- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

When it comes to siblings working together in entertainment, there are the warm, fuzzy examples, like the Olson twins, and there are the bickering, violent Gallagher brothers of Oasis. Tegan and Sara, a pair of 22-year-old Canadian twin musicians, probably fall somewhere between the two extremes.

"There are two good things about working separately on most of the record," says Tegan Quin on her cell phone from a tour stop in Buffalo. "One, we didn't have to see as much of each other, and, two, we didn't have to see as much of each other."

For all of Miss Quin's jabs at her twin sister she also concedes that the two are fully committed to the band and to each other. They play tonight and tomorrow at the 9:30 Club, supporting Ryan Adams.

"We played piano all through high school, and all of our friends and boyfriends played in bands, and it kind of progressed really naturally," she says, speaking rapidly and summing up her career. "Eventually we ran out of people to be in our bands."

The duo gained its big break by playing acoustic rock on the 1998 Lilith Fair tour, where it caught the eye of Neil Young. Soon after they were signed to his small label, Vapor Records.

"People really picked up on our harmonies, and they liked it," she says. "It gave us more of a full sound. It was a lot more fun to play, with it being just the two of us. It felt more powerful playing together."

They re-recorded many of their early songs for their debut, "This Business of Art" in 2000, a folky album of rock that compared favorably to the music of many of their Lilith Fair tour mates.

Since then, the duo has opened for Mr. Young, Rufus Wainwright and the Pretenders. Opening for Mr. Adams is the latest in a string of well-timed gigs. It comes in time for the duo's second album, "If It Was You," a record that rocks heavier than their debut, and was inspired by '80s bands such as the Smiths and the Cure.

"The songwriting was able to really develop," Tegan Quin says. "We were adamant that we wanted to bring a band on tour this time around. I don't think we wrote the songs that way, but it was definitely a major issue for us. We wanted to have more fun with it, have it be more punky-pop stuff."

They write almost all their material separately, with each sister contributing a fairly equal number of songs to the final process, something they've been doing since they were young. Though the two don't end up in Gallagher-style brawls, Miss Quin says that working with her sister leads them to sometimes be "psychologically abusive" to each other.

Still, she expects to do several more albums with her sister, with each of them perhaps doing solo work on the side. In the meantime, the sisters will tour with a full band on most of their fall dates and will return to their stripped-down acoustic model for the dates with Mr. Adams.

The main goal is to become more familiar to U.S. audiences.

"I think we're really far under the radar, and we'd like to get up there a little bit more," she says. "It's a great job to have; it's just so nice to be in this music culture."

•••

The truly interesting thing about the band Sparta isn't the story of how it formed (from the ashes of popular hard rock outfit At the Drive-In), but the democratic writing it pursues.

"We work a little different from some bands," says drummer Tony Hajjar, on a cell phone while the band's tour bus is en route to Philadelphia. "We all wrote for the record, from the drumming to the guitar parts. We all put our piece into the puzzle."

"It was a pretty long process, especially when everyone's involved in it, but it really made us a band," he adds.

Three of the four members of Sparta were a part of At The Drive-In, a five-piece hard rock group that imploded in 2001, just as it was beginning to reach a mainstream audience. With its debut album, "Wiretap Scars," Sparta seems to have established itself as a different band and escaped the Drive-In shadow.

"From the first note we knew it was going to be good," says Mr. Hajjar. "Good in the sense of something new and good for our spirits more than anything else."

It took less than a year for the band to sign with Dreamworks Records and to release an early EP of new songs and its debut full-length. Early fan response has been strong, and Sparta has already opened for larger acts such as Jimmy Eat World and Weezer.

They play Saturday at the Black Cat.

"We go out there and give the audiences as much of our heart as possible," Mr. Hajjar says. "I think our goal beyond anything is to be better songwriters."

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