With the release of their seventh studio album Hearthrob, Tegan and Sara have moved away from their indie rock, guitar based roots and taken an unapologetic leap towards mainstream success. The identical twin sisters have been making music together since 2000 and have gradually built a loyal and steadily growing fan base in their native Canada and the U.S. Recent collaborations with the likes of Tiësto and David Guetta have seen the girls become one of the biggest bands to watch in 2013. State spoke to Sara and got her own refreshingly honest take on everything from her sexuality, the taboo of morphing into pop stars and the band’s unexpected Grammy nomination.
Musically this album takes a different direction than your previous material, what prompted that change?
We feel very proud of our musical lineage and with each album I think we take a necessary step forward. We could have gone in a different direction with every record, but I don’t know if this record was that different. I think it was because of who we worked with and potentially our age and becoming better song writers but I think the end result is more substantially different than our previous efforts. It’s exciting for us, all we think about is how can we continue to engage people that are already fans of our band and still get into the ears of new people who have not heard our band or people who have heard our band but didn’t like what they heard. The strategy about making music, obviously at first it is just about the creative process, but once you’ve made the record it has to be more cerebral and we have to think about the opportunities that could be afforded to us if we have a more mainstream sounding record.
This time you worked with more pop and dance producers. What was it about dance music that made you confident it would blend well with your original sound?
It was less about dance music per se and more about taking the instrumental tracks we were working on and keeping them away from a traditional rock band format. Tegan and I do a lot of recording at home so even on the other records we’re building drum loops and keyboards as place holders and then we would get into the studio and play them with a real band. I think with this record, we were less focused on ‘let’s make sure this feels like five people standing in a room playing’, it gives it more of a electronic slant. We’re in rehearsals right now with a band of people trying to play this record and it’s been so much easier than I thought it was going to be because they’re so many electronic elements on the record. I think there’s an energy that was captured, which will be easy to transfer live. These songs are like little mini anthems. Every song is so straight forward, I love our old music but sometimes the arrangements or lyrics could be a bit left of centre. Even though I wrote those songs and feel very proud of them, there’s a bit of a relief in writing songs that are more straight forward.
As female artists, was there any pressure to change the image of the band. To become more edgy or sexy, to go along with the new mainstream sound?
Not really… there was certainly a hesitation from the label about changing things too much. We’re at a stage in our career where we’re much more comfortable as artists and as people so our interest and our confidence in pushing things both sonically and aesthetically, I think made the label nervous. It’s not the first time… when we first got signed, that record that got us signed was an acoustic record. Then we made This Business of Art and If It Was You and our label thought they were a total departure from the band that they had signed. The president of the label said ‘I’m not sure if this is the right direction’. We respected him greatly but said ‘this is our direction’. It is not the first time that people have said that- ‘this is a substancial change, are you sure it’s the right one?’
Are you worried that fans of the older material won’t embrace the new sound?
There’s always worry. Tegan and I are desperate to please people, I think that’s what makes us empathic and in touch with our fan base. On the other hand, I was more afraid that we’d make a record that wasn’t different or exciting or new enough. I think if there’s a focus on ‘oh shit, do you think you’re alienating you’re really loyal fan base by making something new’ and all I could think was ‘oh fuck!, I don’t want to make something that’s boring and isn’t contributing something new to the song book of our band’.
When you work with Tegan, does sibling rivalry ever rear its head?
We have a fairly good work ethic when it comes to, ‘this is Tegan’s song’ or ‘this is my song. We hammered out that structure early in our career so there’s been very few fights about that. There’s certainly times were we have conflicts, but it very rarely has to do with the writing of the music or the performance of the music. I think we’re competitive but in a very different way. We never fought about what songs are going to make a record- we just always know. Whatever is ultimately best for the band is generally where we gravitate to.
At the Golden Globes recently, Jodie Foster officially ‘came out’ after many years of being private about her sexuality. As two openly gay females, did either you or Tegan ever have doubts about ‘coming out’ publicly?
It never occurred to me to not be comfortable or talk about it publicly. I always felt it was far more important to be comfortable and to be visible as a signal that there’s no issue. My relationship is the same as anyone else’s that’s in a heterosexual relationship. What I took away from her speech was the point she kept hammering home about how she should be able to have a private life. She didn’t realise that she was on display or in a reality show. I don’t want to beat up on Jodie Foster here, I think It takes a lot of bravery especially after 40 years in the public eye. I’m sure there were times when people told her that she shouldn’t come out. Her story is far more complicated then ours. I don’t think that saying ‘yes I’m gay’ and ‘yes I’m in a relationship’ is a betrayal of any sort of privacy. I demand my private life be private. I also spend my life seeing people getting married and holding hands and wearing wedding rings and embracing in the street. I want to be a fabric of this society and culturally it’s significant that I acknowledge my identity because if I didn’t it’s either assumed that I’m straight or it’s assumed that I’m gay so I might as well just acknowledge it.
I think for Tegan and I, because of the time we were becoming public figures, there was less apprehension about being queer and also acknowledging it. I think because were musicians it matters a little less. When you’re an actor, the less people know about you the better. The most important thing is to be happy. What I saw in the speech was maybe someone that seemed a little isolated, lonely or a little afraid, that maybe she had to protect this part of herself and that made me feel really sad. I play music for a living; I live in a very special, safe artist world. I think about all the kids who are growing up, not feeling excepted and are afraid to come out. They may never have the tolerance I had growing up. It’s important to me to be a beacon of hope for them, to say hey, I’m fine, my life has been fantastic. Until we have the same legal rights as heterosexual people, the conversation is still important. Once there’s marriage equality, adoption equality, then lets all move on from it.
You are currently touring and you are known as a live band, for having a great relationship with your audience, but constant performing must become gruelling…
I think there’s a spectrum. Just like anybody else, there are days when I feel really invested and excited and others where I’d rather be at home, or I’m having a bad day or the audience isn’t responding, there’s a thousand variables. What I feel most grateful for in general is that I love what I do. Not just the performing part, travelling, the camaraderie between me and Tegan and our band. Also, the conversations that we have had and the people we’ve met. I love being able to spent months in Montreal, in my closet, writing songs and drinking coffee in my sweat pants. I love having a job were everyday there’s something different. That said, there can be monotony to touring. It can be hard and a bit daunting but in general it’s such a cool job.
Heartthrob is released on Friday through Warners