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Indie faves Tegan and Sara shoot for pop-star heights with 'Love You to Death'

Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara Pamela Littky

Tegan and Sara are not the girls you used to know.

While the twin sisters from Canada have remained lyrically loyal to naked truths about matters of the heart, their sound has changed considerably over their career. What started off as an acoustic folk act and later dabbled in indie rock has now adopted a heavily produced style, veering into synth-pop territory.

Tegan and Sara’s latest full length, Love You to Death, evokes the catchiness of Taylor Swift tunes but is infused with much-appreciated maturity and emotional heft. Listeners clearly approve of the duo’s ever-changing nature: The band boasts over 1 million albums sold, a Grammy nomination, and legions of adoring fans.

We spoke to Sara Quin in anticipation of the band’s return to Minneapolis on Monday at the State Theatre.

City Pages: The sound of Love You To Death is quite different from your previous albums, especially given how you two started out. To what do you attribute the evolution?

Sara Quin: The simplest answer is time. I think each album comes from the past years of listening, and educating ourselves, and playing music, and experiencing new kinds of music, and discovering new bands. You kind of just change. We’ve been around so long, I think it’s inevitable. I also think it’s necessary.

I don’t know if anyone would want to still hear the kind of records we were making 20 years ago. Currently, the influences of pop music and electronic music and hip-hop production have made their way into our lives and our subconscious. At least the last couple albums, when we’re creating music, we’re grabbing those tools more often than we would guitars and organic-sounding instruments.

CP: One thing that hasn’t changed in your music is the theme of love. Why has that been a focal point?

SQ: We like to think of it as being more about relationships. A lot of this album, for me, was actually written about the relationship with Tegan, that sibling connection, made all the more unique by the fact that we’re twins and we’ve shared this incredible life and career together. I find that really fascinating to write about.

There’s obviously a lot of different music about politics or current events, but I think most great music focuses on human connections and love, both romantic and familial. That’s where we’re most inspired.

CP: How does your approach to, and experience with, love and relationships differ from Tegan’s?

SQ: Oh my God. I think we’re both really different. I tend to be a little bit more introverted. I’ve spent a lot of my adulthood out of relationships. I tend to isolate and do my own thing and Tegan has always been someone who’s always enjoyed connection. She loves being in relationships. She’s a very comfortable duo. Even with me, I think there have been times where I’ve forced us into a more independent existence, and I would get kickback from her.

CP: As twin sisters who work together, you must fight from time to time. What are you most likely to fight about?

SQ: In our career, there’s certainly struggles and friction and tension, but the drama of our younger years has gone away. We’re 35 now and I think we’ve managed to build a skill set that allows us to negotiate pretty intense situations without having to devolve into screaming or fighting or childish stuff. We have conflicts about really normal things: making decisions, what our schedule’s going to look like, how much we want to do. We’re really good at compromise and we’ve gotten a lot better.

CP: Is there anything Tegan doesn’t know about you? Do you keep secrets?

SQ: I don’t know that I keep secrets, but we’ve definitely come into our own and have very independent lives. There are certainly parts of my life that Tegan isn’t as familiar with as she is with other parts. Especially right now, she’s pretty involved in my personal relationships and what’s going on in my life. I think we’re pretty transparent with one another.

CP: In the song “BWU," there’s a lyric that goes, “I don’t need a white wedding.” Is that an anti-marriage statement or is it about being against the wedding industry?

SQ: I don’t want to say it’s anti-marriage. It’s definitely a comment on the institution and the industry itself. The point of writing a song about it is the correlation to the movement for marriage equality within the LGBT equality, something that Tegan and I were heavily involved in both in Canada and the United States.

I feel strongly about advocating for those rights internationally, but for myself, I quite dislike the institution of marriage. I think you can still be someone who will lend their support to people who do want to get married, but I myself am opting out.

CP: Regarding your song “That Girl,” can you describe “that girl” and why you don’t want to be her?

SQ: It’s Tegan’s song, so I’m sort of speaking on her behalf. I think we all get into those situations with our lives where we’re shocked to realize that we’ve become, or we’re behaving like, someone we don’t really recognize or like. As we get older, it’s easier to see that there are parts of yourself that are unhealthy or aren’t your best side. “That Girl” is about letting that person, that part of you, take over, and not wanting that to happen.

CP: The song “Dying To Know” seems to be about having a post-mortem with an ex. Have you ever had one of those conversations where you try to process the relationship after it ended? Did it go well?

SQ: [Laughs] I’ve certainly had conversations with my exes about the relationships. I sort of see my relationships ending as the beginning of another stage of our connection. I tend to turn those relationships into deeply connected friendships, so “Dying To Know” is kind of funny because I definitely have had people in my life who I’ve dated and then, when it’s over, it’s bad, we don’t talk.

But it’s kind of unusual. I like to be friends with people that I’ve dated. If something really goes badly with someone after we’ve dated, I’m super uncomfortable, like “What happened? Why can’t we be friends?”

CP: Has touring made relationships more difficult?

SQ: I’ve been touring since I got out of high school. It’s all I’ve ever really known. I think, in a way, it’s just made me have to find specific kinds of people. I date really confident, independent, self-motivated people. I have no patience for people who are insecure, or self-conscious, or possessive, like they need to know what I’m doing at all times. Sometimes I’m in a time zone across the world and I’m touring and traveling and doing promo and press and playing shows.

I have to have a partner who feels really confident and strong and not needing me all the time to be reassuring them. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that the challenging part is not necessarily the relationship, it’s finding the kind of person who can be excited and challenged and comfortable in a relationship with someone like me.

CP: Once you’ve achieved a certain level of success, which you two have, what’s next? What do you dream of for the future, professionally and personally?

SQ: I always sort of have my eye on the future. I think it’s the nature of being an anxious musician/entrepreneur. I’m always thinking, “Oh, God, what if no one buys concert tickets? What if next year no one cares about us?” When we started out, if you had told me we’d be where we are right now, I probably would have been like, “Great. If we can get there, then I won’t have to worry anymore.” But you get to the next level, and you feel worried about getting to the next level! It’s part of being a human being.

I definitely feel like there are still things for our band to achieve, both artistically and professionally. On a personal note, we’re always looking at other ways to engage in things that we care about politically and personally and use our career as a way to parallel with other stuff that doesn’t have to do with making music videos or selling concert tickets.

Tegan and I both share a political view of, “There’s more work to be done than just performing songs.” We feel strongly that we can be more helpful and useful sometimes offstage. As we get older, I can see this career dovetailing into something maybe more in advocacy and activism and hopefully doing good in the world.

Tegan and Sara
When: 7:30 p.m.  Mon., Sept. 12
Where: State Theatre
Tickets: $36; more info here