After 14 years as a musician, with seven studio albums and plenty of indie cred but surprisingly little mainstream recognition to her name, Tegan Quin now finds herself wondering “Oh my God, am I supposed to have that moment now? Am I supposed to have that moment where I say I’m so sorry to Sara, like, I’ve ruined our band?”
The sudden and rampant popularity of Tegan and Sara’s infectious, electro-driven single “Closer” (off of 2012’s “Heartthrob”) — a track that Tegan re-wrote six times, at Sara's request — has thrust the Canadian sister act into the spotlight and onto the pop radio waves, a new trajectory for the duo’s career. Tegan remembers when their 2004 single “Walking With a Ghost” was making the rounds on the alt radio circuit and Sara (the more “indie rock” sister, Tegan says) moaned “We’re like a one-hit wonder. We’re like that band who has one song.” As it turns out, it wasn’t true then and it’s sure as hell not true now. “You know what?” says Tegan, when asked if she’s dubious about the sudden uptick in their pop celebrity. “F—ck that. I’m really excited, it’s great!”
“F—ck that” is sort of the unspoken mantra for the sisters, who have maintained a long and steadily evolving career despite all the odds against them. A lesbian identical twin sister act seems like studio-designed gimmick destined for one-hit wonderdom (remember t.A.T.u., the Russian “lesbian” outfit that captured the nation’s fascination for about five seconds back in 2002? Tegan does. “We would have been the Canadian version of that,” she says). Instead, the sisters chose to first sign with a small label (Neil Young’s Vapor Records) and take things slowly, allowing themselves time to grow as musicians and as people. And it's good thing they did because today Tegan and Sara are touring internationally while t.A.T.u. are, well, who knows? “I’m going to go to Russia and find them,” Tegan jokes, as we speculate about their whereabouts (she's pretty sure they both have babies now.)
“I always say this to bands when they come to us asking for advice,” Tegan says. “You have to put out a thousand leads to have one hit. I don’t expect that every person who hears 'Closer' is going to become a Tegan and Sara fan, but I hope that enough do that it keeps our band relevant, and it keeps us making music. And that’s part of our job right now, to go out there and tell people about all our other records."
The twins have managed to capture and hold a unique sort of magic, fostering a creative symbiosis that a touring duo who did not share a zygote would likely have to work a whole lot harder to maintain. And, though identical, Tegan says, the sisters are “different shades of red.” She searches for an example, finally offering, “OK, like, I liked Smashing Pumpkins, I thought they were amazing, but I LOVED Nirvana and Hole. And Sara liked Nirvana and Hole, but she LOVED Smashing Pumpkins.” A subtle difference, but Tegan asserts that their differences are all about the nuances.
“It starts to get brighter and brighter and brighter the more you know us. I think that Sara is an East Coast person, she’s way more into indie rock, and obscure, avant garde kind of stuff. She tends to have the more nontraditional arrangements. I think she’s contributed more of the integrity to our music,” she says. “And I’m more kind of West Coast, more laid back. I took less time with music, I was more partial to immediate gratification. You know, I yell when I talk onstage, she talks more quietly. We’re just kind of the opposite ends of each other.”
“Heartthrob” is one of Tegan and Sara’s poppiest records to date, chock full of clubby electro-hooks and infectious beats, and has likely earned the sisters a whole new generation of fans. It’s doubtful, though, that any celebrity that comes their way will affect what seems to be a genuinely down-to-earth and slightly self-effacing take on life. “I could never get a big head, I could never be a ‘Rock Star,’” Tegan says. “Because Sara will always be there to tell me I’m not that, I’m just me.”
QUOTED: Tegan on homophobia
"It seems like there are more imminent problems to be dealing with. Like, the melting ice caps, corn shortage (laughs). Let’s just make equality for everyone and then move on to the pressing issues."