has a theme — I think generally it’s quite obvious — but it does give us an umbrella to work under. In this case, Tegan and I were talking about not just love but more about the internalized character and we really both identified with the idea of being saintly, even if it was a put-on, even if that wasn’t actually true.”

It might seem strange to imagine, given all that Tegan and Sara have accomplished since their 1999 debut, Under Feet Like Ours, but they feel like their confidence in their musical endeavors is a relatively recent development. With their last two albums, they finally have a sense that they belong in the creative community in which they’ve been operating since they reached adulthood.

“There’s just so much more confidence when we’re in the studio,” says Quin. “We just didn’t have the money or time and we were never big gear geeks, so when we made our records, it was the most awkward part of what we did. I loved writing the music but I would get in the studio and feel like I didn’t have the skills to get what I wanted.

“It started a bit with So Jealous, but definitely with The Con and Sainthood, (when) I realized, ‘I can do this. I feel like I’m a competent musician, and I can stand and play with people who I admire and I can hold my own. These songs are strong, I know what kind of vision I have and I know how to execute that vision.’ That’s huge. That confidence spills into everything we do. I think we’re a better live band than we’ve ever been and I think we have stronger vision for projects because the infrastructure of the music is that much more confident.”

TEGAN AND SARA perform at PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Thursday with Paramore, New Found Glory and Kadawatha. The duo also plays a free acoustic set at Shake It Records Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Go here for tickets and venue details.



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