In­ter­view

Te­gan and Sara Quin used to run on fear. Now the pop duo take risks at their own pace.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Greg Hud­son

Te­gan and Sara look back: What a dif­fer­ence a decade makes.

When a band seems to em­body the zeit­geist per­fectly, it’s im­pos­si­ble to parse where cul­ture’s in­flu­ence on the band ends and where its in­flu­ence on cul­ture be­gins; it looks sym­bi­otic and in­evitable. Only, that’s hardly ever the case. Like with raising a child (or elect­ing a pres­i­dent), all sorts of fac­tors com­bine over time to cre­ate artists who seem per­fectly of the mo­ment. It’s only in ret­ro­spect that you can see how it all hap­pened.

Take Te­gan and Sara. While it seems ob­vi­ous now that the world needs a pair of queer twins play­ing ’80s-in­spired synth pop, shock­ingly that wasn’t al­ways the case.

The Cana­dian won­der twins of pop are looking back over their ca­reer as this year marks the 10th an­niver­sary of The

Con, an al­bum that kind of sits at the ful­crum be­tween their early ca­reer and the be­gin­ning of their new one. It’s ap­par­ent how the sis­ters have re­flected on, and re­sponded to, cul­ture over the years. “To be queer back when we started—in the 1990s—you were fucked. Most peo­ple were just like ‘Say hello to the un­der­ground be­cause that’s all you’ll ever have,’” Sara Quin tells me. “I think we’ve lived through that and we’ve seen our­selves break onto the pop charts and we’ve been to the Os­cars and we’ve had lots of main­stream suc­cess.” But that main­stream suc­cess wasn’t an ac­ci­dent. The sis­ters con­sciously changed up their sound in a way that both re­quired and en­cour­aged the crit­i­cal reap­praisal of pop mu­sic. Te­gan and Sara couldn’t have hap­pened at any other time, and these times couldn’t have hap­pened with­out Te­gan and Sara. We chat­ted with Sara about how they got there—but first we talked about caf­feine. »

Sounds like you’re mak­ing tea.

“I’m ac­tu­ally pour­ing my­self a cup of cof­fee.”

Cof­fee, eh? I’m about to drink a Coca-Cola Zero.

“I got off Coca-Cola in my early 20s, and I’ve never gone back.”

Tell me more—this is im­por­tant.

“It’s very im­por­tant. It’s a part of my ad­dic­tion tra­jec­tory. In our fam­ily, drink­ing Coca-Cola was like drink­ing wa­ter. It was not un­com­mon to run into some­one from the fam­ily at the re­frig­er­a­tor in the mid­dle of the night drink­ing di­rectly from a two-litre Coke bot­tle. When I moved out af­ter high school, I re­mem­ber the woman I was dat­ing was a dancer and a yoga teacher and what­ever, and she was not sham­ing but she’d say ‘You’re drink­ing poi­son. Please, can you find some­thing else to drink?’ So I got off it and I’ve never gone back. Just cof­fee and al­co­hol.”

I’m ac­tu­ally ad­dicted to en­ergy drinks. Most peo­ple are up­set by the amount of caf­feine I in­gest.

“What do you do with all that caf­feine? I’m just think­ing about it be­cause I only got onto cof­fee when I was 28, and it com­pletely re­struc­tured my day. I was keep­ing a more stereo­typ­i­cal mu­si­cian’s life­style. Then, when I started drink­ing cof­fee, it was like my whole body changed or some­thing. I started get­ting up super-early, I wanted to go to bed early and then I be­came more of an ac­tive worker dur­ing the day. I like to work on mu­sic and write songs dur­ing day­light hours so I to­tally ride the caf­feine wave in the morn­ing now.”

It’s like you grew up.

[Laughs] “I did grow up—I mean, sort of. At the time, it felt like I was mak­ing an ad­just­ment for the bet­ter. I know some peo­ple re­ally hate as­tro­log­i­cal stuff. I find it all a bit ridicu­lous, but, un­for­tu­nately, as a Virgo, I do feel like what is said about Vir­gos is re­ally true: We’re anal-re­ten­tive and struc­tured and dis­ci­plined and or­ga­nized. It’s like I’m only al­lowed to have one vice at a time—I can’t mix and match. When I did drugs, I did drugs. When I drank, I drank. I was never re­ally all over the place. And now, for the most part, I feel like I’m pretty well be­haved. But I need to have some­thing I’m al­ways wor­ry­ing I’m do­ing too much of.”

I think that’s re­ally im­por­tant, ac­tu­ally. What’s one lit­tle vice?

“Watch how I tie this into some­thing that is rel­e­vant. It’s in­ter­est­ing as I get older, too. I re­al­ize that there are these pre­con­ceived ideas about what it means to work in the arts. I al­ways sort of en­vied my friends who were cre­ative types who gave in to their darkest im­pulses: slept all day, did drugs and drank, didn’t have a home, didn’t have a moral com­pass. That’s prob­a­bly what peo­ple imag­ine I’m like, so maybe I should try a year where I just give in to all that. But it goes against the grain. My life more closely re­sem­bles my friends who are teach­ers than my friends who are mu­si­cians.”

I like the idea of a struc­tured year of re­bel­lion.

“That’s an­other very Virgo thing. I can’t just let go and get out of con­trol. I have to sched­ule it all.”

I’m half jok­ing when I say this, but, while I al­ways had my sus­pi­cions, the first time I knew my sis­ter was queer was when we were on a road trip lis­ten­ing to Te­gan and Sara and she seem­ingly knew ev­ery­thing about each song. You’ve be­come a kind of sig­ni­fier. And I feel like that’s a good thing.

