Listen 2 This #07

Sing Out Sisters

Canadian wonder twins TEGAN AND SARA wrestle with pop, privacy, and people's perceptions

Tegan Quin does not seem like much of a rock star. Waiting for a ride, sitting at a window table of a Toronto hotel restaurant, with her modest denim jacket buttoned up to her neck, the 22-year-old Calgary-born singer-songwriter could be any teenager caught off guard and underdressed in the first real snow of the season. Cradling a cup of Earl Grey, she gabs effortlessly about anything and everything -- her childhood, her family, fellow Canadian Avril Lavigne. But when her ride finally arrives, it's a van packed with amps and instruments. And it's being trailed by a jeepful of adoring coeds.

''There's these girls that are following us,'' Tegan says excitedly. ''They started three provinces back and they've seen eight shows now. They came in to see the two TV shows we just did. They've been with us for over a week and a half.''

When I mention that I too caught her and her twin sister and musical partner, Sara, on TV -- last night, almost as soon as I'd bothered to switch on the tube -- Tegan seems pleasantly surprised. She shouldn't be. Her band, Tegan and Sara, has built a Canadian following with five years of touring. And now, with the impressive U.S. college-radio debut of their sophomore album, If It Was You, they're poised to make noise here.

Tegan's less pleased to learn that I'd read the article announcing their upcoming Toronto show in the town's alt-weekly paper. ''I hate it,'' she says, referring to the piece. ''It goes into 'I was at their last show and there were these annoying lesbians in the front row....' It's so offensive.'' Though she doesn't act like a celebrity, Tegan Quin is well aware of her image. In fact, she's obsessed with it.

''Okay, can we stop talking about this?'' eventually blurts Sara, sitting to her twin's left at the table. Sara, who by this time I've already dubbed the Shy One, has stayed silent through much of the conversation, opting instead to crunch the ice cubes in her ginger ale, chew on her straw, and stare blankly out into the falling flakes. But the thought of another go-round about Tegan and Sara's public profile riles her; they've been down this road before. Though Sara, with her close-cropped, dark-dyed 'do and paler skin, boasts more chic than her sister, they share the same crystalline eyes, perfect, angular cheekbones, and sexual preference. They are also both undeniably cute -- hot, even. Hot. Lesbian. Twin. Rocker. Chicks. But they're not interested in anybody's Howard Stern-style fantasies, or any other labels you can muster, mister.

Tegan and Sara Quin have been playing music and touring since they were in high school. From the beginning, they drew comparisons to Ani DiFranco -- comparisons that, as regards their first commercial album, 2000's This Business of Art, and its aggressive acoustic-folk-rock manifestos, are sonically accurate. Still, the two -- who share writing, singing, and guitar-playing duties about equally -- insist they are more a musical product of their '80s-era upbringing than disciples of any one individual.

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