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Q&A: Sara Quinn

One half of indie pop-rockers Tegan and Sara speaks about songwriting, Sainthood and supporting Jack Johnson

Neha Sharma Dec 14, 2010
Tegan and Sara

Pamela Littky

Canadian indie pop-rock outfit Tegan and Sara have come a long way from their debut as teenagers on Under Feet like Ours (1999). The twin sisters came to gain popularity with the relative success of So Jealous (2004) when the White Stripes covered and popularised their single ”˜Walking with a Ghost.’ Touring with the likes of The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie and The White Stripes, Tegan and Sara Quin gradually started to gain visibility. The success of their fifth studio album The Con (2007) ”“ featuring guest artists like Jason McGerr, Kaki King and Hunter Burgan – hinted at the duo’s arrival on the mainstream. Last year saw the release of their sixth studio album, Sainthood, which crystallised their adventurous evolution over a decade receiving rave reviews. As Tegan and Sara made their maiden tour to India last month, Sara Quin spoke to us about songwriting, Sainthood and supporting Jack Johnson on his upcoming tour.

Tegan and your songwriting processes are very independent of each other and at the end of the day both your songs figure on the same album. How would you define that distinction, stylistically and lyrically?

I find that Tegan’s songs aim more towards the rock end of the spectrum while mine tend to lean towards the pop end. Lyrically, I feel Tegan is extremely verbose [laughs]. She has a lot to say, so she will squeeze a lot more into a song. I also think she is much more straightforward in what she’s trying to say. I am sort of the opposite. I’ll repeat lyrics to make a point, I’ll say a lot less and I think I have a sort of vague approach to it.

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In a ROLLING STONE interview you once compared Tegan and yourself with Jay and Silent Bob. Is it just that you are taciturn by nature or does Tegan tend to dominate the space during public/press interactions?

I think we’ve experienced fluctuations in our band. In the last couple of years I’ve taken more of a backseat. I really enjoy that she feels confident and engages the dialogue. A few years ago I started being a little quieter, just listening a lot more. I also wanted to emphasise more on the musical aspect than the actual performance aspect. As I got immersed in that it was more of a challenge for me to step back out and also be talking to the audience or journalists.

Chris Walla [Death Cab for Cutie guitarist] produced Sainthood and The Con – you guys seem to work very well together. Is he expected to reprise his role on your next album as well?

I would work with Chris Walla in a heartbeat. He is very well-versed with what Tegan and I are doing at this point and is also a good friend so we trust him. I am not certain that the next record will be another Chris Walla record but we would love to work with him again. I haven’t met anybody as busy; he has like eight projects on the go. He just started a new record label and has also started work on the new Death Cab CD. It’s crazy, the last time I saw him I was like ”˜How do you even sleep or have a life?’ [laughs]

”˜Sainthood’ went down very well with the audience and critics. Is it fair to say it has been your most satisfying piece of work?

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Both Sainthood and The Con have been very artistically satisfying from the recording process to the promotional touring. Both have been our biggest and more challenging albums. I think that has been evident as the audience has grown with us and also felt more passionately about our work. I think Sainthood is a very strong piece of work. While I can’t pick an album and say it was the most satisfying, I loved The Con – I think it will always be special because it was really a benchmark for us in terms of the way we recorded it and our level of confidence. It was also the album that introduced us to a bigger mainstream market.

Right after the India tour, you are touring New Zealand and Australia with Jack Johnson. Is this your first time playing with him?

Yes, this will be the first time that we’ll be playing with him so I am really looking forward to it. Actually Jack Johnson’s agents approached us and that was really cool as we were anyway looking to tour Australia and New Zealand to promote Sainthood. We are also really excited as we’ve already played at these places before and we sort of wanted to go back and play with some other artist and approach new audiences.

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