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Rock Homecoming

When she first heard that she and twin sister Sara had been nominated for one of the nation’s top music awards, Tegan was thrilled. Not only because of the honour and recognition, but because it meant a trip home.

“I was really excited,” Tegan said in a phone interview with Where Magazine. “When we heard the Junos were in Calgary, Sara and I thought it’d be cool to come home. I’m really happy to be able to share this with family and friends.”

In case the names and the fact that they are twin sisters didn’t give it away, we’re talking of course about Tegan and Sara, the inimitable musical duo who, along with Feist, are part of a vanguard of hip new Canadian music talent that can trace their roots back to the Stampede city.

Born eight minutes apart (give or take a few) back in 1980, Tegan and Sara Quin grew up as average city kids. “I have great memories of summer in Calgary, riding the CTrain downtown, hanging out with friends, our Mom picking us up in the Aerostar van,” says Tegan. They were also early music fans, punky teenagers catching gigs of indie bands like Placebo at the Black Lounge and Sundays at the Carpenter’s Union Hall. But it wasn’t until they turned 15 and found a guitar that they discovered what would become their life’s work: writing and performing songs. The rest is alternative-folk-rock history.

Sara and Tegan started recording demo tapes in their bedrooms and at school, and while they were still high school students, they entered a local battle-of-the-bands competition called “Garage Warz” (“It was the ‘90s,” Sara reminds us). Armed with a couple of acoustic guitars, the two diminutive teenagers destroyed the competition of older, mostly university-aged performers. Before long, they were being courted by the likes of Neil Young, appearing on David Letterman and touring with Rufus Wainwright and the Killers.

Though their status as identical twin, lesbian, songwriting sisters earned them a certain notoriety and immediate cult status, the persistent quality of their music-making—characterized variously as folk-rock and bittersweet indie—has earned them a level of recognition within the mainstream. Combined with their canny-yet-earnest lyrics, catchy, hook-laden melodies and the kind of sweet harmonics that only identical twin voices can create, they’ve begun to make a real impression. Their songs have appeared on films and TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Sweet November and The L Word; meanwhile, Grammy-winning alternative pop band The White Stripes covered their song “Walking with a Ghost.”

Now, ten years and five albums post their garage-band days, it’s time for a homecoming. Their recently released album, The Con, has received a heap of critical praise, culminating in a Juno nomination for “Alternative Album of the Year.”

“I’ve decided to stop being weird and to actually want to win this year,” notes Tegan, who is genuinely proud of The Con, saying that it represents the culmination of ten years of experience. Along with their 2005 album, So Jealous, Tegan feels they’ve finally reached the mature sound the pair have been striving for. Still, Tegan isn’t sure of their chances of taking home the Juno. Though she’d love it if they could win in front of all their family and friends, competition in the category from the likes of Montreal’s Arcade Fire and one of her own admitted favourite bands, Wintersleep, will give them a run for their money.

On the other hand, Tegan is wholeheartedly pulling for fellow Calgarian Feist, whose album The Reminder, along with hit singles like “1234,” have blistered through the charts. Feist recently garnered multiple Grammy nominations and the appearance of her “1234” video on a major iPod commercial have rocketed her profile to near megastar status. “I think it’ll be Feist’s year,” says Tegan, who first began to enjoy the pop chanteuse’s music back when Feist was just beginning to make a name for herself internationally. Feist is nominated in five categories, including all the big ones: Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year.

Though both Tegan and Sara left Calgary in their 20s (Tegan heading to Vancouver and Sara to Montreal—they still enjoy a healthy collaboration both electronically and via Canada Post), Tegan is really looking forward to the chance to touch base with her roots.

“The only reason I left was that it was time for a new city,” explains Tegan. “Calgary is definitely one of my favourite places. It’s so beautiful and I love going home, going to Peters’ Drive In, walking by the river, remembering the life I used to have here.” Tegan adds, “It’s such a friendly city too. Vancouver [when she first got there] was so cubicle. In Calgary it was like you would go to Tim Hortons and you could strike up a conversation with a totally random stranger.”

Regardless of the outcome at the Junos, Tegan thinks it’ll be a great party—she’s looking forward to the night, maybe performing with the band and definitely afterwards kicking back Calgary-style with family and old friends.—Andrew Mah

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