Double dose of Canadian punk

By Scott Kara

When Tegan and Sara Quin were teenagers their mum took them to the army surplus store to buy combat boots to wear to punk gigs.

She was the kind of cool mum who listened to Led Zeppelin and didn't mind them waking up the neighbours with loud music, and buying those boots sure helped protect her twin girls in the mosh pit.

"Occasionally she asked if we understood what these people in the bands were talking about and why there had to be so much swearing," says Sara.

"Our mum was the one who made us listen to the Band, Led Zeppelin and the Police, and she introduced us to 70s and 80s classic rock," she chirps.

Now, their mum is more into world music than Led Zeppelin and the twins are touring the world. They released their third album, So Jealous, in New Zealand earlier this year and play at Shadows Tavern at Auckland University next Wednesday.

That album is their fourth - if you count the one they released independently before signing to Neil Young's label, Vapor Records. And, insists Sara, despite Young's rumoured scary monster tendencies "he's a very nice person, he's very sweet and there's nothing intimidating or pretentious about him".

Being twin sisters who are cute and "queer" could be the ultimate gimmick for a pair of young music stars.

But the pair have never played on their gay, twin sister image.

"The bands I was inspired by were not gimmicky bands and the music I was inspired by wasn't gimmicky," says Sara.

"I didn't grow up on pop music that had that very mainstream mentality. We were 18-year-old kids who had been listening to indie rock and punk, and we just wanted to do what they did.

"It's never been our agenda to say, 'We're twins, we're queer, we're this or we're that'. We've always been like, 'We make music. We love making music and we respect the people that buy our music'.

"I think too, when you grow up as twins, it's not special. You don't realise how freaky it is to other people that you're the same."

The twins grew up in Calgary and in their mid teens they played in a messy little punk band called Plunk. But when their amp broke, and they couldn't afford to get it fixed, they started playing acoustic guitars and since then their sound has developed into a type of punky, singer-songwriter style.

"The one thing I think we've carried through all these years of playing music together is, whatever instrument we're using, or whatever kind of songs we're writing, or whatever genre critics put us into, it's always been something individual because it's always just Tegan and I and we're always doubling up on everything.

"We always wrote separately but what really topped off a song was when we would accompany one another.

"It was the second guitar part, or the second vocal part that seemed to get people excited."

When they were 18 they moved to Vancouver and soon signed to Vapor. The independent label allowed Tegan and Sara to do pretty much what they wanted. And as artists they wanted longevity.

"We were ready for the long haul with everything we did and the label were like, 'Let's do it organically and let's not spend money where we don't need to'.

"I guess we could have skipped a few grades but we didn't and I think we've benefited from it, especially in North America where we have a grass roots following."

Their previous two albums, This Business Of Art and If It Was You, were twee and lacking in guts compared to So Jealous, which has gained them a whole new fan base in Canada and the United States. Now, it's not just lesbians and the odd male who turn up to shows.

"So Jealous is different from our other records," says Sara, "because I feel like it's one of the only records we've ever done that I can put on and I don't want to die when I listen to it.

"Tegan and I have always been in this band, and we turn 25 next month, that's 10 years that we've been playing music together, so we've never been in another band.

"But in a weird way when I listen to our independent record and ... Business of Art, and even a little bit with If It Was You, there's a part of me that feels that at 25 we're only just starting to figure out what we want our band to sound like."

The twins live in separate cities now, with Tegan in Vancouver and Sara nearly 5000km away - on the other side of Canada - in Montreal.

"When Tegan and I split to different cities that was when we realised we were different people ... and we thought maybe being in different places would flesh out how different we are as songwriters.

"So in the future I think instead of making it all sound like one singer-songwriter, I think we will explore the two songwriting elements of Tegan and I."

* Tegan and Sara appear Wednesday August 24, Shadows Tavern, Auckland

* Releases: This Business of Art (2000); If It Was You (2002); So Jealous (2004).

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