Tegan and Sara
The Con 10th Anniversary Acoustic Tour
Saturday, Nov. 11
901 Wharf St., S.W.
Tegan and Sara bring their acoustic tour, a 10th-anniversary commemoration of their breakthrough 2007 album “The Con,” to new Washington venue the Anthem next weekend. Sara, prepping for the sixth concert of the tour, spoke with the Blade by phone from Portland on Oct. 26
WASHINGTON BLADE: I’m told Portland has a large lesbian population. Are you aware of this?
SARA: I don’t know exactly but, um, we’ve spent a lot of time in Portland. We actually made “The Con,” the record that we’re touring on this anniversary, we actually made it in Portland but besides the lesbians who are in the band, we didn’t do a lot of socializing outside of the studio (laughs). But I love Portland. It’s a beautiful sunny day and it’s a little cooler than it was in California. I had a nice breakfast and walked around and it’s just a great town, I love it.
BLADE: Is this concept something you might also do for other albums when they turn 10 or is revisiting “The Con” different? If so, why?
SARA: You know, I think, first off, this record is incredibly special and just purely from a business perspective, you know, it was a big step for us. We moved over to Warner Brothers and there was a big push behind the album. It was really well received by the press and we saw our audience grow quite a bit and we started traveling more internationally. The reach of the album was pretty substantial and over the years, the record has been one of those signature pieces where even fans who discovered us on later albums generally find themselves back at “The Con” and love the songs. I think it’s a really cherished album within our community of fans so it felt really appropriate to go out and perform these songs again because for so many people, a lot of our fans tell us, “We were too young to see the show the first time around,” they were underage or they had yet to discover us, so it felt like the first album in our discography that felt like it had enough of an impact and that people liked enough that we could go out and do something like this. And then to be able to tie it to the launch of our foundation and be able to use it also as a fundraiser to try to raise money for some programming and grants we want to do next year, to have those two elements stitched together, that feels really special.
BLADE: Aside from being acoustic, how is this tour different from the original “Con” tour?
SARA: We didn’t want to just go out and do the album versions. We wanted to strip things back and make it more of an intimate show and allow for storytelling and really improvised moments even within the music itself. … The songs are very short. Even though there are 14 songs on the “The Con,” the whole album is only like 34 minutes or something. So we actually wanted to not feel completely beholden to the original recordings and wanted to be a little more flexible on the tour itself. So we’re playing them a bit more sparsely and we’ve slightly adjusted some of the arrangements, made some songs longer, changed keys, slowed things down, but the important thing for me was that none of the songs start and people go, “What is this?” We wanted it to be recognizable as the original song, just not boxed in to the way we recorded them.
BLADE: Are you playing the album through sequentially? What else are you playing?
SARA: Yeah, we are playing it through start to finish which takes roughly about an hour. … Then we have an eight-song set that follows “The Con” and that is also about an hour. As we’ve gotten older, our songs have gotten a bit longer so we don’t have to play as many to fill that second hour.
BLADE: I’ve been to shows where the band plays a classic album straight through and seen the audience kind of zone out on deeper cuts. Is that happening or was that a concern?
SARA: No, it really didn’t concern me. It’s one of those albums that our fans constantly reference and talk about so while there are definitely songs that are more popular, I actually think some of those deep cuts that weren’t singles are the songs people are more excited to hear. We still play “Call it Off,” “Nineteen,” “Back in Your Head,” “Dark Come Soon.” Those are songs that have been in our set list for 10 years, so people hear them a lot. I think for us to go into the deeper cuts was actually what fans wanted. They were always asking us to play, like, “Are You Ten Years Ago,” and I’d be like, “I don’t know how to play that, we’re not gonna do that.” So to go back and learn some of those songs again, that’s actually been the most thrilling part of the evening and the reception has just been wonderful. In fact, after L.A. we had done four shows and we added a song to the set because it almost felt too short. And that’s a two-hour show, but we still thought we could do one more song and people would be happy.
BLADE: Last time we talked, Tegan told us you sometimes spent as much as 80 hours writing one song but she didn’t have the patience for that. Was she slightly exaggerating or is that true?
SARA: Sometimes certain compositions come together really quickly and that much time isn’t needed but there are other songs that yeah, I’ll spend like ridiculous amounts of time working on absolutely. Sometimes if you know you have something special you’re willing to invest a bunch of time into it. Or sometimes you’ll spend a bunch of time on it, send it out to everybody then you will get feedback and will go back to the drawing board and sort of dismantle it and put it back together again. I’m extremely methodical and I love to tinker and revise. I love sort of disappearing into those worlds when I’m recording. … I spend a lot of time programming, working on what I want the drums to sound like, what I want the bass to sound like so I’m not just sitting down with a guitar and spending 80 hours, I’m really looking at the song three dimensionally and creating something that will be like a blueprint once we’re in the studio.
BLADE: Some acts like the Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge, you look back and it’s kind of surprising they were out so early on. Do you feel they paved the way or is that kind of a trite, sentimental thing people say?
