Here are the essentials you need to know about Tegan & Sara: Their last name is Quin. They’re Canadian, which is this moment’s stamp of coolness. They’re twins. They look alike. They sing alike. They act like polar opposites. Fight like pro boxers. Tell stories like stand-up comedians. Love hockey. Are really pissed about the NHL season being canceled. Can be kind of controlling. Can be really demanding, at least of each other. Are lesbians. And they write some of the best songs about self-doubt, obsession and getting your heart kicked in by a pair of steel-toed Doc Martens that you’ll ever hear.
The things that aren’t true, but have spread like peanut butter across the media: Contrary to rumor, the duo was not manufactured. Not in the robots-constructed-in-an-evil-plant-run-by-a-maniacal-Dick-Cheney sense—though, that would be kind of cool—but in the N’Sync boy-band sense, or like those two Russian girls who pretended to be lesbians to get exposure. T & S were playing in punk bands in their native Calgary way before they strapped on acoustic guitars and became indie-rock’s version of Liam and Noel Gallagher.
Which also implies that Tegan & Sara are not, in fact, overnight sensations. You just didn’t know about them—mainly because they’ve slowly leaked out of Canada rather than bum-rushed America like an Alberta clipper. That doesn’t mean that, like a few people have insinuated, the Quin sisters’ first two albums sucked like a planet-size vacuum. In fact, 2000’s This Business of Art and 2002’s If It Was You are both solid discs that you could cuddle up with your insecurities to, thank you very much, and Sara Quin is more than willing to flip off those who say otherwise.
Actually, she’d really like everyone to just stop focusing on everything but her music. “One thing we’ve really noticed lately,” she says, “is that people seem to be reviewing our entire lives, and that’s been really hard to go through. I’ve felt like there’s been such an overwhelming focus on things other than the record that I couldn’t really get happy about the fact that, after six years, we’re getting more attention. They focus on our sexuality or how s—tty our last record was or whether we’re some sort of gimmick. I just want them to listen to the record.”
And for good reason. The band’s latest disc, So Jealous (Vapor/Sanctuary) is the kind that’s so good its bound to start rumors. Yes, at first glance, its galloping blend of pounding folk, crisp harmonies and punk attitude comes off like a girlie version of the Lemonheads’ ’90s masterpiece It’s a Shame About Ray—just with louder guitars and songs about surviving heartbreak rather than surviving heroin.
But Tegan and Sara have come up with more than a few good break-up songs. They’ve written a disc about passion and its trappings, particularly what happens when it’s a one-sided thing. A song like “Downtown” captures real obsession—that need to just be near someone wherever and whenever. And it can seem fairly sweet: “I only get up for you,” they coo to an unknown lover over jangly guitars and a plodding beat.
But when they manage to sneak out without you, that inevitably leads to “So Jealous,” the duo cracking over metronome-like guitar slaps: “I don’t like what I see/ I don’t know how it’s become such a problem.” And while much of the rest of the disc captures the fall, no song does it better than “Where Does the Good Go,” a plaintive acoustic track that pleads for things to stay the same. The two ask a lover, “to look me in the eye and tell me you don’t find me attractive/ look me in the heart and tell me you won’t go.” It’s damn near heartbreaking to hear the desperation in the harmonies.
Which is fine and dandy on record. But with folks poking around Tegan & Sara’s private lives now, it can distort reality. “It’s the vulnerable art side of us that’s always getting judged,” Quin says,” but I swear that the day-to-day people are a lot more balanced. No one really gets to see that, though. And when you start looking at us in the context of our art, it’s like we only have one emotion sometimes. But we do jealousy and anxiety really well, so why not go with it?”
And with So Jealous doing so well for the band—critical acclaim, serious album sales, all that—it seems like a good choice, even if it has resulted in some stuff Quin wasn’t quite ready for. “We’ve been working so hard for six years,” she says. “So this has been really great for us. We’re making a living as a band now. That’s just unbelievable. And we’re so excited that The Killers just picked us to open on their tour. So, really, it’s just been amazing, even if some people think we’re manufactured or something. Really, who cares?”
TEGAN & SARA Lo-Fi Cafe, 127 S. West Temple, Saturday March 12, 7 p.m. 800-888-8499