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Tegan and Sara Interview: Sainthood

Love, heartache and obsession consume our thoughts on Valentine's Day, but are always a part of Tegan and Sara's music. The Canadian twin sister's new album Sainthood was inspired from Leonard Cohen's lyrics, "I practiced all my sainthood." So after Valentine's Day, before their March 5th performance at the Fox Theater, SFCritic spoke with Tegan about Sainthood, her sister, and growing up.

SFCritic (SFC): How was your Valentine's Day?

Tegan (T): I found that I got a lot of messages just saying hi, saying they love you, so if there is a day out there that reminds us to take in what we have then I can appreciate that. Also, a lot of kids come up and talk about when they came out, or when they told their parents they were gay. When they were dealing with a lot of those emotions before they actually did come out, knowing that we were gay, that we were writing love songs, that we were just like everyone else, that we were mainstream and we fit-in, somehow they can look up to us. We got a lot of fan mail, letters and tweets about that on Valentine's Day, which I felt really good about. So I'm glad we could be the soundtrack on Valentine's Day.

SFC: Were you and Sara in the same schools growing up?

T: We were, until we were in grade four. We moved to a new school and I think we were both in that pre-teenage and felt really weird about being split up, so for the next two or three years we were in the same class. My mom hated it. We would come home with the same stories, same experiences, and we would be competing with one another. I think having Sara there didn't allow me to forge for myself because she was really protective of me, until we were teenagers. They tried to split us up as much as they could.

SFC: Interesting. So, Sara was the protector because from the critics' standpoint a lot has been said about how you're more vocal and Sara is more quiet.

T: We definitely swapped at some point. It's hard to pinpoint when that was.

SFC: I grew up in grade school with a pair of identical twins, and I remember them pulling a prank on April Fools Day by switching classes. Did the two of you ever do that?

T: No. Neither of us felt like we were similar enough to pass off as one another, though I'm sure we could have. Especially, in high school all of our teachers were sitting up front passing out pamphlets waiting for retirement. The gag would have gone unnoticed.

SFC: You mean teachers in Canada are waiting for retirement as well? I thought that was only a California thing.

T: We went to an inner-city school, so there wasn't much inspiration there.

SFC: Yeah, the California public education system is really struggling.

T: My mother has a Masters in Social Work, and works in a private school system and is a therapist on-hand for private school kids. Kids who pay $25,000 a year to go to school that are fifteen-years-old. It just crazy, but as much as I think it's crazy the kids get so much attention, and 95% go on to secondary education.

My mom was talking about how if she had been at that place in her life when we were young, she would have definitely put us into private school. Most of our high school classes had between 25 and 40 students. It's hard to get one-on-one attention when there are that many people.

SFC: Definitely. I went through that with the Oakland public schools. Are you and Sara competitive with each other?

T: I don't think so, at least not musically. I was just thinking when you were talking about all the private school stuff, the things that Sara and I excelled at were stuff where we did have one-on-one attention or smaller groups. We were in piano lessons. We trained classically since the time we were eight until we were sixteen. We did really well when we were given more attention. When we stopped playing piano, and started playing guitar we both immediately excelled at it because we were encouraging one another, teaching one another.

You know on a personal side of things, we are. Sara hates how much I talk over her, but I hate I can't just tell the story I want to tell. Why do I have to have Sara tell it, it's my story! Pretty normal family stuff.

SFC: Is this the reason why before this album you wrote separately?

T: We always wrote alone since the beginning. It just me writing these private thoughts, these really intense emotions and feelings, and until you get it figured out, or fixed in place, it feels like sharing something that is not yet complete.

We always wrote parts for each of our songs, vocals, and helped producer and engineer one another; but, we never sat physically in the same room and wrote together. We experimented a lot with that on this record. We sent music back and forth, and ended up writing ten songs together. They truly are the first ever Tegan and Sara songs. Everything else was written separate, so they feel like Tegan songs or Sara songs.

The songs really are different. Listen to Sainthood now, seven, eight months after it's been finished, I hear a song like "Paperback Head," and it doesn't sound like a traditional Tegan and Sara to me.

SFC: What feels different to you?

T: A song like "Paperback Head" specifically started out more like a dance song. There were six of seven sequencers running all at the same time. Then I sent it to Sara, and she cut it a part and turned it into more of a pop song.

I think for me that process is so different than a normal song. A song like "Northshore," write it, record it, play it, and then we're done.

SFC: Given the dynamics of you being in a relationship, and Sara being recently single during the creation of Sainthood, how did that affect your songwriting in comparison to The Con?

T: Sara was in a relationship while we were writing The Con, writing about a coming breakup and I was writing about a breakup that had just happened. Both of us had been in five year relationships. It was a really dark record for both of us.

Sainthood was definitely written with a very different state-of-mind. I was dating, sort of falling in love, hopeful, and really wanted to shake-off the darkness, demons of The Con, so I was writing much more high energy songs. Sara was also in this exploratory phase of dating, but writing about those anxieties and emotions of the pursuit of someone and being perfect to win them over.

SFC: What would be Tegan and Sara's motto?

T: Keep calm, carry on.

Tegan and Sara play at the Fox Theater on March 5th. Tickets are $35. Doors open at 8pm.

This article is reprinted from SF Station.

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