Sara Quin Talks About The Emotional Impact of ‘The Con’ On Its 10th Anniversary
V pays tribute to the 10th anniversary of The Con.
V pays tribute to the 10th anniversary of The Con.
Text: Ilana Kaplan
When Tegan and Sara released The Con back in 2007, the Canadian indie-pop duo were going on their fifth album. The twin sister outfit was already pretty established, but the record would be their first through major label Warner Bros. For teens on the precipice of adulthood, the album narrated a coming of age tale full of heartbreak, love and self-discovery. The record was the perfect marriage of lo-fi alt-rock and textured pop rhythms. And it has resonated with the music community for a decade.
To honor the 10th anniversary of The Con, Tegan and Sara released a covers edition of the album featuring re-worked versions of the originals by Paramore’s Hayley Williams, MUNA, Ryan Adams and more.Before Tegan and Sara play their Brooklyn show to commemorate The Con, we caught up with Sara Quin about the tumultuous time during when The Con was made, the unifying quality of the record and how the reinterpretations came together.
Looking back on The Con, what kind of space were you in at the time you were making it now, 10 years later?
It was kind of a complicated time. We were both experiencing quite a lot of turmoil in our personal lives, there were deaths in the family, we were both going through some difficulties in personal relationships. I think there was a lot of professional pressure on us at that point, like probably more than we’d ever felt in our career before. I definitely remember it being a challenging and a difficult time but often those were the times when I find we’re most creative. Making the record, was really, at that point in our career, one of the most positive record making experiences. We really enjoyed our collaboration with Chris Walla and we were making the records in his house. It was such a relief to not be in some dark, crappy studio. We were in this beautiful, clean environment with natural sunlight. I remember thinking “this is the best!” We really worked in a unique way compared to some of our other records and we didn’t use traditional recording methods. We didn’t start with drums and bass and then played them, we actually recorded the whole album, all of our parts alone without drums and bass and then eventually brought in the rhythm section at the end. We worked sequentially, we actually started with the beginning of the album and worked through to the end of the album. We had a lot of creative projects that we were working on simultaneously while we were living in Portland recording, which was really stimulating and fun. Pretty much as soon as we finished the album, both my life and Tegan’s life kind of exploded and I ended up going through a separation like a divorce and that was really awful and sort of fell into a bit of a depression. Our record actually was made when we were signed to the record label Sanctuary that folded after we made the record, so then we went through a protracted negotiation period to sign to Warner Bros., which was difficult. It was just this crazy, crazy experience and by the time the actual album came out, I didn’t want to tour the album. It was a really, really difficult time, and I think that’s why revisiting the album 10 years later is very cathartic. I can now appreciate the songs and the history of the album and also the impact that the album had on our career, but also on our fan’s lives. It’s nice to get a second chance and enjoy the album and not while in the cyclone of despair like the first time around.
How did you go about getting all of these artists to cover your songs? Did you hand-select them, what was that process like?
Yeah, exactly that. We just made a list of artists that we felt were inspiring and exciting and that would do a really cool job and would maybe offer really unique versions of the song and then we personally reached out to people. A lot of people were really positive but couldn’t do it scheduling-wise, whether they were in the studio or whatever it was. So it took quite a few months to get 14 artists who could all do the record and then sort of finding the schedules to get people into the studio and then deliver the masters. It was definitely a convoluted project working with that many different artists and bands, but it was all sort of done very personally and with a territorial approach. We wanted it to be as personalized as the album that we made.
Which of your favorite of the covers and why?
I don’t feel like I have a favorite, I think because we were working on the full project, it feels hard to pull one out. I think of it as one full piece. I will say I was really surprised by some people’s approach, it really caught me off guard in a good way, like “oh my God, this is amazing!” Even knowing the bands and what their music sounds like, even still, I was really impressed by how fully realized some of these versions were. I know a lot of people didn’t spend a lot of money and didn’t have a lot of time to focus on it, but I was really amazed by how fully realized and lush some of these songs feel. [I know] CHVRCHES, Mykki Blanco and Bleachers didn’t have a ton of time to focus on it, and the songs still feel so stunning and so awesome.
What’s it been like playing the songs again?
I think there’s a cathartic element to this process to be able to go back and approach the songs with 10 years’ experience and with some distance between the original stories that inspired these songs. It’s a bit of a clean slate, it’s cathartic and it’s really fun. When we toured The Con, we played these songs with a specific group of people and now we are re-approaching these songs with a totally different group of musicians, so even what each of those people brings to the project is really special and inspiring. I think the tour is going to be really inspiring and fun.
What did you learn about yourself from that record?
I learned the important lesson that sometimes success and things going the way you thought you wanted them to go doesn’t necessarily make you happy and doesn’t necessarily solve all your problems. I think for me, it was a great living example that sometimes when people think you’re at your best, you’re at your worst. I think getting through that album cycle and getting through those losses and that substantial period of grief, I did feel stronger afterward.
What was the most painful part of writing this record?
Writing the record was actually not that painful. It was a really creatively challenging time. It was after the record came out that things got shit.
What did you want fans to get out of this record, and why do you think it stuck with fans so much?
Honestly, when I’m writing songs, I’m not really necessarily thinking about, fans, or,I’m not necessarily thinking about it in terms of a product. I’m thinking about it totally creatively, about music and having the best song you can have and connecting to that original idea or emotion. I think the album is very intense and emotional, and I think it was written about a period of time that a lot of people have in their lives. Some of them have it at the same time we did in our late ‘20s, but I think people go through periods of grief, devastation and existential crises all the time. I think those songs really connect with people because that’s literally what we were going through.
Do you have any stories of people telling you how The Con helped or affected them?
There have been so many impactful moments with fans where I have witnessed people collectively, in a group, seem to come together. Even if you’re strangers and have never met each other, there are certain songs that bring this kind of universal language of people all feeling connected to something. A lot of the songs on The Con do that for people. When we play “Nineteen” at our concerts, I always see people embracing or people crying or singing along passionately. There’s something visceral and mysterious about why certain melodies and lyrics combined can create such a mass feeling in people. I never get tired of witnessing that, it’s really sort of remarkable.