Tegan and Sara: Outtake 1

In EQ’s December cover story, Canadian indie-pop rockers Tegan and Sara Quin, producer Chris Walla (guitarist for Death Cab For Cutie), and engineer Howard Redekopp talk about taking on 50 songs, whittling them down to 13, and recording live take upon live take until they got each song just right. It’s an inspiring story, so much so that the interview flowed well over the allotted print space. Below is one of several upcoming outtakes from the article. Tegan Quin and Chris Walla discuss recording the standout track, “On Directing,” from Tegan and Sara’s sixth album, Sainthood.
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In EQ’s December cover story, Canadian indie-pop rockers Tegan and Sara Quin, producer Chris Walla (guitarist for Death Cab For Cutie), and engineer Howard Redekopp talk about taking on 50 songs, whittling them down to 13, and recording live take upon live take until they got each song just right. It’s an inspiring story, so much so that the interview flowed well over the allotted print space. Below is one of several upcoming outtakes from the article. Tegan Quin and Chris Walla discuss recording the standout track, “On Directing,” from Tegan and Sara’s sixth album, Sainthood.

“Sara wrote that one, and it was the last one she wrote, so the demo came within the week that we left to go record the record,” Quin says. “We’d done three weeks of preproduction and then went down to record. When she sent it to me, I was immediately madly in love with the demo version. It’s basically identical to what you hear on the record without drums. All the keyboards and the guitars, the vocal treatments, that’s all identical to Sara’s demo. And I just thought the lyrics, ‘Go steady with me./ I know it turns you off when I get talking like a teen,” I think that’s brilliant. Sara always has a couple lyrics on the record that just slay me.

“So when we were setting up to record the first song, which was not ‘On Directing,’ Jason McGerr [drummer from Death Cab For Cutie] came over to me. He had come up with a drum idea in [Propellerhead] Reason and played it for me, and it was very close to what ends up going on the record. I just thought it was great. Sara asked me to put some drums on the song when it was the demo form just to show that it was a rock song. Because sometimes if you send a demo and it’s perceived wrong, then it’s hard to get everyone on the same page as you. My drum part doesn’t sound anything like Jason’s part, but there’s just something about the drums in that song. It moves it along, and it just makes it so pleasurable to listen to.

“We recorded this whole record live off the floor, so the five of us were in the room together playing. We played that song 45 times in one day, and by the end of the day I thought it was a hit. It just gets into your head. It’s one of the songs on the record I don’t even have to think about what the melody is. It’s just there.”

Walla couldn’t agree more. “Sara’s demo was really sharp and compact and economical, and it just seemed like such a great pop song,” he says. “It was one that we threw on to the A list pretty late, and it took a little bit of plan to sort of pull and arrangement together. Back to the economy, it got to a point with Jason that there was no hi-hats in the song. It’s sort of all toms and snare and kick. I think there’s some crash cymbals, but that’s about it. I wanted to make that song a little bit blocky and a little bit modular, so that each section of the song had something really specific that dropped in and happened. I really wanted to draw lines between the verses and choruses, and particularly that section in the middle: The vocals are so cool when they come in. Again and again, it’s so much about their singing and their writing and their songs, and it’s just whatever makes us feel good.”