Tegan and Sara, Amplified
The latest album from identical twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin, Heartthrob, due out tomorrow, is a nostalgic chronicle of firsts. The album—the seventh in Tegan and Sara’s 13-year career—explores the thrill of falling in love, the allure of adulthood, and every other passion and pain that shaped us in our youth. Their new material speaks to tender sentiments, but it is not to be confused with what Sara refers to as a “pop magic” record; it is shot throughout with a sense of wisdom that is not only genuine, but fully evolved. Though guitars have mostly been traded for keyboards, Heartthrob expands on Tegan and Sara’s own distinctive sound, with the kind of arrangements and melodic hooks that don’t just ask for your attention, but demand it. Heartthrob is a sonically driven, electronic triumph—a testament to Tegan and Sara’s versatility, and to their evolution.
LEA WEATHERBY: Let’s start from the outside in—what’s going on with the cover art? I think it’s really interesting.
SARA QUIN: When Tegan and I did the photo shoot, our art director Emy said she had this idea where we would be standing in front of a wall and behind us there would be images of ourselves that had been sort of torn down, and it would be this symbolic sort of thing. She ended up blowing up these beautiful photos and then chiseled away at them and photographed them. It was supposed to be tongue in cheek, but also a social statement about the heartthrob status and how ultimately it sort of fades and rips away over time.
WEATHERBY: I really love it.
SARA QUIN: I think it’s a beautiful image.
WEATHERBY: This album is different from what people might be expecting, but it still has the Tegan and Sara elements that your fans love. How do you define the constant in your music?
SARA QUIN: I think that the core of Tegan and Sara is the story and the song itself, and I think that’s the same as always, but there has been a natural evolution over the last four records where we started to do a lot more writing on keyboard and piano and infuse that into our music. With Heartthrob we had this conscious decision at the beginning of the cycle that we weren’t going to focus too much on guitar.
TEGAN QUIN: I think our biggest fear after this many years would be to put our record out and have people say, “Oh it’s another Tegan and Sara record.” I think that’s how we’ve stayed relevant and we’ve stayed successful for the last decade-plus and also just to keep us interested.
WEATHERBY: It’s obviously a high-energy album. It did make me want to dance, which is dangerous for everyone involved.
TEGAN QUIN: For us, too!
WEATHERBY: When you wrote an album like So Jealous or The Con, where were you creatively and mentally, as opposed to where you are now with Heartthrob?
SARA QUIN: Some of it certainly is emotional, but a lot of it is just the fidelity of the record. We probably manipulated more than our other records. We demoed very similar to The Con or So Jealous. With Heartthrob we weren’t just trying to make a record to preserve a fan base or to sustain a touring career. We actually were thinking, “What if we didn’t have any fans and we had to start from scratch and make new fans, how do we reach those people and blow their minds?”
WEATHERBY: Does that feel risky?
SARA QUIN: We’re always doing things with artistic purpose. Whenever I see a band that is having a hard time and they’re sort of spinning wheels in the same rut, I always think, “That’s fear.” They know what they should sound like, but they’re afraid to do something different.
TEGAN QUIN: It does make it a risk, but when you love it, it feels less scary. It’s a calculated risk, like bungee jumping.
SARA QUIN: I think taking the risk and pushing ourselves is far more authentic than preserving that safe space.
WEATHERBY: Heartthrob has a very nostalgic feel to it. Was there any song specifically that spoke most to that?
TEGAN QUIN: For me, it was “Drove Me Wild.” I had been co-writing with this dance act, and they were like, “Think party! Everybody is having a good time!” which was a polite way of saying, “Do not write The Con,” or “Don’t write a sad song,” so I was like, “I need to write something nostalgic, fun and summery,” and I’m trying to imagine that feeling, and immediately thought of those last couple years of high school. People always get this look on their face like, “High school sucked,” I know but…
WEATHERBY: But there’s an exciting element to it.
