Church of Style
Wonder Twin Powers
From The L Word to Veronica Mars, the lesbian duo Tegan and Sara is everywhere these days.
Suppose Tegan Rain Quin and Sara Kiersten Quin — the 26-year-old Canadian twins known to fans as Tegan and Sara — read like a book that could be neatly divided into chapters. The main one, the really big one, would be the release of their fourth album, So Jealous, a 2004 award-winner hailed by music critics everywhere.
In this chapter, one of the hugest bands in the world, the White Stripes, not only play “Walking With a Ghost,” (arguably the most rocking song of the Tegan and Sara oeuvre) but also record and release it as a single.
“Initially we heard they were playing it live,” Sara said. “We thought that was insane.”
The So Jealous chapter also includes accomplishments like playing Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals for the frst time, a spot on MTV and famously being cited in Rolling Stone as one of the 50 best albums of 2004.
Yet Tegan and Sara Quin will point out to any journalist lazy enough to employ the old so-wow-you’re-really-hot-now rubric that such rhetoric doesn’t work on them. Teir career has always been fortuitous. Signed to Neil Young’s label before the age most people’s acne clears up, the Alberta-born sisters have toured extensively with bands including the Killers, the Pretenders, Bryan Adams and Young himself.
“[We’re] building a long story, and we think we have a long way to go,” says Tegan.
In 2006, the band had a guest spot on Showtime’s The L Word and found themselves on numerous soundtracks including Grey’s Anatomy and Veronica Mars. Next up is the release of their frst DVD, It’s Not Fun. Don’t Do It!
“Over the last two years, we accumulated a lot of footage from touring,” Sara said. “We started speaking with the label about the possibility of getting somebody we like to record a concert. You know, we wanted to fll a couple hours with stuff that was interesting to people who like us.” It’s Not Fun. Don’t Do It! includes a tour documentary shot by Tegan and Sara, a full concert, all their music videos and plenty of bonus commentary.
A mere week after wrapping up an 18-month tour, the duo is back in the studio, employing their trans-Canadian method of songwriting: Tegan works in Vancouver, while Sara works in Montreal.
“Our writing processes are really different,” Sara said. “Tegan writes so fast. She tends to be more straight-ahead or poppier. My songs seem to be weird. I never think they’ll make it onto the album. It’s hard to put it into perspective. The older we get, the better our songwriting gets. I look forward to recording and getting some more ideas out in the summer.”
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Upholsterer for the People
Illinois native Matthew Nafranowicz is a craftsperson with old-school skills.
16th and 17th century skills, as it were.
Nafranowicz, whose upholstery business The Straight Thread is located in the Madison Enterprise Center in Madison, Wisconsin, studied the art/craft as an apprentice in France. The furniture-making techniques he learned have been passed from person to person for centuries. “The [upholstery] trade is so much more alive there. It’s well received in the community and country as a whole,” he commented. “[The French government] provides funding to keep the skills alive. Without trying, it’s something that could be easily lost.”
Originally a biology major in college, he first got into upholstering when he responded to a help wanted ad. “I found it intriguing,” he said. “I was into visual things like shape and form. I was good at using my hands.”
The transition from would-be ornithologist to upholsterer occurred when he started questioning his desire to become a scientist. He decided to move to a big city and found work with a French interior designer in New York.
Nafranowicz became an apprentice in a foreign country with essentially no language skills when he went to France with his wife, a student of French history.
“That was the experience that made me realize this is what I want to do,” he said. “I really physically enjoy doing it.”
Most of the work Nafranowicz does today isn’t the very fine traditional work he learned in France, but rather work on regular furniture people need to have done.
Among the tools and supplies in The Straight Thread’s tidy workroom are cushion stuffings like horsehair and seagrass. These materials were abandoned, at least in the United States, before World War II in favor of cheaper ones.
“With furniture’s mass production at a large scale, they came up with different things to cut corners. One thing that takes the space of something that costs more. They’re shortcuts. Now it’s like [the focus of production] is quantity and less cost. These objects don’t have the beauty they would if done the traditional way or last as long.”
Though eschewing the mass-produced is very punk rock, there’s an unfortunate inherent conundrum in any well-made item. Ikea, the example Nafranowicz mentions by name, is familiar to and extraordinarily popular with many people for the precise reason that it makes attractive, stylish furniture available to the same people who can’t spend $8000 on a bureau as a unique piece of functioning art.
“[It] allows you to buy inexpensive furniture. It’s made to be mass-produced so it can be affordable for almost anyone. Things that are hand-made are, on a certain level, only for the elite,” he said.
Yikes. Not so punk rock.
But, as Nafranowicz points out, the key might be in balance, a virtue we in the United States constantly extol, yet aren’t necessarily any good at maintaining: “People in this country instead of building a more modest house and [having] fewer really good items build a bigger house not as well-made, full of cheaper furniture. It’s a balance of how much you really need.”
Well-made furniture, he points out, is good for the second-hand market because it will last decades longer than anything made by everyone’s favorite purveyor of Swedish cheap and chic.
Even if everyone can’t or doesn’t want to buy a Louis XV settee, it’s still possible to support artisans and craftspeople. Of course, an obvious benefit of buying a hand- or well-made item is knowing its maker and his or her working conditions. More than that, and most optimistically, it places people in a — hopefully — happy web of relationships, knowing that we can fulfill each others’ needs.
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