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Tegan and Sara break new ground

Recording live in studio gave the Quin twins' latest disc fresh energy
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Tegan and Sara Quin

IN CONCERT

What: AFI, Tegan and Sara, and Jets Overhead

Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre

When: Monday, 8 p.m. (doors at 7)

Tickets: $37.50 at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre box office, by phone at 250-220-7777, or www.selectyourtickets.com

Being a musician who happens to be gay isn't something Tegan Quin is overly concerned with talking about. Her sexuality is a non-issue, particularly with regard to her art.

"I make pop music," Quin said, during an interview from her home in Vancouver. "It's not about gender and sexuality."

Quin is nonetheless compelled to respond when she hears talk of a great shift in attitudes and acceptance -- a supposed newfound tolerance of humankind brought about by the election of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Make no mistake, prejudice against sexual orientation is alive in well in the world, Quin said.

"Oftentimes in interviews, especially with men, they'll say, 'Oh, but it's changed now. That kind of stuff doesn't exist anymore.' Really? Last time I checked it's not legal for gays to get married in America. It doesn't matter if 5,000 people come to see me in L.A. or not. I'm still a second-class citizen. I'm still 'different' and I still don't have the same rights."

Until radical changes are made, prejudice will continue to exist, even in the liberal-minded media, Quin said. Pitchfork, arguably the single biggest tastemaker in today's music media, once referred to Tegan and Sara's music as "tampon rock," evidence that a long journey lies ahead.

Quin is quick to defend the music industry as a whole, however, praising her peers for embracing not only Tegan and Sara but all queer performers.

"I don't feel like we're ridiculed or separate from the industry because we're gay," she said. "In fact, we're criticized a lot in the gay press for not being more out and more gay. Jesus, how much more gay can I get? Do we have to change our name to the Tegan and Sara Gay Band or something?"

Names have always been a problem for Tegan and Sara, who earlier in their career used the moniker Sara and Tegan. After growing tired of being billed mistakenly as the performer Sara Tegan, they made the switch, but Tegan is less enthralled with the idea of having their names in lights these days.

A two-person project they are not; Tegan said everyone from their bandmates to their mother play an integral, essential role in the group. "Sometimes I think we should put our mom on the payroll." Quin said. "It's weird that we don't pay her, with all the texting and Google alerts she sends us."

The duo has always been quick to champion the members of their inner circle, many of whom hail from Victoria. Their bandmates (Ted Gowans, Shaun Huberts and Johnny Andrews) and managers (Nick Blasko and Piers Henwood) are all locals, which will only add to the atmosphere of their performance Monday in Victoria at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

Tegan and Sara concerts in Victoria are always memorable. The band's appearance during September's Rifflandia festival featured the first public performances of new material from the group's then-unreleased new album, Sainthood, which arrived in stores in late October.

Courtesy of a fan, the entire Victoria concert, recorded up close and in remarkably high quality, appeared the next day on YouTube -- not a total surprise given the group's frenetic following. "I was initially horrified, but I somehow knew it was going to happen," Quin said. "I was not delusional at all."

Not only did it allow fans to sample new songs from the upcoming album on something other than a shaky, handheld cellphone camera, it also built a buzz around the band's sixth outing.

With sales of 22,665 copies during its first week, Sainthood debuted at No. 21 on the Billboard charts in the U.S., the highest debut in Tegan and Sara's decade-long career.

"It relieved a lot of my stress. I knew we could go out on tour and feel confident that our audience was not going to stand there shocked with horror, thinking 'What is happening to Tegan and Sara?' "

New sounds abound on Sainthood, which Quin said was done using a "healthy mixture" of both analog and digital recording formats. They had adopted a similar approach on 2007's The Con, but the idea of playing together as a group live off the floor was explored for the first time on Sainthood.

"For The Con, we threw down the drums and bass [tracks] when the song was done. The song was the important thing," Quin said. "On Sainthood, every element was important. It needed to sound f---king awesome. We were committed to playing it on the floor to get the take. And you can feel that. It feels like a live record.

"We're definitely not an Auto-Tune band. If I can't make it happen live, I don't want it on my record."

There's a perception among fans that when musicians are not touring they are not working. It's the opposite in real life, Quin said. To her, touring is like a vacation.

"When I'm at home, I'm running a business, so it's really nice to be on a break for two months and not be at home doing all the Tegan and Sara bills," she said.

A business plan the sisters have batted around in recent years involves the creation of an umbrella organization under which they could explore multi-disciplinary artistic endeavours -- theirs and those of their friends.

If they don't ever see their grand ideas come to fruition, Quin said she has already helped -- simply by making music that is truthful.

"Maybe they don't share my politics or my beliefs in sexuality, but by listening they are accepting me. That changes everything. That's a step in the right direction, because they might second-guess being judgmental toward someone who is like me but isn't me."

mdevlin@tc.canwest.com