Every band dreams of its first tour, but indie-pop sisters Tegan and Sara Quin’s earliest road trips were not your average rock & roll fantasy. After signing to Neil Young’s Vapor Records imprint in 2000, the Calgary-born identical twins went on tour by themselves, making overnight journeys across their native Canada on a Greyhound, accompanied by the drunk homeless folks who ride the bus to stay warm in the winter. “I remember once when our dad came to pick us up at the Greyhound station — we had dropped fifteen pounds, and Tegan had a crazy sinus infection,” says Sara. “He was like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go to university or get a job?'”
By the time the twenty-six-year-olds began prepping for this summer’s tour in support of their new album, The Con, they didn’t need an office gig. Tegan and Sara were nominated for a Juno — Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy — for 2004’s So Jealous, and the White Stripes covered that album’s breakout single, “Walking With a Ghost.” Now the girls are making enough money to bring their own videographer on the road with them, this time in a real tour bus.
But those early travails were formative for the pint-size, intricately coiffed twins, who have been shaping their own career since they were three years old. “For Christmas, my parents got us one of those Fisher-Price tape recorders,” says Sara. “We were total narcissists: All we wanted to do was listen to our own voices.” When she and Tegan started writing songs at age fourteen, they taped themselves and sold the demos to friends. “We were like, ‘It’s not enough to listen to ourselves,'” Sara says. “We want to make other people listen to us — for money!”
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Thirteen years later, thanks to the success of So Jealous, Tegan and Sara landed a major-label deal that allowed them to spend $50,000 on their new record, the most polished album of their career. Produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, The Con is evenly split between Sara’s angular, hook-filled ditties and Tegan’s melancholic odes to heartbreak. More so than their previous releases, The Con features keyboards, danceable post-punk rhythms and computerized beats, imparting a creepy dissonance that matches the hum of their voices. Only a studied ear could tell you which twin has the higher-pitched harmonies or which tends to play on the offbeat. To the girls, however, the differences are clear. “It’s impossible for me to think Tegan sounds like me,” says Sara. “I literally might as well be in a band with Nick Cave.”
Still, the sisters, both lesbians, are in sync when it comes to their favorite lyrical subject. “Even though our first songs were deceptively convoluted with metaphors, they were always about getting a girl,” says Tegan. “We’re relationship people. We’re, like, doctors of love.”
Adds Sara, “There is something so complicated about loving me and loving Tegan. Every girl I’ve ever dated has said that by dating one of us, you’re dating both of us, because we’re always together. We love each other in a way that most siblings don’t understand.”
This story is from the August 7, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.