Canadian-born twins Tegan & Sara Quin are the most famous twin sisters in pop music known as Tegan & Sara. The two started as folk duo when they were alt-rock teenagers and have grown into seasoned pop stars who write anthemic, romantic hits that make you want to fist jump your hair brush as you cry to the moody lyrics. We interviewed the duo about what it’s like to make music and tour with the girl you shared a womb with.
What are three things you could never live without?
Sara: Books, coffee and alone time.
Tegan: Family, friends, and music.
Where/when were you born, how many minutes apart and does the older twin lord this over the other?
Sara: We were born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on September 19th, 1980. We were born 8 minutes apart, Tegan was first at 5:56 am and I was born at 6:04 am.
Would you consider each other best friends?
Sara: I think of Tegan as my best sister and also as my most important creative collaborator!
Tegan: I don’t think Sara is my best friend, but I do think there is something about being an identical twin, especially one who shares their job/life with that twin, that inherently makes you close. I don’t always tell Sara everything but there is no doubt that she just sometimes knows everything regardless of if I told her. Which is also sometimes annoying, but useful.
What did you fight about when you were young?
Sara: Often we fought over clothes, use of the telephone (it was the 1990’s so we didn’t have cell phones) and as we got older we’d have conflict over our shared guitar. Our parents would always tell us to “figure it out” when we would fight and that was tough because I probably wanted a judge to decide who was right and who was wrong!
Tegan: Oh, my goodness. Everything. The phone, clothes and who was going to tell a story was probably the 3 that took up the most energy and caused the biggest fights. We were always together so mostly we just drove each other crazy for entertainment. I think we struggled to be seen as our own individual selves but also never wanted to be without the other.
What always brought you back together when you fought?
Sara: Even as young people we had a tendency to just get over our fights. Sometimes without even talking about them. As adults, we mostly use email to write down our feelings once we’ve cooled down. It can be hard to resolve conflict if we’re stuck on a tour bus or in a hotel room together so the best way to end a fight is to take some space to ourselves. That can be a walk or even just some quiet time listening to music or reading a book in a park.
Tegan: We used to joke that the quickest way to get us to stop fighting was to get involved. So, if someone dared to get between us the fight would end and we’d team up on whoever was so brave (and dumb) to get entangled in our mess.
What did your bedroom look like when you were a young teen and what music were you always blasting?
Sara: My bedroom was covered in Smashing Pumpkins posters, music articles from magazines and artwork and drawings from friends. I also loved putting up pictures of my favorite actors from the television show My So Called Life. There was a whole section of my bedroom with class photos of my friends and my cats Taya and Tazz. I had purple carpet and a giant orange velvet chair. I convinced my mom to let me put my mattress on the floor so that my friends and I could lay all over the place. I was VERY tidy and my bookshelves and windowsills were neatly organized with books and little trinkets and gifts from friends. My closet was a total disaster, it was piled up with clothes to my knees and every weekend I’d drag everything out and refold it. I listened to Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Bikini Kill, Nirvana, and a lot of Daft Punk.
Tegan: I listened to music non-stop for as long as I can remember. Even when we were super young I remember our parents gave us each a tape player and headphones for our room. At night as young as 6 or 7 I remember listening to New Kids on the Block or Michael Jackson and singing along in the dark. As a teenager every single inch of my walls were plastered with posters and magazine stories about bands and actors I loved. I LIVED in band t-shirts and thought musicians were the coolest. Nothing let me express myself the way that music did.
How did you get into music? What drew you to it in the first place?
Sara: Our grandparents and parents were music fanatics. There was always music playing in the houses we grew up in. My grandparents had a country and western bar in their basement and a jukebox filled with old country records. My favorites were Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. My mom was really into Kate Bush and Sinead O’Connor and my stepdad would make mix tapes of Bruce Springsteen and U2 for our weekend car rides. We were allowed to play their tapes, records, CD’s on our own and eventually, we got our own little stereos for each of our rooms. In high school, we started writing our own songs using an acoustic guitar that my stepdad had from high school. Then we were obsessed with our own music!
Tegan: We always had music on in our house. Our dad, our mom and our step dad, all three were big music fans. They were still young when they had us, so they were pretty cool all things considered. Whether they were driving us somewhere or cooking or just hanging out at home, there was always their music playing. I think we just naturally grew interested in crafting our own at some point. As teenagers in the 90’s EVERYONE was in a band and we wanted to start one too. We’d played piano our whole lives but found a guitar stored in our basement and just automatically started writing and recording the songs. We had no shyness around it. Literally from the first time I held a guitar I just desperately wanted to write songs and share them.
When did you discover you could sing?
Sara: I knew that my voice was okay because I was in choir all through elementary school. But, I didn’t realize I could be a lead singer until 10th grade. I got a lot of confidence watching people like Courtney Love and Justine Frischchmann from the band Elastica because they didn’t have traditional voices and they had crazy hair and clothes that I liked.
Tegan: As soon as we found the guitar in our basement I started sneaking it out of the storage room when my parents were out of the house and playing in my bedroom. I almost instantly started singing along to the weird strumming I was doing. I can’t quite put into words how it happened. It just did. We had never really shown an interest in singing before that. There was a choir in elementary school and some school productions we had been involved in. But, I think it was a big shock to everyone, including us, that we wanted to sing
What do you love most about making music with your twin sister?
