Canada’s Tegan and Sara Quin formed in 1995 as an indie instrumental duo – before they had even graduated from high school, but it took them over 10 years to begin to crack any mainstream success. Over the years, and over the course of eight albums – their sound as morphed and changed, much like the queer political landscape that they’ve often found themselves a part of.
They’ve been prominent advocates for LGBT rights and the LGBT community, and have closely followed the growing legalisation of gay marriage in various parts of the United States – where they both now reside. And although queer themes are prominent in their music, it would be untrue to suggest that advocacy defines their work.
Instead, Tegan and Sara’s transformation into a highly sought after pop-duo is better attributed to an intentional attempt to try new things and explore types of music that they never thought they might when they first started out. This year, they’ve released four singles from their forthcoming album – and the reception has been nothing short of incredible. They’ll also be in Australia later this year for Splendour In The Grass (one of only a few major festivals around the world that they’ve not before played), and whilst here they are set to play a number of more intimate headlining shows in select capital cities.
We caught up with Tegan to chat about the impending release of Tegan and Sara’s ninth studio LP, what it was like working together with The Lonely Island, and why she doesn’t feel the need to get married to her long-term partner even though it’s now legal for her to do so.
MF: We’ve just heard Stop Desire, the fourth track from your new album. How do you feel about the fact that the build up to the release of Love You To Death is almost finished?
T: We’re very excited about Love You To Death finally coming out in a couple of weeks. We willingly and happily agreed to put it out when we did, but it’s been done for a while – you always anticipate ‘oh god is it going to leak’ and also I had to make myself stop listening to it because I didn’t want to make myself grow tired of it before it actually came out. Now that we’re nearly on the eve of its release I feel really excited and we couldn’t be more happy with the response to the first four tracks that we released.
We’re very proud of the work and I think it’s really solid record. I think that old-school fans are going to love it but I can also already tell that there’s going to be a lot of new Tegan & Sara fans and I couldn’t be more grateful for that response.
MF: Lyrically, 100x sounds like it’s being sung about losing a former lover – but the video would disagree. Is it actually about losing a dog?
T: *laughs* That’s funny. No it’s not actually. Sara actually wrote the majority of that song, the song is actually about the tough time working in sibling relationships – obviously being on tour together for the last 17 years there’s been some tough times. It’s not just about our relationship but it’s the struggle of being away from home for hundreds of days a year and relying on one another, it’s easy to take it out on each other.
I think we’re far enough past that period of time that it’s become relevant. It’s a really heartbreaking song – I didn’t even know when Sara was writing it that it would have that meaning in the lyrics. So we ended up accomplishing what we wanted with the video, something that was sweet but also heartbreaking with the dogs. I think that the song itself is so hard and so dark and so sad that it needed a video like that to balance the incredible desperation of the lyrics.
MF: Where did the idea for the dogs come from – it’s oddly majestic watching them blown in the face with a fan.
T: We can’t take any credit for it. The director of the video – her name is Jess Rona and she is a writer, comedian and performer here in Los Angeles and her side gig is grooming dogs. She has an absolutely unbelievable hilarious spot-on Instagram account called Jess Rona grooming.
Sara met her at party and I met her a few weeks later and we asked if she’d ever consider doing a full length video for a song of ours, we would love that. We sent her the song and she said she couldn’t think of anything more hilarious and sweet and amazing than this song with these dogs – and we’re incredibly grateful for that.
MF: Based on the songs we’ve heard so far this record looks to be addressing queer themes more openly than your last album. Do you think that’s necessarily the case?
T: I think to a degree, I think that those themes are there for people – for those parts of it. Similar to how I can look into a Bruce Springsteen song and think about relationship he’s in without being a man or a heterosexual. I think the record is open to interpretation, and ultimately – when you hear a song like Boyfriend, that’s a song that anyone can relate to, you meet someone and you’re crazy about them but it’s still casual and they might be seeing someone else and you’re like, “you’re treating me like a boyfriend, I’m in”.
