Interview with Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara

at Glasgow King Tuts on Tuesday 8 December 2009

"The distinction has to be made that we are gay, but we don't make gay music." Powerful words from Sara Quin, one half of Canadian pop rock sensation, Tegan and Sara. From her delicate frame, pale face, and sweet voice, its hard to take in how boldly she speaks about her music, politics, and gay rights, but there is a lot more to her than the 'love and romance' she sings about. The other half of the band is her identical twin sister, the eldest by eight minutes, Tegan. The two of them have been working as a band for over ten years now.

Their first trip to the UK was in 2000 when they were touring with Ryan Adams. Despite this only being their third visit to the UK, they have gained a huge following; they're back this time to tour their sixth album Sainthood. It's a well known fact that the girls both used to be a bit afraid of the British press, "Gay, twin, Canadian, girls; people are constantly trying to label us." She says, "We used to really struggle in the UK, especially London. There's a real gossip nature to the press, and I'm not sure how we fitted into it. They were always trying to use us being gay or us being twins as an angle, so instead of battling, we retreated."

Born 19th September 1980, the twins grew up in Calgary, on the east coast of Canada, before moving to Vancouver when they were 19. Since then, Sara has relocated to Montreal, where she lives alone. She insists though, that it is easy to operate as a band despite living on opposite coasts, "When we lived in Vancouver, we lived in different apartments, and worked separately, and now, especially with the internet, it doesn't feel any different. It's always me that has to make the six hour flight to Vancouver to rehearse though." They both split the song writing and singing, and while it would once have taken a dedicated fan to distinguish who wrote which song, on their more recent albums it is much more obvious, "Tegan is much more rock influenced than I am," she says, "but I definitely give credit to the cities we live in too." It's clear spending the last seven years with different music influences and social experiences has shaped both their writing structures, "Before, it was a test of how cohesive we could make the material, now, we don't mind embellishing it. I find it makes the music stronger."

Their latest release, 'Sainthood', is another hit, full of the bouncy pop songs that have made them famous. Their music has impressed many a fellow musician, including Neil Young who first took them on tour with him in 1999. In 2005, rock band The White Strips did a version of the Tegan and Sara song 'Walking with a Ghost', released the year before. They have toured and performed with a variety of musicians across a range of genres, from Indie band Death Cab for Cutie, to Electronic dance DJ Tiesto, unusual as the style of their music seems so defined as pop rock. "I think we are one of those bands that can just kind of make it work. Working with Tiesto wasn't so different as working with Death Cab for Cutie, for me it is about how different the audience is. We can play to an electronica crowd at 2am and still play the same for Death Cab, it doesnÂ’t always work, but we learn something new every time."

Although the pair don't like to make an issue of their sexuality, it plays a major role in their lives, both personal and public. Sara was the first to come out at 15 years old, "My sexuality is part of who I am." Yet she doesn't believe she alienates a straight audience by being so open about it. "A huge chunk of our audience is queer, or impacted by that. To be able to speak honestly about it is an important part of what we do. Not through our music though, it sings for itself." To emphasise her point she mentions some of her favourite writers, musicians, actors, and says that she doesn't like them because of their sexuality, "It's absurd that writing from a female or queer perspective means that straight people or men can't relate. Men always make us laugh, they're like, 'I like you even though you're women and you're gay' and we're thinking, 'Do you not know how much we have in common? We both like girls!'"

Interestingly, the majority of the people on tour with them are men. "I live on a tour bus with ten guys, but I think that buffers us in a way. It also means we have tour bus rules though, just to keep it all a bit more... manageable." She is very aware of the influence she has over younger audience members, and hopes to be a role model to them, "I talk to so many kids who are struggling, not even with being gay, just with being alternative, with the politics of being a teenager. I am so equipped to deal with that, because I was just like that. It's important to offer people an alternative to what they see in every day society."

Homosexuality and gay rights is clearly something she's passionate about, "The only reason we have to make any influence of our sexuality is completely political." Both she and Tegan campaign vicariously for equal rights, by playing at a 'True Colours' concert, and being on the front cover of OUT magazine, and have become gay icons as a result. "It's weird, when Obama was elected President, we saw this sweeping change in the US, but at the same time, so many states were overturning their bills on gay marriage, or changing their laws on gays adopting. The thing about gay marriage is that it isn't just marriage, it's the hundreds of rights marriage affords you, from benefits and healthcare to adoption rights." Sara used to be married to a US citizen, and its apparent gay marriage is something of a sore spot, however her personal experiences with it is something she doesn't make public. Homophobia, she believes, is an institutionalised part of society as much as racism or sexism. While people aren't picketing outside their shows, she says gay jokes and backhanded comments are still an invariable part of society, "I don't want to be the person that has to say, 'You're being very homophobic, I find that offensive.'" Suddenly she laughs, "I love not being in a band that is overtly political as a band. I can say all these things and still get on stage and sing about, like, my broken heart." She gets semi-serious again, "I can see change though and I'm glad it's in our generation. I'm super happy about that."

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article by: Carly Mills

published: 08/12/2009 08:34