Sara: I have never been in a band with anyone but Tegan and we just seem to be a great match! I really like her songs and she is very smart about business. It’s also helpful that she has a similar voice to me because its like I get to be two singers at once.
Tegan: I like that no matter what, I know I can trust Sara. Whether it’s giving me advice or comments on a song, or addressing me and the way I do interviews or business. I know that Sara will be honest. I trust her. And, through the years, even though it’s been hard at times, like really really hard, I think I keep at it and keep going because there is something that makes this whole band seem special—because I’m doing it with family. If I were just in a band with friends, I could imagine that I may have quit by now. But how do you quit your family?
You guys tease each other a lot on stage, and the audience loves it. Is this dynamic pretty true to your everyday relationship? Is teasing love?
Sara: We are definitely people who use humor and teasing with everyone we know. I think we mean it in good fun and for the most part, don’t hurt each other’s feelings often. We like to tell stories but of course, we usually have different memories of what happened which can be very funny. It’s also a way that we can connect to a larger audience by sharing more about our lives and personalities. It was really helpful when we were opening for other bands when we first started out. People didn’t always like our music but we’d try super hard to make them like US at the very least!
Tegan: I think it is pretty true to our actual off-stage dynamic. Not when we are alone. But, even if one other person is there, we do like an audience. I think we enjoy entertaining each other and other people. I think we desire the laughs we get from telling stories and bantering as much as we do the cheering from playing songs.
Who did you guys look up to as songwriters/performers when you were just starting out?
Sara: I really loved Ani DiFranco when I was in twelfth grade and that was an important role model because she was very outspoken about her politics and also was a business owner. She inspired us to think of ourselves as being in charge of our music and the way we looked. I didn’t want anyone to tell me/us what to do and she gave us the blueprint to do that by talking about her own story on stage and in interviews.
Tegan: We grew up listening to a lot of big 80’s and 90’s artists. Everyone from Nirvana and Cyndi Lauper to David Bowie to Melissa Etheridge. We loved Ani Difranco and Rancid. The whole spectrum of music genres. Mostly I looked up to artists that had careers. I liked the idea of doing music as a job. So I wanted to ensure we were creative and genuine about what we were doing with our music and our band.
What makes the perfect pop song?
Sara: A perfect pop song is a song that you can listen to over and over and never get sick of it. Also, I love when a song makes you want to star in a music video singing it.
Tegan: I’m always trying to write something that will appeal to EVERYONE. I think a great pop song has the ability to touch a wide spectrum of people. If you can get two people from different worlds, who had completely different experiences to feel something for a song you wrote about awhole other experience—you’ve done something special.
What song(s) always make you cry? Sara: Reckoner by Radiohead and Heavy Water/ I’d Rather Be Sleeping by Grouper.
Tegan: Interesting. I don’t know if I have cried listening to music in a long long time!
I don’t know if I have an answer for this one…
Do you remember the first show you went to or the most impactful show you ever saw?
Sara: Honestly, seeing New Kids on the Block when we were 8 years old was massively impactful. The feeling of the kids cheering and the loudness of the music happening all together in one room was totally life changing. I couldn’t believe they were real people and I wanted to be up there with them!
Tegan: I remember going to see some local bands play at a dingy hole in the wall club when I was about 14 and thinking after that I could totally do that and wanted to do it. Of course, I had yet to start writing or singing songs but I just had a feeling that I could be good at that. I loved the feeling of being in that tightly packed space and music playing so loudly. It looked fun but also felt so special.
What would you be doing if you weren’t playing music? (I assume stand-up comedy… weirdly, for you both … am I wrong?)
Sara: HA! I think I am more suited for an introverted job which I know comes as a surprise! My dream job when I was growing up was “fiction writer” and then later it was “visual artist”. The funny thing is I rarely did either of those things but I craved experiences that allowed me to be alone and process feelings and ideas through different mediums of storytelling. Music was the one that clicked best. I also love running a business! I’m a very disciplined person and I love a routine even if it’s one that is completely about making art!
Tegan: I would love to do something that uses our skills as performers. Talking, making jokes, leading a room of people. I love the idea of running a business. So much of our career has been about business, traveling, talking, organizing etc. I think I’d like to do something using those skills. WHAT? I don’t know.
What advice would you give yourself at the lowest point in your pre-teen life? If you could come down and hover over yourself, what would you tell sad you to cheer you up?
Sara: People said this to me when I was at my lowest, but I didn’t believe it: Being a teenager feels like FOREVER and the MOST important time of your life and yet I really only got started being ME when I got out of high school. It was very difficult to imagine my life in the future and I wish I’d done more thinking and visualizing about what I really wanted. Part of me was really afraid to do that because I was gay and I was unsure if I would ever be happy. Now I wish I could go back and give myself a hug and tell myself how much love and happiness I was going to eventually have!
Tegan: Finding a guitar in 10th grade changed my life. I was definitely not a traditional student. I found school hard to focus on. I wasn’t a good classroom learner. I was a very social kid who felt a little out of place in a giant school. But when I found the guitar and started singing and writing songs I felt really motivated and focused. I think if I had to go back and give myself advice when I was at my darkest/lowest it would be to focus on music even more. I think it was the one thing that really gave me a voice and let me feel.