THE WAY IT WASN'T: "I don't know what our band would sound like if people had really focused on our music when we were first starting out," says Sara (right).
Say what you will about the usefulness of music journalists. Sometimes we get the details wrong, sometimes we let our subjective soft spots trip up our better judgment, and sometimes we just make stuff up. But sometimes we do something that hardly anybody else can: we drive artists so fucking crazy with our relentless prying bullshit that they go and become better artists. High-fives all around: together we made Tegan and Sara rule. (Well, in a way.)
"I don't know what our band would sound like if people had really focused on our music when we were first starting out," says nominal latter half Sara. "It was so rare that people would want to interview us, and when they did, it was always about our sexuality, or that we were twins, or whatever. We were so rarely influenced by what people thought about our music that it just kind of blindly developed."
So maybe everybody's missing the point for years paid off. For her part, Sara is grateful it all went down the way it did — though she wishes it hadn't taken 12 years. For the first five or so of those years (that is, until 2004's So Jealous landed them in thousands of big fat iPods with the kid-tested, Jack White–approved "Walking with a Ghost"), the two found themselves cemented in opening position, albeit for some pretty fancy tours (Neil Young, the Killers, Ryan Adams). It was great exposure, but it also threw them into something of a critical vacuum: so eager to budge them upward were their bigger-name billmates, and so boiling over their twinny lesbianism was the primordial blog ooze, that their music always seemed irrelevant.
"There was this sensation in the beginning where people were just suspicious of us," Sara tells me from Montreal. " 'So you got signed by Neil Young . . . how did that happen?' — as though we just won a spelling bee and were horrible spellers our whole lives."
If Sainthood (Sire) is any indication, these girls know how to spell. It's by far their most arresting set of songs, largely because it's styled like a live show, with one barely-three-minute pop-splosion after the next. It's as much a band album as a variety pack. A faint new-wave hue makes "Red Belt" and "Don't Rush" glow, whereas "Paperpack Head" and "The Ocean" draw from deeply dug post-punk roots. Even as "Arrow" shows some leg to potential remixers, it stands on its own as a fiery little workhorse of a rock song — sporting (and owning) the very indecisiveness that earned the two flak early on.
We do agree that it'd be wrong to dismiss completely the whole twin thing from the successful equation that's brought Tegan and Sara to where they are today — or more to the point, to the Orpheum on Saturday. As we know from television, twins possess the creepy ability to recede into a world known only unto them — in this case, a sort of psychic practice space into which no one else is allowed to bring his shit. Although their music has changed, their nerves have waned, and many of their dreams have been achieved over the course of 12 years of making music together, some things haven't changed a bit. Sara would still "fight a tiger" for Tegan. . . . "And we're always apologizing and thanking people. We're kind of cliché Canadian that way."