I think that it’s exciting to be able to write and sing and pack themes of being queer or gender fluidity into a pop song but ultimately it is still just about being crazy about someone and wanting them to lock things down with you. For a song like Be With You which is about marriage – and for someone like Sara who chose not to get married, absolutely it can be perceived and interpreted as a political song but I think it’s just for her – whether she was gay or straight. I don’t see the point in getting married, I’m glad I have the right but I’m choosing not to have a wedding, because I don’t see the need to stand up in front of anyone and declare my love.
And I think you can keep your name, I think publicly it’s more about religion and more about conformity and about the way the world is evolving. We grew up in a household with unmarried parents. We’ve thought heavily over the past eight years about marriage equality getting passed, and we wanted that right for everybody but you have to keep quiet about the fact that you don’t want to get married. When we got the right to get married, both of us were in long term relationships and we were both like; “great, but not I don’t want to get married”.
MF: If you think back to your early recordings, has putting together such a huge project like an album gotten any easier, or have the challenges just changed?
T: Personally I think the studio has become easier and less stressful. We’ve become more competent and effective in the studio, I think we understand how to craft a song and how to demo it and record it and translate that idea in the studio in a way that’s much more efficient than it’s ever been. I think that the temptation to make something that you’ve made before or to repeat a process is very high at this point; I think playing it safe is always an option.
I think from past experience, I know that when we play it safe I’ve struggled more. So although it’s terrifying to take a risk or to change your sound or to go somewhere new or to do something new, or change up the process – it’s worth it because it keeps you passionate about what you do. I think that’s my number one goal, to be passionate about the music that I’m making. That means changing it up and evolving and staying current.
MF: What was it like working with The Lonely Island? Did you get to spend any time with Andy Samberg and the other guys?
T: We worked with Andy before – we had done a funny spoof video for our last record with him, and just enjoyed him so much – he was such a sweet person. When they sent us the song Everything Is Awesome to demo, to get an idea of what we would sound like and I flew to Los Angeles and recorded it. At that point they had not secured the other act, they just told us they were looking for a hip hop act, and they were throwing around all these names.
Then it was about a month after we recorded it that The Lonely Island were tapped to be involved and that was super exciting, and then when we did the Oscars we were in rehearsals with them for a week so we got to spend a bit of time with them, and they were amazing. I don’t know how I would’ve got through the stress of that performance and putting that together – they were so solid.
After the fact they admitted that that was the most stressful think they’d ever done, but they were so solid during the rehearsals – and just such, nice wonderful people.
MF: You guys have got a huge tour coming up after the new album comes out including Splendour In The Grass down here in Australia. Has your live show changed much since you were last here?
T: Yeah, absolutely. We hired a new band for this record cycle and we’ve taken a few months to go through our old material and update the sounds, and create more cohesive live shows from start to finish, which is a little more like what we’re doing currently.
That was an attempt not only to create a stronger live show but also to be able to play the old songs and not feel like it’s a jarring left turn. We also are just trying to stay current, to keep up with all those young kids out there nowadays, playing off their laptops *laughs*. Yeah there’s definitely a really fun show planned and we’re really excited about bring it to Australia.
MF: Audiences love it when you guys get into a bit of on-stage banter, something that’s been part of your shows for a long time. Is any of it scripted?
T: It’s all unscripted. In fact the other day we had hired a musical director and because of cueing songs or whatever, he wanted to know when we were going to talk – and we both burst out laughing. We can’t script that stuff, we try – we write on the setlist ‘okay probably here we should talk’ and then we just talk before and after every song. Flow is important, important for the show and important for the audience, so they can get into the groove, you don’t want to pull them out of their groove too often.
When it comes to talking it’s all natural, you end up being cued by something in the audience – we just played a bunch of shows in North America, and I told the story about the first time I went to New York or a bad haircut I had, who knows. It’s so weird; you just never know what’s going to come out of our mouths
Tegan and Sara hit Australia this July for Splendour in the Grass 2016 and a couple of sideshows. Grab all the deets below!
Monday, 25th July
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets: Handsome Tours
Tuesday, 26th July
The Metro, Sydney NSW
Tickets: Handsome Tours