Progress Report

Progress Report: Tegan & Sara

By jessica / July 31, 2009

NAME: Tegan & Sara
PROGRESS REPORT: Listening to mixes for their sixth studio album, Sainthood, out October 27. Recorded at Sound City in Van Nuys, CA, and Two Sticks Audio in Seattle, WA.

Tegan & Sara’s 2007 record The Con grew on me, especially when live, acoustic performances from the sisters started appearing on YouTube. Something about the roughness of live sound also added a little grit to their vocals. So it was great to find out that for their followup record Sainthood, the Quin sisters, along with returning producer Chris Walla, recorded with just five musicians and few overdubs. Sara says that the songs turned out different that she expected. Instead of tracks more intimate, they sounded bigger and more forceful. “I’m feeling like, for the first time, that this is a band record. This really sounds like a band went into a room and played music.” The changes played on some of her neuroses: Death Cab For Cutie drummer Jason McGerr had plenty of time to freak her out with his intense drum faces, (“He stares at you so seriously”), and handing the mixes off to Dave Sardy to work the songs alone messed with their perfectionist tendencies. “Tegan and I are such control freaks, so it’s such a challenge for me to just be listening to everything from my house. We really have maybe an hour to listen to things and pick on details that are sticking out and then sign off on it. It’s terrifying, but it’s a really good exercise. I’m sure my therapist would be really impressed.”

Fans will be happy to hear that Tegan and Sara’s lyrics — themselves a kind of portable therapy session — are still about relationships. “We pretty much write love songs,” she laughs. “I wish I could say we had gone out on a real lyrical limb, but I don’t think we did.” But the title, inspired by a Leonard Cohen lyric (“I practiced all my sainthood”), refers to the specific kind of love Sara and Tegan wanted to sing about: “hysterically devoted” love, the sort that often goes unrequited. “With us, we pick the most challenging people to try to date and pursue and often don’t get them. So we wanted to focus on this idea of being saintly and winning people over.”

She isn’t worried about performing the songs on Sainthood, though they won’t debut the new tracks until closer to the release date. The way they recorded means they don’t have to worry about translating 30 overdubs to a live band. Sara says taking control of each song and delegating backing parts has always been easy for them. Surprisingly, though, the sisters have never collaborated on songwriting before Sainthood. They decided to give it a shot back in November. They took a week off in New Orleans to sit down and write together. The already surreal experience was made worse because they had a photographer with them to document the process. “I felt like I was in prison or hell or purgatory. It was unreal. [I thought,] ‘We’re on a bad MTV reality show,'” she says. Eventually they found a rhythm to their collaboration, but it still sometimes felt like someone looking over your shoulder while you’re writing a letter. It’s not that strange: Sara and Tegan tour and work together, but they also live and work in different cities. “I’ve never written a song when someone’s in the room or around or in the house. I’m a total weirdo!” Sara says. “It really triggered the womb. I was like, ‘Get out of my space, seriously.’ But I don’t blame the dysfunction of our sister relationship. I blame the dysfunction of us as individuals.”

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