NPR

How 'The Con' Almost Broke Tegan And Sara

Ten years ago, the making of Tegan and Sara's fifth album — and divided reactions to it — created a rift between the twins that nearly tore them apart but eventually showed them a way forward.
Tegan (left) and Sara Quin perform at Coachella in 2008, following the release of the duo's fifth album, The Con. Tegan and Sara are celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Con with a tour and an album of covers performed by musicians influenced by the original album. / Kevin Winter / Getty Images

When The Con was released on July 24, 2007, it was a different time for Tegan and Sara. The Canadian duo was five albums in and still on the fringes of the alternative indie rock world. They were cast as outsiders, ridiculed in the press for their gender and/or sexuality, not to mention their haircuts. The stress of it drove a rift between the two of them.

The Con wasn't their critical breakthrough and it wasn't their commercial crossover, but ten years later, it feels more significant than the albums on either side of it, a bridge between their past and their future. "So many people criticize The Con because it was a disaster," said Sara Quin at a rehearsal space on Sunset Boulevard where she and twin Tegan were preparing for the tenth anniversary tour that begins this week in celebration of what is arguably their most important record. "People say to me, 'You know a lot of that record is out of tune?' And I'll be like, 'No... It is?!' Oh f*** off."

The underdog status only made the fans love them even more. In advance of this interview I spoke with some about discovering the band via The Con — this off-kilter, wonky guitar record about heartbreak and disappointment inspires passion in fans on a level similar to formative coming-of-age phenomena. Many are queer-identifying and in their late twenties now. They came to The Con when they fell in love for the first time. Many were fans of bands of the emo genre. Although Tegan and Sara never belonged in that world sonically, their lyrical brazenness appealed. Suddenly, there were two ego-less individuals speaking to an experience that was neither heteronormative nor male.

While they made the record itself, Tegan and Sara documented the process on camera. Recorded in Portland with producer Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie, how DIY they were, and also how much control they had. They helped to build a cultish level of admiration around them. The exposure was a double-edged sword, laying to survive the era and build an even stronger foundation for the band they are today.

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