Sara Quin Is Glad You’ve Heard of Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara (Credit: Pamela Littky)

When you’ve been in a band with your identical twin sister for 21 years, you might as well become neighbors, too.

While Tegan and Sara Quin, of the indie-pop band Tegan and Sara, got their start as teenagers in Calgary, Alberta in 1995, it’s only been since last year that the two have lived in the same city. After spending 13 years in Montreal, Sara decided it was time to get an apartment a few blocks away from Tegan in Vancouver.

“Tegan is really a Vancouver resident,” Quin says. “Whenever she can get back, she’s back there. I’m still kind of the new one. I’m still asking where to go for things and what dentist I should use.”

In late August however, when we speak by phone, Quin and her sister are in Los Angeles, plotting out a fall tour of North America behind Love You to Death, their eighth studio album. As musicians, this new record marks a notable departure from the warm guitar melodies that have defined Tegan and Sara’s sound since their first album,1999’s Under Feet Like Ours. Still present are the heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics and messages of empowerment that have brought the duo a legion of die-hard fans.

Known for crafting songs about love — whether it’s getting over it, falling into it, or everything between — the tracks on Love You to Death don’t break from this mold. But they do in other ways. In place of of the pop-punk strumming that defined previous albums like 2007’s The Con and 2009’s Sainthood, the sisters employ glossy, ebullient synths reminiscent of the 1980s.

The band first tested these waters with 2013’s Heartthrob, an album that yielded Tegan and Sara’s first RIAA Gold certified single for the Erasure-esque dance track “Closer.” Now, with Love You to Death, they’ve jumped into the mainstream pop arena feet first. The results have been impressive.

In a way, it wasn’t hard to see it coming. The group was asked by pop princess Katy Perry to open the North American leg of her tour Prismatic in 2014. Then, last year, Tegan and Sara found themselves performing on the Academy Awards thanks to “Everything is Awesome!!!”, the track they recorded with Saturday Night Live jokesters The Lonely Island for the animated children’s film The Lego Movie. The duo’s music has been all over television as well, on programs like Degrassi: The Next Generation, 90210, The L Word, Melrose Place, One Tree Hill, and Grey’s Anatomy, to name a few.

“There are all these things now that I can use as a cultural map for people,” Quin says. “I can honestly say the majority of the time people know who we are. It’s nice to be at a point in our career where we don’t have to go, ‘Oh, we’re just in an indie rock band. You wouldn’t know us.’ ”

Much to the contrary, it was Grey’s Anatomy that served as a common denominator between the band and former President Bill Clinton when they met him at a Clinton Foundation in Toronto in 2013.

“It’s a common denominator for a lot of people!” Quin laughs.

Another television connection that paid off was Quin’s love for Lisa Hanawalt, the production designer on Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, an animated show about a profoundly depressed horse that used to be a sitcom star. A visit to the storefront of graphic novel powerhouse publisher Drawn + Quarterly in Montreal introduced Quin to Hanawalt’s book, My Dirty Dumb Eyes. The two got in touch, and the final episode of Bojack’s first season used “Closer” in its last scene.

As part of a project this year to make music videos for every song on Love You to Death – a task that required Tegan and Sara to take the budget allocated for their album’s two singles and stretch it to pay for 10 videos instead – Quin asked Hanawalt to make an animated companion for the track “Hang on to the Night.” The result, a surreal blend of cat people shooting star arrows and a horseman doing battle with helicopters, serves as a worthy companion to the dreamy but uplifting album closer.

“I knew I wanted to do an animated video for “Hang on to the Night,” because I just didn’t think we would ever be able to make anything as triumphant with a normal video,” Quin says. “So I sent the song to [Hanawalt] and she sent back a treatment. I love her so much. I feel like she just nailed it.”

Quin and Hanawalt’s collaboration speaks to what Tegan and Sara have always done best: take risks, demand more, and do everything they can in service of their music. It’s also why the two sisters have yet to actually spend much time as neighbors up in Vancouver. They’ve simply been too busy touring, recording, and continuing the work that started when they were teenagers borrowing money from their grandfather to cut their first demos. They never stop. And for Quin, she says that’s probably not such a bad thing.

“It’s kind of weirdly fun,” she says. “I don’t know if it would be as fun if we did it for 365 days a year, but for the time being, it’s actually really nice.”
Tegan and Sara play with Shura at 8 p.m., on Saturday, Oct. 1 at Fox Theater. $43.50. More info here.

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