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Tegan and Sara (right) in Vancouver in 2009 (Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail)
Tegan and Sara (right) in Vancouver in 2009 (Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail)

Music

Tegan and Sara's understated family drama Add to ...

The dynamics within a pop band can be difficult at the best of times. Add in a family element, and you can turn the tension up to 11. The pop/rock duo Tegan and Sara are no Gallagher brothers, however.

The Canadian twins have been making music together since high-school days in Calgary – and they’re still talking. (A lot.)

“We have now been officially writing music for 15 years and been on this planet for 31 years and I can officially say that we get along,” says Tegan Quin, from her Vancouver home. (She splits her time between Vancouver and Los Angeles, where her girlfriend lives; Sara lives in Montreal.)

In that time, the duo has released six studio albums, including the 2004 breakout So Jealous, 2007’s The Con and 2009’s Sainthood, which was short-listed for the Polaris Prize. They’re now writing material for a seventh album, which they plan to begin recording in February.

“I also think at this point we’ve had enough success, that if we really didn’t like each other, we would just walk away,” Tegan continues. “We haven’t had so much success that it’s impossible to walk away. It’s not like we’re making millions of dollars a year and it’s irresistible, we can’t help it. Like those bands that come together for reunion tours. We’re not that. And we’re also not beating the crap out of each other. We just recognize this is our job and it’s [an]... awesome job and the thing we love most is to make music and we’ve chosen to do that together and we’re better together so we have to get along.”

Get Along is the name of Tegan and Sara’s new DVD compilation: a series of three films – two documentaries and a stripped-down concert film (also being released as a live album) – shot in the United States, India and Vancouver respectively. The films quietly stress the importance of family – the one you’re born with and the one you create.

In States, directed by Danny O’Malley, the sisters tell a U.S. audience that after every concert their music-loving stepfather attends, he goes home and makes a mix tape (these days it’s mixed CDs). He does it for the Tegan and Sara shows he attends; and he did it after the U2 concert he took their mother to on an early date.

The story is touching – it elicits an “aww” from the crowd – and then it swings into typical Tegan and Sara territory: hilarity. “That’s really profound to me now to be able to see what songs U2 played the night that he took my mom away from us and left us with my grandparents,” Sara says from the stage, before Tegan clarifies that they were actually left with their father, who made them do all the laundry because he was recently divorced and there were piles of it everywhere.

“We were 7,” she adds.

As kids, the sisters fought in private, but as soon as they were with others, they had each other’s backs.

“We might argue with each other behind the scenes, like walking home from school, but when we got to the daycare, we were united; we were together,” Tegan says during the interview. “We went to a really rough junior high. We might fight on the way to the bus in the morning, but when we got on the bus, we were together, we were like a pair, we were a unit. We’ve always had that: We can bicker and argue and be intense with each other, but we also protect each other above everyone else.”

In India, Tegan and Sara play India for the first time, joined by their tour manager and fellow musicians, as well as their mother and an old school pal, who tells an amazing story: Bored one afternoon, the way only high-school students can be bored, Sara sang the entire Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream album to her, while lying on the plywood floor of their under-construction house. The short film is directed by another close friend, Elinor Svoboda.

By the time you get to For the Most Part (by directing collective Salazar), where Tegan and Sara gather for a live acoustic concert for friends and family at Vancouver’s storied Warehouse Studios (and a second concert for that other family of theirs – their fans), you find yourself searching the audience for the people you’ve met or heard about in the documentaries. There’s mom, there’s dad (who tells his kids about their early days singing: “You could basically belch into a mike; we would have been proud”).

The film also captures one of those sisterly disagreements.

“There was a fight that happened at the three-day rehearsal for [the Warehouse concerts]and it lasted about five minutes and they put the entire thing in the movie,” Tegan says. “And I was like no, we’re not Kings of Leon. It would be funny and interesting if we were drunk and beating the [heck]out of each other, but we’re not. We’re just standing there, like passive-aggressively talking to each other and it just looks ridiculous.”

Ultimately, only about 40 seconds of the “fight” made the final cut.

There’s also an on-stage story about another fight. Tegan and Sara were nearing the end of high school and at each other’s throats, so their mother sent them to a therapist. During an early session, they had a blow-out profanity-laden you-can-hear-it-from-the reception-area fight. The experience led to the song Divided, the first track from their first release.

The story is beautifully told – a reminder of how good Tegan and Sara are at the on-stage banter, even if Tegan doesn’t always think so.

“I don’t understand why people find our stories that interesting. In person, I get that. But listening to them, I just feel like all I hear is ‘like’ and ‘uh’ and ‘goes’ and ‘likes’ and I’m like ‘shut up you illiterate freak.’ ”

For the Most Part favours the music over the chatter (for the most part), but that too was a fight.

“It was really tough actually,” says Tegan, who says early cuts of the film included a lot more banter but felt a little disjointed. “Also to be honest, we love to talk and banter but mostly it’s nervousness. So when you’re watching it, it just feels like narcissism. I’m like, ‘Ugh, I don’t want to hear that story again; I’ve heard it too many times.’ [But]our managers and directors ... were like: ‘No, they want to hear that; they want to hear the stories.’ And I’m like, ‘But I don’t want to hear it.’ And they’re like, ‘But you don’t have to watch it.’ We’d go back and forth. But in the end the music won out.”

Get Along will be released on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

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