How do you identify actual lesbians in the music industry at the turn of the millennium?
They're the ones not kissing other women on awards shows.
The Quin twins, Tegan Rain and Sara Kiersten, arrived September 19, 1980; Tegan came first by eight minutes. They grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and began writing songs and playing locally in their early teens. At 15, they had their first band, a pop/punk ensemble called Plunk which they now describe as "really bad." After blowing out their amplifiers, they became an acoustic folk duo.
At the age of nineteen, they released their first album, Under Feet Like Ours (1999). This independently-produced CD, now difficult to find1, caught the attention of several major labels. They applied instead to Neil Young's Vapor Records, in part because they felt they would have greater control with a smaller label. Young loved their music; he not only signed the sisters, he asked them to tour with him. They have since toured with the Pretenders and Ryan Adams, and as a part of Lilith Fair. Increasingly, however, they have been headlining, playing for crowds drawn by their music.
Their first major release, This Business of Art (2000) clearly indicates the influence of the 1980s new wave they listened to growing up. Despite comparisons to Sarah McLachlan-- with whom they were only dimly familiar at the time, and whom they don't much resemble-- and Indigo Girls, they cite influences such as The Violent Femmes and Pixies.
Their 2002 album, If It Was You showed the pair's folkier side; there's even a touch of bluegrass. In 2004, they released So Jealous. The album's ode to past relationships, "Walking With a Ghost," received considerable airplay. While they remain a favourite of young alternative types, they are becoming more mainstream. So Jealous boasts catchy lyrics and infectious hooks, yet it does not sound like pop princess product.
No overmarketed Britneys or writing-team-supported Avrils, the sisters retain their independence from external image-makers. They are involved in their own management, production, and album design. And, although they play and have recorded covers of songs by established artists, the emphasis has always been on their original material.
"Tegan writes songs like a fish lays eggs," says Sara, explaining that her sister produces hundreds of tunes at a time, most of which die. Sara tends to work out each song slowly, but most make it to the album. They do not, as a rule, collaborate on their songs, but exceptions exist, including their early recording, "This is Everything."
They enthuse about their fans, though Tegan notes, "we feel like we get objectified by women way more than men at our shows. It's less and less men yelling inappropriate things. Maybe it's 'cause women don't know what the line is. Society hasn't given us a line for women objectifying women. Maybe I'll do a science project" (quoted in Sullivan) While both are gay and do not want to be seen as denying the fact, they try to dodge the "Twin Lesbian Duo" label2. One sister notes, that they
"always get, 'Oh, you're twins? And you're gay? And you're from Canada? Wow..... Half the time, I don't know why anyone writes anything about us. They should just write, 'Twin Lesbian Duo From Canada'.... Too often, it just ends up being about those things and there's no time left to talk about the music" (Quoted in Laudig, which helpfully only defines the speaker as 'Quin'). One can understand the problem. When someone described 1970s pop duo the Carpenters as a brother and sister act, no one drew inappropriate conclusions.3 But "Lesbian Twins" seems to elicit from some thoughts of online pr0n and Jerry Springer. Performers intent on being known for their music would naturally balk at being perceived as another t.A.t.U. or promoted as someone’s fetish.
The sisters Quin, however, have established a considerable following, and seem poised to become a larger part of the pop landscape in the early twenty-first century.
Tegan and Sara's discography, to date, includes:
The Con (2007)
So Jealous (2004)
If It Was You (2002)
This Business of Art (2000)
Under Feet Like Ours (1999)
They have also released a number of singles and promotional EPs. In particular, fans outside of North America may have discovered them through promotional recordings that contain selections of material from their albums. In 2004, they appeared on Spiders from Mars: Women Cover David Bowie, where they contributed a cover of "Rebel, Rebel." In 2006 they released the concert DVD Live at the Phoenix, available as a part of a larger DVD of material, Tegan and Sara: It's Not Fun. Don't Do It!
In 2010 they released The Complete Recollection: 1999-2010. This itunes bundle features all of their albums, the complete Live at the Phoenix tracks, thirteen music videos and two documentary films.
1. Even rarer are copies which identify them as "Sara and Tegan."
2. They have made a guest-appearance as themselves on The L Word in an episode entitled "Last Dance."
3. Update: I apparently underestimated the creepiness of the general public. I've learned certain people did make that allegation against Carpenters, regularly, despite an absence of evidence.
The First Tegan and Sara Fansite. www.teganandsara.org.
Michele Laudig. "Twin Lesbian Duo from Canada: Tegan and Sara’s delectable pop makes lazy headline writers look stupid." SF Weekly. April 13, 2005. http://music.sfweekly.com/issues/2005-04-13/music/music2.html
Tina Sfondeles. "Tegan, Sara, and Diversions." The Phoenix. December 8, 2004. http://www.loyolaphoenix.com/news/2004/12/08/Diversions/Tegan.Sara.And.Diversions-824666.shtml
Kate Sullivan. "Tegan and Sara Make the World a More Kick-Ass Place." L.A. Weekly. April 15-21, 2005.
Tegan and Sara Official Site. http://www.teganandsara.com