Calgary-born Tegan and Sara Quin have been sweeping audiences off their feet since they began their music careers 20 years ago. Although they might say that is an exaggeration, North America fell in love with them in early 2007 as they coasted to the top of the pop billboard charts. In September, the two celebrated two new releases; their ninth studio album, Hey, I’m Just Like You, and the release of their first book, Highschool: The Memoir. On October 22nd, their tour stops in Ottawa.
Tell me about High School: The Memoir, your first published book. What made you decide to take on this endeavour?
When we finished touring our last record, we really wanted to do something creative. But we didn’t want to record right away, so we came up with the idea of doing a podcast. We also had this idea of doing a book. So, we were like, “we should do both”, and the book thing kind of took off. We sold the proposal really fast, and then we were like, “holy sh*t, we have to write a book now”.
We ended up losing sight of the podcast because we were too busy with the book. To be honest, I think what really excited us about the book was that people wanted us to write about the early parts of our career. I never really understood why that would be interesting to some people. But the idea behind writing about music either felt too industry-heavy or too behind the scenes and wouldn’t interest the average person. We felt as if it would rely too heavily on having to explain how to write music, which I find terribly boring. So, we kind of just kept pushing back, and had this very fateful meeting with our management and our agent in New York. They kept talking about how “it’s the origin story of Tegan and Sara”, so we just replied, “well if it’s the origin story of Tegan and Sara then we have to write about high school”. That’s when we found out we could play music, when we figured out we were artists, and when we figured out we were gay. That’s when we were at the most beginning part of our career. They said write about that, so we did.
The amount of photos, diaries and material you have from your high school years is incredible. Did that help trying to write the book?
During high school we were very excessive about documenting everything. We recorded every song we’d ever written, and we constantly filmed each other. We talk about this in the book, but we had a broadcasting and communications class where you’re supposed to be taping radio shows and making commercials on camera. Instead we made documentaries about being teenagers and recorded our own music. So that’s good for us, because we had over 25 hours of VHS footage, three different demo tapes with 40 songs, an obscene amounts of photos, notes and journals that our friends from all over the country were giving us. People who we graduated with were giving us so much stuff. So, I’m really proud of the fact that the book and the record lean heavily on actual, factual history. Some people are like “how did you come out with this incredible, visual world, yet let the dialogue seems so real”, and that’s because we ended up listing a lot of that stuff from the actual journal. It is real because it’s in our voices.
Your 9th studio album, “Hey, I’m Just like You”, comes out September 27th. What is different about this album?
Like most artists, we’re always trying to better the work we did before. Sara and I try not to tread on grounds we’ve already treaded before, which can be hard. Fans often want more of what they love. We’ve trained our audience in a loving way to expect something different every time, and it’s not always what they assume we’re going to do. They always come to love what we put out. HIJLY is that; it’s different than anything we’ve ever done, but it has a lot of the things they love or have come to love.
A lot of the elements that have gone over well have gone into this. We shared songs on this album, which is something we don’t tend to do. On HIJLY, with “I Know I’m Not the Only One”, and “Hello”, there’s a lot more criss-crossing and collaborating than usual. There are some songs like “Keep Them Close Cause They’ll F*** You Too”, which is actually a song called “Valium”, and I wrote it,but Sara wanted to sing it. “I Don’t Owe You” is a song Sara wrote, but I wanted it. We’ve never done that before, so there’s a lot of fresh ground covered for us personally and creatively.
This record is different because it’s sort of the prequel to Tegan and Sara in a strange way; it has all the modern bells and whistles and expertise that we’ve acquired. I think we’ve mastered our craft in a way. You could hear this album and not be like, “oh these are those songs they wrote as teenagers”. You could listen to this record and be like, “oh, this is the new Tegan and Sara record”. What’s special about it is that it has this vulnerability, boldness, rawness, and melodramatises in a way. That spirit, that equality, is something new – because when you’re younger, you really try to sound older.
On the first few records, we were trying to be deep, which is something that makes me feel self-conscious about them. They’re complicated sounding; we’re speaking in allegories, singing in metaphor, and not being specific. That’s a product of graduating high school and getting a record deal. Everybody says, “oh they just signed you because you’re teenagers, you’re cute, you’re gay, you’re a marketing team’s dream”. What I love about HIJLY is that these are songs where we just said it how it was. We weren’t hiding our drama; we were just speaking directly. We were shocked with how specific and direct we were, and I don’t know if we could have written these songs now.
I feel so inspired singing these songs, because I couldn’t imagine writing a song with lyrics like “keep them close ‘cause they will f**k you too”. I couldn’t come up with a deeper way of saying that, I love just how bold we were. I just love it. It’s going to usher in a whole new era of Tegan and Sara. I think we just don’t care anymore. I’m not saying that in a bad way, like we still care. We’re just going to be us now.
Are you going to bring this energy to your almost sold-out tour? What can we expect?
I’m very excited about the tour. We’re already working on the shows for the new year as well. I know our [team] intentionally kept it to smaller dates within a 1-month run, and we specifically wanted it in theatres. It’s about being candid, exposed, raw, honest, vulnerable, and we can only do that in smaller spaces. For the first time since 2003 we’re going to go out just [Sara] and I. It’s intense – it’s taking a lot of our energy right now planning it.
What’s your trick to staying calm throughout all of this? Who do you lean on to make sure you get it all done?
Our management has been with us since 2002, which is non-existent in this industry really. We surround ourselves with amazing people, especially those you wouldn’t exactly label as “industry people”. Everybody who has been working on the project knows it’s a project based around family, identity, vulnerability, being real, and there isn’t a lot of hot air: it’s all team effort.
“Music is still our bread and butter, and it’s still our main inspiration, but we want to do more. We want to reach more of our community, distribute our wealth and privilege in a way where we help more people.”
We interviewed you both two years ago. What do you think has changed in both of your lives since our last interview?
We’ve been doing dual city living for a long time, and we were bouncing around a lot. It was taking up time for us, so we decided to move to Vancouver full-time. Both of our partners are American, and we converted them over to Canadian citizens. The other big change is that we’ve begun to explore outside of music. That’s pretty obvious, we wrote a book. We’re delivering two graphic novels about our queer identity and being girls. That book will come out in 2021. We’re working on making high school into a TV series, we’re also obviously very invested into our foundation. Over the last two years we’ve made more time for these projects. Music is still our bread and butter, and it’s still our main inspiration, but we want to do more. We want to reach more of our community, distribute our wealth and privilege in a way where we help more people. That’s the big shift – not just committing time to music, we have to carve out time to do these other things. We can’t just be musicians.
You will be in Ottawa on October 22nd, do you have any memories from our city?
Every time we’ve been to Ottawa, it’s been for something weird. Like the first time we went was for a Parliament summer camp, and now we’ve been for the Governor General Awards. We’ve been there for Canada Day, which was surprising. Ottawa has this absurd long history with Tegan and Sara and it’s one of our favourite cities. We’ve had incredible experiences, great shows, the people there are wonderful, and the food scene is so strong – it’s just so beautiful. We make an effort to hit the art gallery every time we go! I mean, it’s just a kick-a** city.
Their tour stop in Ottawa on October 22nd.