Tegan and Sara are more than just an indie folk-rock duo – they’re also 32-year-old identical twin sisters (Tegan Rain Quin and Sara Keirsten Quin) from Canada who have been performing together since their teens, coming out with their first independently-released album Under Feet Like Ours in 1999. The pair started out playing the piano when they were young, developing their talent for music ‘from a hobby into a passion’. Now, the girls are recognised for their cool sense of style, outspoken advocacy for LGBTQ issues – both sisters are openly gay – and catchy tunes that reflect genuine vulnerability. The funky twins have recently released a seventh album, Heartthrob, which has been their highest charting record to date, debuting at number three on Billboard’s Top 200 and selling nearly 50,000 copies in the first week.
Before their debut gig in Singapore, we chat with Tegan about everything from the new album to their sexuality and break-up songs.
You’ve been in the scene for more than a decade – what’s been the highlight of your career so far?
We have had such great luck over the years, it would be so hard to pinpoint the highlight. But just with Heartthrob, we’ve had some pretty big milestones. From having Glee cover [our song] ‘Closer’ to going on The Ellen Show, it’s been a fantastic year so far!
Tell us about your working relationship with each other, and how different it is from your personal one.
We have a really healthy working and personal relationship these days. There were definitely years where we struggled; but in general, we just try and be courteous and understanding of each other’s vision. We collaborate on every decision, so there is a lot of... listening that has to happen. For us, [making an album] is something we’re very used to at this point. Sara and I live on opposite sides of the country, but we collaborate over email and it works very well for us. I like writing alone, but I love Sara’s feedback. Sending her songs with open sections for her to collaborate with me is my preferred method. We generally go back and forth like this for a year or so. This time, we wrote over 40 songs for Heartthrob. At the point where we feel we have enough material to showcase our vision, we start looking for a producer and then head into the studio!
Heartthrob has a different, more mainstream sound. How has your style evolved since you first started out?
This is the first record we’ve written in our 30s. Sara and I both wanted to show a more empowered, romantic, nostalgic part of us without dwelling too much on grief and desperation. I think this record needed to show another side of us – not just our musical influences, but also our power. We were ready to make a big-sounding record. The idea was to create something as musically interesting as we had in the past, but combine it with bigger sounds and bolder colours. I think our sound has evolved and matured from past records, and also our writing. We’ve lived so many more years since our last record, and I believe our voices as storytellers have changed; our perspective has also changed. We’re less self-deprecating and heartbroken, and more honest and empowered. We thought of Heartthrob less as a move toward the mainstream and more of a move toward growing our audience. There are so many countries, audiences and outlets we felt we were being held back from. Some of that was internal, but a lot of it had to do with the sound of the records we were making. Plus, our band feels ready to shed more light on our music. It felt like the right time to expand.
Which song from the record resonates with you most?
They all speak to me in different ways. ‘I Was A Fool’ and ‘Shock To Your System’ feel most like the ‘old T+S’, so I like them best right now. I’m still getting used to the new record myself.
Heartthrob is quite the break-up album – do you have any personal go-to songs to help you get over heartbreak?
I generally don’t listen to sad songs when I’m sad. But there was one song on The New Pornographers’ album called ‘Challengers’ that I remember overplaying when I was dealing with a broken heart. I also love ‘Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart’ by Alicia Keys – another great break-up song.
You’re both very honest about being gay – did you ever feel any pressure from others around you?
I never felt any pressure to come out. Since we’ve always been out, I don’t feel that I experience much pressure from the LGBTQ community or the mainstream media. Our record label, our management, our friends, our family, and most importantly, our fans just seem to accept us as we are. I hope that our audience – and specifically the kids who are LGBTQ – sees that we are happy and healthy and hopeful, and they will be able to come out and feel good about who they are. That is our biggest dream.
Any other issues you’re both passionate about?
Queer issues have been a big part of our platform. I care about people being able to express who they are and love who they are. We also love the idea of young people writing music or learning an instrument at a young age, so we tend to focus on causes that support youth to play music!
So what can we expect from your Singapore debut?
We’re playing a mix of old and new songs. Our goal with this record was to help step up our live show. So I think we’ve created a really lively but intimate set of songs to showcase the many different sounds of T+S over the years.
Tegan and Sara perform at the Esplanade Concert Hall on 13 May.