SARA: Oh yeah, I mean, absolutely like a hundred percent. You know, Melissa Etheridge, the Indigo Girls, k.d. lang, these artists were extremely brave and they were trailblazers. What’s interesting is that as a result there was almost like a gap generationally where, you know, while I totally respect and admire those artists, especially for what they did, in terms of, you know, laying down the ground work for the rest of us. But they were older so, I mean, my mom was listening to them. My mom loved Melissa Etheridge, she loved k.d. lang and I was a teenager listening to hip-hop and electronic music so I sort of missed the musical inspiration side of it because I was totally, you know, into what was relevant to me and my friends in high school. But in terms of the inspiration to live a life where you didn’t have to be in the closet or hide who you were, I think they are deeply important and what was difficult in the first 10 years or so of our career was that there didn’t seem to be those same type of artists anymore. I don’t know what exactly happened or what the reaction was about, but it felt like a lot of artists started being more closeted or felt, you know, they didn’t feel compelled to be out about their sexuality so it was a bit lonely and isolating for us. But now there’s this big wave of musicians coming out and starting their careers in their 20s and what’s inspiring about them is that they are very vocal and their identity and who they are as people is intrinsically linked with their music and they’re happy to talk about it and embrace it and challenge people who sort of push back against it and that inspires me.
BLADE: What’s the biggest difference that struck you being at the Academy Awards in person versus watching in on TV? (Tegan and Sara performed their song “Everything is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie” at the Academy Awards in 2015 when it was nominated for Best Original Song.)
SARA: It’s quite surreal and the space definitely looks smaller in person than on television. But just to know that everywhere your eyeballs go and rest it’s somebody crazily famous. But yeah, it was a really cool experience and I’m a Virgo, so I’m a very organized person and I love being in well-run organizations and man, the Academy Awards is just the top of the top. They have that thing dialed in so it was really inspiring to watch that whole thing come together in person. Very, very cool.
BLADE: You all have done a lot of cool things with merchandising and fan stuff and stuff for Record Store Day and so on. Who comes up with those ideas?
SARA: We have a really cool team of people we’ve been working with most of our career. Our art director has been with us since 2003 and, you know, we are always batting around ideas. We really see the band as a really creative and collaborative project and it’s not just for music. For us it’s really about making things that we love and that we care about and in a way if we were teenagers and we loved the band, these are things we would want. I loved the Smashing Pumpkins and when they would put out a box set or an unreleased song, I would be the first person in line at the store the day it came out and I think those are things, gestures to our audience, we know they desire a little more behind the scenes or a little more information and those are things they can tangibly interact with and we really enjoy making them as a group.
BLADE: Yeah, the Pumpkins were great with that stuff. Remember “The Aeroplane Flies High”?
SARA: Yes, that black and white box! I loved that.
BLADE: You’ve toured with a lot of huge acts like Katy Perry and Gaga. Are y’all like hanging out backstage some or do they tend to pretty much keep to themselves?
SARA: Well, with Katy Perry, we know her, so she’s extremely kind and affable. She just sort of wanders around and you see her all the time. She’s a really down-to-earth person so that tour felt very inclusive and we were friends with a lot of people on the crew, the dancers were super nice and everybody was very friendly so it was a really integrated experience as the support band. But there are definitely other tours where you’re sort of lower down on the food chain and I never take it personally. Every artist is different. We’ve toured with other artists who are extremely shy, extremely nervous people and they sort of avoid that type of social interaction and I completely respect that. But we’ve been really lucky. We’ve had a lot of really positive touring experiences. Katy Perry was amazing, the Killers were amazing. Our very first tour in 2000, we opened for Neil Young for a summer. We went out for two months and really learned how to tour and we really watched closely how his business ran and how he interacted with people and the way he treated his fans and that was really instrumental in how we run our business.
BLADE: Can you give us any hint of what your next album might be like or roughly when we might hear it?
SARA: The truth is I can’t. I have no clue. I feel really hyper focused on the work we’re doing philanthropically and we always have a lot of irons in the fire, projects we’re working on and right now musically, I would say it’s likely people won’t hear anything new from us for at least a year or two. I think we’re pretty busy working on other stuff and you gotta kinda wait for for the inspiration to hit you. I song write every day and I work on new music all the time but something tells me right now these other areas are crucial and we should focus there instead.
BLADE: What’s going on with the Tegan and Sara Foundation and why are you passionate about this work?
SARA: It’s focused on women and girls in the LGBTQ community. We’re specifically working on building solidarity with organizations and groups that center on women and girls and we’re right now mostly writing out grants to people we think are doing great work in the community but we’re also fundraising to develop some of our own programming with health care and social justice and economic inequities that queer women face in our community. For us, it sort of feels like a no brainer. Obviously being gay ourselves and having a strong female queer following all thse years, it just sort of feels like an area of philanthropy that really makes sense for us. We understand it, we’ve experienced it personally and we’ve had a lot of interaction with people in our community. We’ve been extremely fortunate that we’ve had a lot of success over the years and we’re looking forward to using that success and privilege and visibility to redistribute some of that wealth and power back to the community.