Open Books


There are times when Tegan Quinn's life no longer feels like her own.

She's not one to hide her emotions: Alongside her twin sister, Sara, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter pens tunes so candid, listening to them almost feels like eavesdropping on some private conversation.

Little is off-limits, not their sexuality (they're both openly gay), their breakdowns or their bedrooms. It's as if they live behind walls of glass.

As such, their audience often feels less like fans than confidants, and that's where things get a little intense from time to time.

"All of our sincerity and our openness also breeds obsession and ownership," Quinn says. "There is a portion of our audience that absolutely feels like they own us, they sit and they critique every bit of us, from our haircuts to what our girlfriends do to the song titles to the set list. I mean everything. It can be very claustrophobic at times."

Not to mention dangerous, in a "Swimfan" kind of way.

"I've been in full-on fights with fans who've attacked me and security is trying to get them off me," Quinn says. "They're upset and they're crying and they're like, 'But I love you!' Or they're just annoying and demanding, screaming for the same song over and over and we're just like, 'We. Are. Not. Going. To. Play. It.'

"We had that happen in Montreal," she continues. "And then the girl got up onstage and was freaking out. It took six security people to get her off the stage. Everybody was cheering and laughing in the audience, but there was a part of me that was like, 'This is not funny. She's a lunatic.' You have this moment where you're like, 'Our lives are a little stupid at times.' "

And it's not just their fans' passions that Tegan and Sara stoke, but each others' as well. The Canadian duo's latest disc, the daring, diffuse pop gem "The Con," one of the best albums of 2007, is so emotionally raw, it's as if their hearts have been scoured with sandpaper.

"When Sara's singing about laying in bed with a pile of books between her and her girlfriend, that hurts," Quinn says, her voice ripe with concern. "Whereas I'm like, 'Screw you.' I've got all the teenagers in the audience, with songs like 'Nineteen,' 'Hop A Plane,' 'Speak Slow.' But 'Floor Plan' comes on, and Sara's singing about wanting her partner's lungs to stop working without her, and that's where the depth in our music is really at. I think that balance in our songwriting is what distinguishes us."

That songwriting is consistently elliptical and fresh, with roots in coffeehouse folk and punk, buffered with New Wave synth and swelling, sun-ripened melodies.

Their songs are posited upon betrayal and inadequacy, triumph and resolve, with their by turns reedy and pillow-soft voices intertwining with one another like strands of DNA.

And while they don't shy away from gender issues -- or much of anything, really -- they never make a point of addressing them explicitly, which lends their catalog a very loose, uninhibited feel. Their sexuality is a part of their lives, and their lives are a part of their songs, and that's where it begins and ends with these two.

In other words, there's no sexual politicking going on. Whether others want to force them into that role or not, they hesitate to be spokeswomen for anything.

"I don't think we're meant to stand on podiums and preach," Quinn says. "I remember when we signed our record deal for the first time, we were 18, and Elliott Roberts, who's Neil Young's manager, signed us, and he was like, 'You're going to be the voice of your generation.'

"I remember thinking, 'That's so cheesy,' " she continues. "We're not the voice of our generation, we're a voice to our generation. I don't think we're speaking for everybody, we're speaking to them. We're just singing, and everybody is clamoring around us and saying, 'I feel this too.' It's all of the voices together that's really creating a message."

And that message has resonated with a demographic far broader than the Lilith Fair crowd, within which these two often get lumped.

They've got as many male as female fans, as many straights as gays in the house, and that's the whole point. The Quinns celebrate their differences the best way they know how: by scarcely ever acknowledging them at all.

"You're a dude, you and I might not have that much in common, but you can hear that there's tons of what I'm saying that's relatable," Quinn says. "When I look out at my audience, it isn't this sea of girls, as much as people might like to think that. There are so many dudes at our shows, so many older guys. There's definitely a lot of queer kids and stuff, but there's a lot of everybody in our audience. I think that from the beginning, the songs struck people who were really listening. And that could be any one."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

 

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