Independent bands that pride themselves on do-it-yourself promotion and production of songs often become conflicted when they find themselves in the throes of mid-range popularity. After all, mass appeal signifies that your CD is sharing a shelf with the likes of Britney Spears, God forbid. Then again, it could just mean you’ve tapped into the universal pulse of humanity.
Tegan and Sara Quin, a Canadian indie pop duo, appear to be on the brink of such mass exposure. Already the feisty guitar-playing twins are causing excitement just a whisper below the radar level of unlikely post-next-big-things like the White Stripes. It may be only a matter of time before they reach the larger stage.
The Quins have been cranking out tunes since high school, and by 1999, at the age of 17, they had released their first album, Under Feet Like Ours. In 2000, at a time when their sound was decidedly more folk-punk, they shared concert bills with the likes of Beck and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young—which isn’t exactly sitting at the kids’ table. At 19, they signed to Neil Young’s Vapor Records and released This Business of Art. Tegan and Sara’s is a charmed history.
But things are changing. With last year’s release of So Jealous, a slickly produced and self-conscious break-out album, Tegan and Sara are barreling into a pop vein that suits their songwriting talents but inevitably clashes with their organic style. A documentary short about the making of So Jealous alludes to the dilemma of losing creative control: Tegan laments that, unlike their lo-fi bedroom recordings of yesteryear, the track fracturing of professional engineering detracts from their songs’ emotional integrity. They seem suspicious of collaborators and uncomfortable in the studio.
But evolution requires being equipped for your environment, and Tegan and Sara’s resistance to the music business is also a good part of their popular appeal. That, and a combination of qualities including a knack for undertones reminiscent of The Cars and Foreigner, as well as their reputation for sisterly onstage banter. Tegan and Sara still tour in a van, and still play at smaller venues like Missoula’s UC Ballroom. And for now they remain a study in transition—musicians with one foot dragging and the other on the pedal.
Tegan and Sara play UM’s UC Ballroom Friday, April 29. Purrbot opens. Tickets cost $15, and the show kicks off at 9 PM.