Tegan and Sara blend sharp introspection with sparkling dance music

By Prachi Kamble
Love You To Death kicks off the punk electronistas’ North American tour. Photo: Pamela Littky

Love You To Death kicks off the punk electronistas’ North American tour.
Photo: Pamela Littky

VANCOUVER — It seems like the mainstream is finally ready for Tegan and Sara, Canada’s prodigal sweethearts. Now regularly seen performing alongside pop volcanoes like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, the Calgarian Quin twins have given Canadian music its fun-loving, progressive image. Love You To Death, their eighth album, was released this year and the ladies will be bringing the fruits of this electro-pop labour to Vancouver (and beyond). The duo has family in the city and Tegan now has her own place. “I never really left!” she says. Her voice is spritely on a sunny Monday afternoon. Conversation comes so easy to her. She sounds like your new best friend and makes you want to forget that this conversation has a scheduled end. “Vancouver is like nowhere else in the world,” says Tegan. “The housing bubble, the location, the isolation, all create an incredible energy to write songs in.” Tegan admits to have written many of her favourite songs here. “There is something amazing and beautiful about the city but also isolating and dark. The part of me that needs to expand on darkness really thrives in Vancouver!”

Weeks from tour, Tegan considers the band’s ability to keep things exciting on the road. “The worst that could happen to us is becoming disenfranchised and entitled. I feel we have to earn our right to be here, year after year, show after show.”

Love You to Death is a collection of serious stories dressed up in happy, energetic dance beats. “That’s the signature Tegan and Sara sound these days. Taking dark, deep, introspective themes and pairing them with upbeat music. That sums up ‘80s dance music and pop music,” explains Tegan. Now in their 30s, Tegan and Sara are happier and more secure than they were in their 20s, as tends to happen with us all. Still, Sara’s side of the record is about “fighting anxiety, sadness, and the struggles and isolation felt being in a band.” Tegan’s own songs deal with love gone wrong and are tongue-in-cheek. “Our past work has been about pointing the finger outside. You left me. You hurt me. This record is pointing the finger at ourselves. What role did I play? What did I do?”

Influence-wise the band focused on recreating an early ‘90s feel and merging it with an ‘80s pop sound, taking inspiration from early TLC. “We wanted the vocals to sit on top and be organic and sparse. Less layering, less tuning. The music had to lie on a bed of retro but feel super modern.”

Photo: Pamela Littky

Photo: Pamela Littky

What is it like to make music with your twin then? One can only imagine the calibre of their creative partnership. “I haven’t really made music with anyone else,” she confesses, “so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. But 20 years into making music with Sara, it’s still exciting. When I get an email from her with an attachment, I know it’s a song! I still feel so thrilled.” There have been ups and downs, Sara moving to the East Coast, and the duo almost breaking up. “Our time together became precious. We learned valuable lessons pretty quickly when Sara moved away.” Their maturing relationship has meant they collaborate on each other’s material now more than ever. “Each song starts with one of us. Then depending on how much it needs to be reworked, there’s collaboration.”

As two vocal gay women, Tegan and Sara have never separated their activism from their music. Tegan describes living an idyllic childhood in northeast working-class Calgary, and being colourful ravers and punk rockers in their teens. She remembers being excited to see Vancouver’s vibrant gay scene out of high school. Only on joining the music industry did the sisters experience any less than cool hostility. “We surprisingly suffered a lot more sexism and misogyny than homophobia! But we were really lucky to sign with a really amazing record company.” The sisters were always protected by their label. “People have more confidence when showering men with praise whereas women are dissected and studied. We survived it by surrounding ourselves with positive people who respect us and who we respect. That would be my advice for our fans and anyone experiencing discrimination.”

With strong character and strong music, it’s no wonder Tegan and Sara command some next level fan love. We say don’t waste another second in joining this indie dance party!

Tegan and Sara perform at TCU Place (Saskatoon) on September 9th, Centennial Concert Hall (Winnipeg) on September 10th, Queen Elizabeth Theatre (Vancouver) on October 5th, BMO Centre (Calgary) on October 7th and Shaw Conference Centre (Edmonton) on October 8th.

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