It’s go time for Tegan and Sara Quin. In the last few weeks, the Canadian-born twins and bandmates released the first single off their upcoming seventh studio album, graced the cover of Under the Radar magazine, announced tours with both The Killers and The Black Keys, and celebrated joint birthday number 32.
While Tegan and Sara have been writing and recording music together since their teens, it was 2004’s So Jealous that ultimately sealed their fate as international indie stars. In the years since, the sisters have toured the world times over and crafted two (soon to be three) stunning collections of folk-rock gems. Sonically, the band is anchored by the pair’s separate-but-equal prowess on the guitar and piano and their individual outlooks on songwriting. Emotionally speaking, though, the duo is much harder to sum up. Over the years, Tegan and Sara have attracted a large and fervent following of fans, thanks to their penchant for deeply wrought and intensely personal lyrics. Add to that their strong and oft vocalized political views — both sisters are lesbians, and work tirelessly for numerous issues, including marriage equality — and you begin to understand the bigger picture.
This Tuesday, October 2, Tegan and Sara take to the stage at the Santa Barbara Bowl as direct support for that other powerhouse duo, The Black Keys. I recently caught up with Sara Quin to talk singles, success, and the importance of respecting your fans.
You just released the first single for your new record, “Closer.” Can you tell me about the rest of the record? I think the record has a lot of different types of material on it. “Closer” is probably the most dance-y; it’s the most partying, having-a-fun-time, falling-on-the-floor kind of song. The rest of the album is quirkier; there’s some more rock stuff, and there’s some songs on the record that I think will surprise people. There’s definitely one song that I think is totally different than anything we’ve written before. It’s got a lot of different sounds and a lot of different looks.
And you guys worked with three different producers on these tracks, correct? We did. We ended up doing most of the record with Greg Kurstin. He was the first producer we worked with and we ended up cutting eight tracks with him, and all of those tracks made it on the record. “Closer” is one of the songs from that session. It’s one of the songs that we actually focused a lot of our energy on. A lot of the other songs were more finished; we didn’t do that much tweaking or writing with them.
How was Greg to work with? He was such an amazing addition with every song. He blew my mind. Everything we worked on I was like, ‘I hate you — you’re so good!’ He really helped elevate everything for us. We throw a million ideas on our demos; they sound like finished tracks. Within a few hours Greg had not only done justice to everything we had already written, he was throwing out a million more ideas. He’s like an ideas machine!
Do you guys think of albums in terms of themes? I do. I think as an artist, but also as a Virgo, I need to do that. I think of the songs as collections and I think the title is really important. This is our seventh record and we’re mostly playing songs off of our four most recent records live. As we’ve started to build this body of work I’ve liked to think of the songs as existing in their own little universes. I like to give them their own look and feel. Over the course of the last three records, we’ve put a lot of thought into the narrative, what we’re trying to say, what the theme is, and making that all tie in visually.
You mentioned recently that you’re not making records to keep your fans. Do you find yourself thinking a lot about people’s reactions to the music? It’s weird. I think about all of it. I think about if fans will like it, if critics will like it, if new people who were born in 1994 like it. Will I like it? Will my friends like it? Will the label like it? I ask myself those questions all the time. I totally respect artists that say, “Oh, we went to a cabin, and we don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks.” I get that. That’s the impulse that I fight everyday. But I don’t think it would be helpful to this band. That’s not what this band is really about.
What is it about? Tegan and Sara is truly a collaboration. It’s not my vision, and it’s not Tegan’s vision, it is the vision that we arrive at together. When I’m writing a song, I’m thinking about all those people, and sometimes, it’s the fan that’s the most important, and sometimes it’s me, and sometimes it’s the producer. It just depends on what the song needs.
Looking back on over a decade of Tegan and Sara, do you feel like you’ve found success? I had no idea what successful was when we started. In the beginning, that meant paying rent and not crying too much. The whole thing seemed incredibly traumatizing, and that made me feel ungrateful. Now, success is achieving a balance between my career and my personal life. I need to feel artistically challenged and excited, but I need to feel a deep connection with our fan base, but I also want the critics to like us. I want to be well rounded.
Finally, this fall you’re opening up for two huge acts. So, more excited for The Killers or The Black Keys? That’s not fair! I love both of those bands. With The Black Keys we’re only doing a handful of shows, so I think I’m more nervous about their audience than I am about The Killers. We’ve also toured with The Killers before, so I think I have a different feeling about it. But I’m really excited for both. I love being the support band. I know a lot of people never want to support and that’s not their jam and I get it, but I just love it. It takes the heat off and adds the heat in a whole different way. I love having to hustle and get in front of a new crowd. I love it when people love the band and you get off stage and you feel like you’ve accomplished something. And then you get to watch your favorite band go on stage and just rip people’s faces off. I love that.
Tegan and Sara play the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) with The Black Keys on Tuesday, October 2, at 6:30 p.m. For info, call 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com.