TEGAN QUIN: Yeah! And I don’t mean when I was writing my final exams in grade 12, I mean the summer before your senior year, or the summer after you graduate and you’re convinced that something amazing was coming. It must be, I mean we’re all promised that, and I’m still able to romanticize that time.
WEATHERBY: Why did you choose “Closer” as your opening track?
SARA QUIN: Right from the beginning, “Closer” was one of those songs that seemed to be getting everybody to listen in a different way and it really became a focus track in the studio. There was really little discussion about whether or not it would be “Closer,” it was just, it was.
WEATHERBY: Recently you’ve collaborated with big names like Tiesto, but you also collaborate with lesser-known names like Fences and Astronautalis. What is it that you look for in a collaborative project?
SARA QUIN: You’d be surprised how slutty we are about it!
TEGAN QUIN: It depends on the artist; you just have to trust that they’re a certain kind of artist. Our roots are not embedded in one type of music, we’re set up in all sorts of genres, and we’re very interested in the whole spectrum and also conscious of not overwhelming a certain market. I think it’s still important to Sara and I to be, I don’t want to say thorough, but I don’t want to pick just one genre.
WEATHERBY: And you’ve gone across genres.
TEGAN QUIN: Yeah, like, Against Me! and Fences, like you mentioned, or Jim Ward from Sparta or At The Drive-In. You want to learn new stuff and you want to collaborate with new people. There are all these really good reasons for doing it, but also you really just do it because you like people. Some of my favorite collaborations have been with unknown artists. Like Sara did a collaboration with this band, The Reason, in Canada and it’s an amazing song! And the video is hysterical, the lead singer is like 6’4″, and Sara is so tiny. Or Astronautalis, that day shooting the video for “Contrails,” I didn’t even have my driver’s license and I was driving all over North Vancouver. It’s an experience, and I love that part of it.
WEATHERBY: With all the touring you’ve done over the years, how do you bring the same passion and energy to all your shows?
TEGAN QUIN: Even when I’m not feeling capable of playing my A game I just remember 2002 or 1999 or 2005, and I’m like, “God things are so much better, this is so awesome,” and I try to keep that in the forefront of my mind. We have an incredible fan base who are insane and amazing and travel from all over and see five billion shows and scream and sing along to every song, I just focus on them.
WEATHERBY: Have there been a few performances that really resonated with you?
SARA QUIN: A lot of the shows, you’re just standing on the open stage and they pan the camera over, and you start when they say, “And Tegan and Sara!” But on Leno, the curtain is closed. And there was something about it, where you can’t see what’s about to happen; and I had this reflex of anxiety that I don’t associate with performing at all, I can only explain it as out-of-body. I really felt as though I could truly understand how substantial it was that I was a person who had sat in a room and watched Leno my whole life, and it was like I could be in both places at once. For one second I was able to just be lifted and able to take in the gravity of it. It was really profound, and I still think about it.
TEGAN QUIN: Recently we played in New York, at the Bowery, and after we played a new song called “Now I’m All Messed Up,” the crowd just kept clapping. We were ready to start the next song, and they just kept going. I’m sure the whole thing only lasted 30 seconds, but 30 seconds on stage, in human time, is like two and a half minutes. And they just kept cheering. It’s so New York, to get it. They really fucking got it in a moment, and it was this connection where it didn’t even feel like they were clapping for the song; they were clapping for us. I know that sounds like a silly thing to say, but they were truly clapping about the performance and the essence of that song, and there was a moment where it really validated the whole record for me.
SARA QUIN: With this record, it was sort of like, I want to blow people’s hair back in every room. I want people to be like, “God damn, that was good!” I don’t want it to be like, “You know, that didn’t really translate.” I want it to be like, “It translated.”
HEARTTHROB IS OUT TOMORROW. TEGAN AND SARA WILL PLAY THE BEACON THEATRE FEBRUARY 19 AND 20. FOR MORE ON THE DUO, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.