When Tegan And Sara were unable to clear a quote from Leonard Cohen's "Came So Far From Beauty" ("I practiced all my sainthood / I gave to one and all / But the rumors of my virtue / They moved her not at all"), the duo's sixth studio album lost its title track, which Tegan Quin took as a personal slight from Laughing Len. On the eve of the duo's second tour in support of that album, Sainthood, Quin told The A.V. Club that she now realizes Cohen probably never heard the song: "I'm sure it was management and lawyers and publishing companies and 'the business' that prevented it from happening," she says. "I kind of got over it. I like the mystery and the romance of it not being on the record."
With its tightly arranged, new-wave-flecked songs chronicling the euphoric highs and crushing lows of a love affair, Sainthood abounds with mystery and romance. Quin—who plays Friday at Aragon Ballroom with sister Sara—spoke with The A.V. Club about the record's blush of new love, dealing with her youth as documented in song, and why the world still needs Lilith Fair in 2010.
The A.V. Club: Are you interested in writing about the opposite of that Cohen lyric—when the rumors of your virtue do move her—or are you more inspired by the end of relationships and unrequited love?
Tegan Quin: I actually think Sainthood, even though it still comes off like a broken-hearted, "unrequited love" record, really is about the goodness in relationships—the beginning, where you're inspired and anxious and you're obsessive and it may not work out and you know that. There's something so beautiful and addictive at that point—your pilgrimage toward being good and being the best "you" in the relationship you can be. The race to the finish line where you accomplish what you set out to do, which was to get this person to like you and notice you and be with you. I found that very inspiring on this record, to write about that other side of things.
AVC: That "race to the finish line"—is that what you're singing about in "The Cure"?
TQ: Kind of. It's the idea that you tried to help and fix everything so that the person could finally get to the end of their list of what wasn't working, and then be like, "Okay, I'll be with you." Then they get to the bottom of that list and they're like, "Hmm… " I think that was sort of my updated version of "Came So Far From Beauty"—to feel like all that work went unnoticed.
AVC: You and Sara have traditionally written songs individually, but "Sainthood" and several other songs that were left off were written in a collaborative 2008 session in New Orleans. It's been hinted that those songs will eventually be released as their own EP. Has there been any progress on that?
TQ: Yeah, I think we definitely agree that it should come out at some point. They'd really only be good together under the guise of like, "We went into a room and jammed together for the first time ever." We're not in any way trying to play them off as "good," but that's what kind of makes them good—that they're just very strange, and very much attached to each other in this way, and you can't really separate them from one another.
AVC: Is that collaborative process something you'd like to explore again?
TQ: I think so. I've found that [working] in the same room might not be necessary. We wrote "Paperback Head" and "Sheets" together, but over e-mail. And we just wrote a song for Tïesto and one for Margaret Cho that way as well, and it works so much better. Because watching someone write a song is really boring. I don't really want to watch anyone write a song—including myself, apparently, which is why I haven't written a song in six months. [Laughs.]
AVC: The refrain in Sainthood's "On Directing" goes, "Go steady with me / I know it turns you off when I / I get talking like a teen." Are you playing that song in sets with songs that you and Sara wrote when you were teenagers?
TQ: No. The earliest song in our catalog that we're playing is a song called "My Number," which I wrote when I was 19, maybe 18. I guess in America, people still treat their 18- and 19-year-olds like teenagers, but in Canada, I was a full-grown adult with an apartment. [Laughs.] That's the closest to my "youngness" that I've gotten comfortable with playing. The part of my catalog that makes me cringe is age 18 to age 21. That's when you kind of establish who you are, but you have to start all over again when you're done being that age, because you realize that all the views you established for yourself were extreme, and they don't need to be that extreme. When I listen to our first two records, that's what I hear. I'm like, "Oh, look at us striking out. [Sarcastically] So extreme. Lame. Stop it." I'm trying to get comfortable with that music, but it's hard. It's like looking at pictures of yourself when you were 17. I'm like, "Why didn't anyone tell me to cut my hair?"
AVC: You also played Lilith Fair during that period, albeit on the smaller, local-talent-focused Village Stage. How does it feel to be a part of the revived Lilith Fair 11 years later?
TQ: I think Lilith Fair is a great idea, and I don't think enough people go on record saying that. There are a lot of haters, and a lot of people who are like, "It's not necessary in 2010." And I'm like, "Yeah, it is. Not if you're a pop musician, or if you're a starlet who's wearing Lycra on stage." It's really different for those artists, and it's hard for them in different ways that I don't have to deal with. But as a rock musician, as an alternative musician, as a lesbian, as a twin, lesbian rock musician, it's just been hard. [Laughs.] There's a lot of things that hold us back from being credible, and we've had to put six records out and play for 12 years to prove ourselves. And when I see the top 40 rock songs on alternative rock radio in Canada, and the only three women are us and [Emily Haines of] Metric, I'm like, "Really? Have we really come that far in 10 years? No, we haven't."
So as a human being, that's how I feel. As an artist, I think it's awesome. We're only doing a few of the dates, because we had our summer booked when they asked us. But we moved stuff around because I was like, "Fuck yeah, I want to be a part of that." I think it's awesome that they took a break and then came back. I'm really excited about some of the artists that are playing, and I'm totally proud to be a part of it.
AVC: As a hockey fan living in Vancouver, how are you dealing with being on the road during the Winter Olympics?
TQ: Well, the likelihood of me being at one of those games was probably pretty slim anyways, so I kind of just accepted that I would have been watching it on television with my friends. So instead I'll just be watching it on the bus, and I feel pretty okay about it. I've kind of moved through it. People are so grumpy about the Olympics here in Vancouver, and I'm kind of excited about them. I feel like I'm going to enjoy them more watching them on television [on the bus] then I would if I was here.