Six albums and 10 years into their career as indie-pop double threats Tegan and Sara, the 29-year-old Canadian duo have put enough distance between themselves and their first releases to analyze them critically. Quite critically, it turns out. “I like to think that our career is divided into two really important times. Those first couple of records, I’ve come to terms with how embarrassed I am of them and see them as … development,” Sara Quin tells Rolling Stone. “Now we understand our voices and the songwriting process and how we want to present ourselves to the audience. We also have an audience now.”
That kind of brutal honesty has helped endear the pair to their loyal fans, who sometimes like to express their admiration in aggressive ways. Tegan kicked off a Halloween night show in New York by indicating the burly security guards positioned onstage and giving a brief speech about the good and bad ways to show the band love: “Sometimes you guys get so excited you run up here and that scares Tegan and Sara.”
But the duo never forget that their onstage storytelling gives fans a real connection, and recently issued a series of three revealing books called On It At that document tours and a trip to New Orleans that marked the first time they’d ever attempted to write together. (Watch the video above to hear more on that experience.) They decided to turn transcripts of their writing sessions into scripts, and amp up the drama by adding an Alfred Hitchcock-like element. They landed on Rorschach ink-blot tests, which they recreated for each limited-edition copy of the book (watch them painstakingly dropping ink on paper here). “We found out we were crazy, as well,” Sara adds. Ink blots “always kind of look like lungs or butterflies,” Tegan says. “And penises,” adds Sara.
Tegan and Sara’s video for Sainthood single “Hell” is likewise highly stylized and quite confusing. In the clip, the sisters are positioned in adjoining rooms, singing while sticking their heads through huge cut-outs of other photographs. (Watch it below.) “We’d talked about projecting an image of yourself that wasn’t necessarily accurate, or embellishing parts of yourself in order to attract somebody who is maybe looking for something different than your true self,” Sara explains. The cut-out boards in the video wound up coming from family photos, including shots of their mom and aunt. “It’s so nonsensical and strange,” Sara admits, noting she also wore the monster suit because Tegan was physically unable to pull it off. “I was supposed to wear it but we changed it because I’m actually quite claustrophobic, and when they brought the costume in I was like, no!” Tegan says.
As always, Sainthood is a reflection of the duo’s sometimes disparate listening habits. Sara has said she was listening to a lot of T.I. and The-Dream, while Tegan cites Kings of Leon and Ra Ra Riot. “Ultimately, that’s Tegan and Sara in a nutshell. T.I. and Ra Ra Riot,” Tegan says. “When we did So Jealous, Sara was listening to the New Pornographers and OutKast, and I was at home listening to Bruce Springsteen. That’s kind of what we do. We both write from different places and bring it together.”