Tegan and Sara: Tackling grand goals in harmony
Siblings don’t always get along. And siblings in bands really don’t get along. But that’s not been the case for the indie pop act Tegan and Sara. The Canadian group formed some 15 years ago and has been going strong ever since. With its latest album, Heartthrob, the group sought to “expand and build” its fanbase, opting for a approach that emphasized the synth-pop side of its sound. The new direction doesn’t take away from the band’s deeply personal lyrics and terrific vocal harmonies. As the group wraps up the year with a few tour dates, Sara Quin answered a few of our questions via email.
Talk about what the year has been like. What have been some of the highlights?
The goals for this record were much grander than on previous albums. We hoped to tour new places, expand and build our fan base internationally and challenge ourselves as physical performers. It’s been deeply rewarding to share this album and have it be embraced by both the devoted T+S fans and the new converts. Win-win!
Heartthrob has been a huge success. Talk about the songwriting process. When did you start writing the songs and what approach did you take this time around?
It wasn’t tremendously different than any other album—a lot of solitude and writing independent of one another. We record extensively for our demos and so the process is slightly longer than some bands. I don’t love to write in the studio under any pressure, so I hash out as many thoughts and ideas as I can beforehand. We send the recording sessions to one another to add ideas or make suggestions and that is how the collaboration most often happens. We did end up facilitating additional writing and collaborating in the studio this time around and that produced exiting results (the chorus to “Closer” is an example).
It sounds like more production went into the album. What’s it been like producing those songs live?
We always spend a great deal of time transitioning album to live. Even though this record is more “produced” sounding, we’ve always had to dig through very dense compositions in the rehearsal stages. Our records have become cleaner and beefier, but even on previous albums (The Con specifically) there were dozens of great ideas that came together to create the music. It’s always a mystery to try and discover which of those ideas need to be there to create the most interesting version of the song live.
The songs have a great synth-pop feel to them. Do you have a favorite synth-pop act from the ’80s?
I think Depeche Mode might be my favorite.
“Goodbye Goodbye” sounds like a break-up tune. Is the album a break-up album?
I think it’s a post break-up album. Our songs in the past often have captured the doubts and foreshadowing of the pre break-up. In some cases — the album The Con — the songs focus on the turmoil of relationships both while in them and just out of them. I think this album is further removed—the stages of empowerment and forgiveness but also anger.
“Fool for Love” is such a beautiful track. What inspired the song?
Tegan wrote this one so I can’t talk specifically about it. I will say that I think it’s a great modern ballad — in a cool way! It’s got this claustrophobic intensity to the verses and choruses that finally releases during the bridge in a way that I think mirrors the introverted/extroverted nature of confession.
Many bands with siblings are characterized by conflict. What’s the key to keeping the band together?
We have our conflicts and debates. We’ve just learned to manage them with a gentler approach over the years. We were raised to keep our battles private whenever possible and our career is no different. I would be beyond humiliated to air our grievances about one another publicly. We have built thick skin and an array of skills to keep the conflict mostly at bay.
Do you have any desire to make a solo album?
Not particularly right now. But you never know!
What’s in store for 2014?
Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates
Port Chester, NY
Tegan and Sara live album benefits from bonus disc
Indie pop duo Tegan and Sara isn’t exactly the kind of act that you’d expect would sound much different live. So it’s a bit odd that the band opted to put out a live album. And yet, Get Along, which was recorded before a small audience of 75 at the Warehouse Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia, is more than just a live album. The double disc set includes one CD of live tunes and a DVD of three short films (two documentaries and a live performance). Dubbed States, the first film chronicles the band’s history while mixing together narration and live footage. While the film doesn’t have much of a narrative to it, it does function well enough as an overview of the group’s humble beginnings. The second film, India, chronicles the band’s 2010 tour of India and includes lots of behind-the-scenes footage, including a terrific acoustic rendition of “Walking with a Ghost” that the group plays while sitting on a beach. And the third film, For the Most Part, is a live concert film recorded in an intimate space decorated to resemble a living room. All three films are well-done and don’t just settle for an amateur approach.
Essentially a soundtrack to For the Most Part, the CD works well as a stand alone as the opening tune, “Alligator,” shows off crisp vocals, and “I Hear Noises” plays up the band’s pop impulses with its synth-heavy sound. While tracks such as “Back in Your Head” and “Relief Next to Me” don’t sound as polished as the studio versions, the harsher sound actually suits the emotionally turbulent songs.