Sing Out Sisters

''Some of our biggest influences when we were kids [were] people like Bruce Springsteen and U2,'' says Sara. ''Just people who write songs that have a pop sensibility, but there's definitely a rock element; they're simple, they're hooky.''

''We loved Corey Hart,'' admits Tegan.

''Yeah, we did love Corey Hart,'' echoes Sara.

If It Was You, released in the States in August on legendary rock risk-taker Neil Young's Vapor Records, definitely reflects the girls' gravitation toward a more pop sound. Produced by John Collins and David Carswell (the New Pornographers, the Smugglers), it spans a wider spectrum than its predecessor, with less growling, DiFranco-philic angst and more strolling, wistful sing-alongs in the vein of the Go-Go's or Velocity Girl.

Despite having a reasonably high profile in their homeland, Tegan and Sara insist that Canadian radio has no room for them. ''What are you going to do, slip us in between Nickelback and No Doubt?'' laughs Tegan. South of the border, however, where there are multiple radio formats and high-wattage college stations, ''I Hear Noises,'' the raging first single off If It Was You, has done admirably. ''We peaked at number 21 on the college charts,'' Tegan says. ''We were so excited; we were hoping for a top 50.''

Elliot Roberts, Neil Young's manager, cofounder of Vapor, and the one who signed the girls at the tender age of 18, is confident that this is only the beginning. ''We really believe that they're going to grow and get better every year,'' says Roberts. ''We expect them to be major artists.''

Tegan offers a more modest appraisal: ''I think we're better than average. [With] music alone, I don't think we stand out that much, but it's our personalities, our live show, and our whole dynamic that raises us above the rest.''

There's just one problem. ''We're not pushing those angles,'' she says.

Hang around Tegan and Sara long enough and you'll notice an odd ambivalence, a peculiar unwillingness to acknowledge or assist in their own starward trajectory. At first it comes off as youthful stubbornness. (''Photo shoots, I hate them!'' Sara rants. ''We don't like to be told what to do.'') Then, as a reflexive refusal to use their gayness as marketing fodder. (''You don't ever read an article with Radiohead and hear Thom Yorke talking about his sexuality,'' Tegan says.) But when Tegan waxes nostalgic about how casually her ''hippie'' parents -- Sonia Clement, a therapist, and Stephen Quin, a housing developer -- first received news of their teenage girls' sexual choices, Tegan and Sara's nonchalance starts to make sense.

''It was such a nonissue,'' recalls Tegan. ''It was just like, 'I met someone''' -- a woman -- ''and everyone was like, 'Oh, cool.''' There's a powerful sense, for both Tegan and Sara, that sexual preference should not obscure, let alone define, their music and image. Besides, Tegan adds with a laugh, ''I figure it's better if people think we're single. Maybe then all the boys will like us more.''