Back in Your Head
“Let’s just get this out of the way. This is awkward, right?” asked Tegan Quin, as she stood on the raised stage at the Hard Rock Cafe in Mumbai. “This is ridiculous. I feel like I’m standing high up in the sky looking down at all of you.” Along with sister Sara and guitarist Edward ‘Ted’ Gowans, she got Tegan and Sara’s first ever live performance in India underway with “Living Room”. Not quite their usual fare, the band chose to play a stripped-down 20-song set, interspersed with entertaining tales of the duo’s time in India. All in all, it was a highly memorable evening; one that their many fans in the country won’t forget in a hurry.
We caught up with Sara Quin a few hours before Tegan and Sara’s performance in Mumbai for an exclusive interview about Sainthood, playing live, their time in the city, and future plans.
Tegan and Sara: Having a field day.
How long have you guys been in Bombay? Have you spent a day or two moving around the city?
We’ve actually been here for… this is our fourth day. Yeah, so we’ve been sightseeing and driving—I feel like we’ve driven all over the city. It’s been bonkers here. It’s so crazy.
What do you love most about the city so far?
It’s such a different city than any other place I’ve ever been. The traffic and the cars and the people and, like, the fancy malls and the incredible poverty—it’s a really intense city. The food is amazing. Everybody has been very nice to us and hospitable. We’ve been touring for over 10 years, and I just like the idea that we get to see the whole world, you know? It’s the first time that we’ve come here and it’s an important part of our travels.
Before coming here, had you heard much about the music scene in the city?
You know, a lot of people don’t talk about the music. Most of the people people that I know that have come here were like, ‘wait till you hear all the honking and the traffic and the people’ and it’s so crazy (laughs). But yeah, I mean, I feel like we heard a lot of super- super-positive things, and when we told some of our friends that we were coming, they wanted to come with us. India is one of those places which is, for me, especially having grown up in Canada—there are so many people that have moved from India to Canada. I’ve been to school with so many people from India, and they were usually, like, first generation kids. I feel like I always assumed that I would come here. I mean, those kids are the kids that I grew up with, and I’ve always wanted to check out India. It was totally cool for us to come here.
Tegan and Sara: Live in Mumbai. Photograph by Bhanuj Kappal.
You mentioned earlier that your set tonight would be a stripped-down set. Do you do these kinds of performances often?
We’ll generally do this type of set for small little showcases, or sometimes, when we’re in a city playing a big show, we might do an in-store performance at a record store or for radio, or if we’re going to do a really special private show. It’s not my favourite way to perform—I love playing with bass and drums and jumping up and down and, you know, like, playing the hard show—but it was more economical for us to perform a stripped-down set here.
Could you shed some light on the process of putting together your last album Sainthood? Were there any lyrical themes or a musical direction that you had in mind when you got started?
You know, generally we’ll just get started without even thinking about any of those things. Once the material starts to come together, we’ll start to narrow down some of the themes, start talking about concepts and titles and that sort of thing. With Sainthood, the one main thing that we did that we hadn’t done on any of our previous records was that we wanted to play the material as a band a ridiculous number of times to see where the song would go. Instead of just saying, you know, ‘I wrote this song, let’s record it’, it was like ‘Okay, let’s play the heck out of it and see what happens’.
So it was more of an organic process.
Totally. And because we were playing the song so many times, it would be like ‘Oh, maybe we should speed this up’ or ‘This feels better like that’ or ‘We don’t need all those keyboard parts, we just want that one keyboard part’ or ‘Let’s try a different drum part’. It was more like a traditional process, probably, for a band. We’d never really done a record like that. That’s something different, maybe not lyrically or melodically, but we really fleshed out the songs through that process.
What are your favourite songs from the album?
I personally really love ‘Red Belt’. That’s my favourite song. That’s my song, and I love the way it came out on the record. I like this record. I feel like The Con was really an emotional album, and sort of a dark album for me, and Sainthood feels like material that we were a little more distant from. I like playing this record a lot; it’s very light and easy for me.
You released three music videos recently (for ‘Hell’, ‘On Directing’, and ‘Northshore’). Was there a reason for the gap between the album release and the music videos? Did the music videos just happen to come about later?
Yeah, I mean, we’ve never been conventional that way, because music videos pretty much exist solely on the Internet at this point. So generally we just do them when we have time and enough money to do them. We made them very cheap, like, for under $5,000.
Yeah, the videos seem quite slick, but also very simple at the same time.
Yeah, we shot them in, like, one day (laughs) with hardly any money. We just want to go with the flow, and we also want to stretch out the album campaign. We’ve been touring for 14 months on this record. We want to make sure that we don’t blow the load right in the beginning, you know? (Smiles) So, yeah, we just sort of go with the flow, and when things make sense we do them.
As you said earlier, most people just watch videos on the Internet now, and there’s a whole new way of discovering and consuming music. There are music blogs, Facebook, Twitter, sites like the Hype Machine…
I go back and forth with the Internet in general. I’m not on Facebook, I’m not on Twitter. I don’t do any of those things. I love the Internet because I feel like it gave us a voice, and I feel like it’s an opportunity for us to control our image and really authentically represent ourselves, without any of the middle-men. However, I do think that there is a down-side to it—people are inundated with images and messages and music and crap and…
Tegan and Sara: Eyes focused like a…
It can be like too much, yeah. There are pros and cons. I think it’s important and it has been helpful to us, but it also clouds up the industry sometimes.
Tegan and Sara have been touring for over 10 years now. Do you personally prefer playing at music festivals and larger venues, or in more intimate settings?
I kinda like everything. I know that sounds diplomatic, or like I’m not telling the truth, but honestly, after so many years of playing, I think if we played the same kind of venue over and over again, it would get boring. Even big venues can get boring. Just this year, we’ve played theatres, we’ve played clubs, we’ve played arenas, we’ve played amphitheatres, we’ve played bars, restaurants, you know? (Smiles) My personal favourites are theatres and amphitheatres, places where music is meant to be heard, you know? I don’t necessarily know that I’d like to play a Hard Rock Cafe as my first choice, but then there is something about this experience that makes you go ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’. I like the diversity, and I think that as an artist, to be versatile and to be able to play every type of venue makes you stronger.
Do the two of you still see yourselves making music together for a number of years to come?
I think so. We’re definitely going to make another record. We’ll start writing that in January, in the new year. We have every intention of making more records, for sure. I feel so grateful. I don’t know that many bands that have put out these many records, and we’ve had a steady climb. I’ve never felt like we just shot to success. We’ve had a steady climb, we make a living, we tour professionally. I’m grateful for that. If it was gone tomorrow, I would be sad, but also, like, it’s been a long run. Hopefully we’ll just keep making records, but it’s not the end of the world.
What would you do if you weren’t writing music and performing as part of Tegan and Sara?
If I had to choose another profession tomorrow, like if I had to suddenly go and hustle and find a new job? I’ve produced records and I’ve been working for a record label, sort of helping out with other bands. I could get a job in the record industry. I feel like I have applicable skills that could be transferred to another job (smiles). I’d probably write songs and make music for other people; I do that all the time.