Music: Def Con

Canadian imports' star continues to rise in the U.S. with The Con

May 7, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Tegan and Sara, the rockin' twins from Calgary

The face of success can take on many forms, including the likeness of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. Once upon a time in an ostensible Rock wonderland, Vedder, The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde and Canadian AltRock duo (and identical twins) Tegan and Sara went to an amusement park after the 18-year-old fledgling musicians from Calgary opened for Neil Young.

They rode rides. They laughed, certainly. Fun was had, undoubtedly.

At the close of the evening, Vedder wanted to ride the Ferris wheel, but the Ferris wheel would not be ridden, at least not by the twins. Tegan and Sara informed the Rock deities that they preferred roller coasters to Ferris wheels, that they were fans of the "speed and vomit" that can only stem from a renegade coaster. They proceeded to pack up their gear into their van and speedily drove away from the impromptu Rock legend gala like nothing had happened.

Years later, Vedder ran into Tegan and Sara before a show and asked if they remembered that night at the amusement park. They did.

He professed that he had attempted to write a song called "Speed and Vomit" after their adventure but never finished it. Really. It's true.

No working Rock star has a better "When we knew we made it" story than Tegan and Sara, because they're possibly the most atypical Rock band in existence.

"When we actually graduated high school, we just said let's take a year off and go travel, and if we can find a show where we're going, we can pay for it," Tegan Quin says.

The band's first shows gradually begot more shows, and more shows translated into 18-year-old twins signing a record deal with Neil Young's Vapor imprint.

Tegan and Sara's fifth release, 2007's The Con (Vapor/Sire), co-produced by Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla, is arguably the most dramatic and personal addition to their prolific New Wave Pop arsenal. Nominated for "Alternative Album of the Year" at the 2008 Juno Awards, Canada's version of the Grammys (they lost to The Arcade Fire), the album is a testament to their continued ingenuity and inventiveness.

The duo's unique dynamic is further buttressed by their unorthodox yet pragmatic writing style.

"Once I get through about 60 or 70 percent of the way through a song and record it, I'll send it over to Sara," Tegan says.

This isn't a small feat. Tegan lives in Vancouver while Sara resides in Montreal, thousands of miles away.

After Tegan or Sara receives a song, she fills in the respective holes, laying vocals, adding guitar, almost finishing the other's sonic sentence they way twins often do.

"I can send her a song and she can sense ... where she should put her two cents in," Tegan says.

Not only does Tegan and Sara's bizarre writing style yield strangely beautiful and personal songs, but the method is extremely cost-effective, allotting the band 10 years of success and five albums for a responsible amount of money. Before the duo ever steps foot in a studio, they have a clear blueprint of the album from sending songs back and forth and practicing them in their home studios.

"We don't do a lot of collaborating in the studio," Tegan says. "We don't do any writing in the studio. I have friends in bands who have spent over a million dollars on records sitting in a studio writing. I'm like, 'Why would you do that? You have a house!' "

Since Tegan and Sara are sisters, it's a veritable family reunion every time they tour. One might imagine that having your sibling as a business partner/co-star could be exhausting. While some filial tension does arise, the two get along as bandmates.

"Generally, we agree on most stuff, " Tegan says. "Our arguments are more over personality clashes, less over business. We have virtually the same outcome in mind."

The twin sisters are also both lesbians, further casting them as an anomaly in the music world, their music understood as often as misunderstood. A review in Rolling Stone described the content of The Con as "uncommonly detailed love songs" that are "short on drama."

Perhaps the author just wasn't paying attention or had mistakenly put on a Belle and Sebastian B-side. The ingredients that sum up the parts of The Con are as follows: drama, honesty, angst and longing. "Relief Next to Me" is the soundtrack for anyone who's ever longed for — and denied themselves — a person they desperately craved: "In the dark, I'm just no good at giving relief ... but I promise this, I won't go my whole life telling you I don't need."

The second-to-final track, "Dark Come Soon," waxes philosophical in a way only Pop musicians can, infusing crystalline nuggets of truth and honesty in an unassuming and non-pedantic fashion (see Mann, Aimee), illuminated by the lyric "So what, I lied, I lie to me, too."

Still, Tegan and Sara are unabashedly unfettered by criticism, almost to the point of amusement. Tegan believes that people are smart enough to weed through the deluge of reviews and opinions for themselves, just as she does.

"I generally go and I listen to a record and then I decide if I'm going to buy it. I really don't trust anyone's opinion like my own," she says. "The people that do get it really do get it."

Got it?

TEGAN AND SARA play Bogart's on Friday. The show is sold out. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.