[Laughs] “I think it’s in­ter­est­ing. I’ve had dif­fer­ent feel­ings about it dur­ing the past 20 years of be­ing in the mu­sic in­dus­try. When we first started, we had to push back so hard against the nat­u­ral in­stinct to la­bel us or la­bel our au­di­ences or sort of put us in a box and make us unattrac­tive to any­one but queer peo­ple. It was bru­tal. I send peo­ple ar­ti­cles that I can prac­ti­cally re­mem­ber word for word, and they’re hor­ri­fy­ing. Not just ‘Whoop­sies, here’s a lit­tle bit of ho­mo­pho­bia’—they’re full-on misog­yny and ho­mo­pho­bia and, in some cases, vaguely threat­en­ing. But there were lots of years when we re­ally pushed back against this idea that our sex­u­al­ity was rel­e­vant and that our mu­sic had some kind of cat­e­go­riza­tion be­cause of our sex­u­al­ity. What I started to re­al­ize, while [we were] be­com­ing a more pop­u­lar main­stream band and see­ing our au­di­ences di­ver­sify, is that I re­ally want to hon­our that el­e­ment. As we started to see more dudes in our crowds, or gag­gles of straight girls at a bach­e­lorette party, I found my­self want­ing to be like ‘No! We’re a queer band. Look at all our cool queer fans.’ So I think there have def­i­nitely been dif­fer­ent cy­cles. You know, for most of our ca­reer, Te­gan and I weren’t just queer women; we were queer women who re­jected the no­tion that we were hot les­bians. We didn’t wear makeup, we had weird hair­cuts, we didn’t seem to bother with at­tract­ing the male gaze—and I think that re­ally pushed peo­ple away. It made us even more marginal­ized in a lot of ways. Peo­ple al­ways talk about how things have changed and how we’re so much more ac­cepted, but there’s not queer women on the pop charts and there’s not queer women on rock ra­dio and there’s not re­ally any queer women break­ing that glass ceil­ing that I think ex­ists when you’re not some­thing to be ob­jec­ti­fied by men and women. One of my favourite things about our band is that we can al­ways count on the queer community. Where it once felt some­what bur­den­some, I ac­tu­ally think it’s been a to­tal gift and it’s why we con­tinue to make mu­sic.”

This is the 10th an­niver­sary of The Con. One of the things I no­ticed when read­ing old in­ter­views is that you al­ways men­tion what a hard time you had when you re­leased the al­bum. What does that mean? What made it hard?

“I’ve ac­tu­ally been think­ing about this a lot, be­cause ob­vi­ously we’re re­vis­it­ing that time right now, too. We did feel like that was a hard time, but what’s in­ter­est­ing to me is that it’s not that the times have be­come less hard. At some point in your adult life—or, if you’re re­ally un­lucky, ear­lier—peo­ple start to get sick or die or re­la­tion­ships break up or the re­al­ity of life hits you for the first time. When we put out The Con, I was go­ing through my first ma­jor sep­a­ra­tion. I had been part­nered with some­one—we owned a house, the whole thing—and it was re­ally like a di­vorce. I re­mem­ber it was when we had started to have a lit­tle bit of fi­nan­cial suc­cess in our lives—cer­tainly com­pared to our ear­lier records. So, all of a sud­den there was this weight of death and taxes. It was just like ‘Holy shit! This is life?’ I re­mem­ber feel­ing an op­pres­sive weight, won­der­ing what this is all for. We’d al­ready put out mul­ti­ple records, and it was sort of the same cities, the same clubs, the same days, the same nights. And I re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing sort of hit­ting me around that time. We were 27, and I think a lot of peo­ple talk about that be­ing the first mo­ment of re­al­iz­ing that’s just the rest of your life. And then you fig­ure out how to deal with it. Noth­ing has re­ally changed. I still have a lot of those same con­flicts and strug­gles and ex­is­ten­tial wor­ries, but I’ve learned how to cope with them.”

If you could go back, know­ing what you know now, would those prob­lems still seem as large or have you learned to deal with them?

“The one thing I wish I could change about that time—and it’s still some­thing Te­gan and I grap­ple with—is that we were ‘yes peo­ple.’ I don’t mean that in a mar­tyr­ish way; it’s just the way we al­ways were. Our par­ents had in­cred­i­bly high ex­pec­ta­tions of us, and we em­body that even as adults. I think we had this par­a­lyz­ing fear that if we ad­mit­ted to hav­ing a thresh­old, we would fail or lose mo­men­tum and dis­ap­pear. We were run­ning on that fear for a long time, and The Con was a cli­mac­tic mo­ment for us be­cause we took on too much and started crack­ing un­der that pres­sure. It re­ally jeop­ar­dized the band and my re­la­tion­ship with Te­gan. There was a lot of con­flict and fight­ing—phys­i­cal fight­ing. We were just mis­er­able. I re­ally wish I could go back and tend to that per­son a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently.”

You have al­ways seemed very ra­tio­nal about your ca­reer and the de­gree of suc­cess you want. That’s sur­pris­ing for rock stars.

“It goes back to the whole idea that we’re Vir­gos. A lot of our friends who are artists don’t want to talk about the busi­ness— espe­cially if they came out of the ’90s, when ev­ery­one still wor­ried about the idea of sell­ing out. Te­gan and I came out of that scene. But early on, we be­came busi­ness peo­ple. At 20 years old, we would sit down and say ‘What are our goals? What do we want to do? Where do we want to be?’ And that wasn’t cool back then. I think it’s cooler now to be a busi­ness per­son, but I think back then .... We were talk­ing about how much of what we were earn­ing we would put into sav­ings, how much we would rein­vest, how much we would put into our RSPs. Those are the kinds of con­ver­sa­tions we were hav­ing, and it was an alien lan­guage to most of our peers.”

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