Tegan & Sara's Sara Quin: We must seem like the biggest losers in love
Photo by Lindsey Byrnes
Twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin's underground following has gone quite overground during the past few years. If you know their music, you probably consume it with rabid satisfaction. On their new album, Heartthrob, the two channel '80s synth pop and bring a dance vibe to their indie-rock aesthetic. While success may come with the price of sacrifice and giving up parts of your life, the sisters are not ready to slow down.
Before their sold-out show at First Avenue tonight, Gimme Noise spoke with Sara. Polite at first, the singer becomes animated as the phone conversation digs into her passions and stances on things that truly matter to her.
Gimme Noise: How has the tour been going? Have you been running into a lot of sold-out nights?
Sara Quin: It's been going really well. There's been some sold-out shows. The kids are really excited; people seem to be into the new stuff, and we're having a blast playing the new record. It's great to be back touring again.
GN: How has the crowd been responding to this new record?
SQ: Oh, great. They're really excited, and I think the new stuff sounds awesome live. It's good to have the album out, so people can get familiar with the songs. Every night, we've gotten a crazy response to "Closer," with it being the first single. It's fun for us. We have a great dynamic live show, and the music all works together.
GN: I was talking to a friend the other night about your new album, and he said that you guys reinvent yourselves with every new album. Do you feel this to be true, and do you consciously do so when you sit down to write?
SQ: Reinventing? I suppose so. It sounds like a childish analogy, but I always think of it like when I was a kid and going back to school. You go away for the summer, then at the end of it, you're getting ready to go back. You get a haircut, buy a bunch of new clothes, and you start fresh. I think -- in a way -- every album we put out, we are conscious at having an aesthetic and theme. We want to create a whole world and content that the tour and album can live in.
I don't think this record was a different process. It's just I think we pushed that process further. We didn't want to make a record that sounded like any of our other records. We wanted to push the audience to a different place, and we also wanted to potentially give ourselves the opportunity to reach more people and a new audience.
Reinvention sometimes has a bit of a negative connotation, but I think it is accurate to say that we did reinvent ourselves on this new album. We try to inspire the audience, but ultimately, we're at the heart of it all.
GN: I feel a lot of what an artist goes through during the making of an album influences the music. What influenced this album when you and Tegan were making it?
SQ: It's funny. I think that the record is so intense and confessional about certain parts of our lives. I feel we've made ourselves over our seven albums to be heartbroken -- sort of rejected. I refer to us as losers. We must seem like the biggest losers in love, because we're always singing these breakup songs.
Obviously that's not true; I'm feeling great in my life right now. I'm in a happy relationship, and I am very content with my career, but I think it's interesting for me to go back and reimagine and score things and concepts in my life -- through the lens of a 32-year-old -- and write about it. We take the interesting parts of our lives and reconstruct and write about them. There is a part of my life that is happy and full of love and that's reciprocated, but I don't find that to be very interesting in terms of a creative process. Sometimes they are things that happen to other people and sometimes they are things I've seen happen to other people or sometimes I'm even writing from the perspective of the other person in a scenario. All of these perspectives in that context are really fascinating to me to write about.
GN: You have been doing a lot of press for this album and tour. A friend of mine recently saw your feature in Rolling Stone and misconstrued what you said to mean that you were complaining about having to practice. *(see photo) How do you feel when what you say gets turned around in publication?
SQ: The truth is that if we spent our whole lives worrying about people misconstruing what we think or what we say or what we do, we'd never get to the bottom of it. The reality is that the internet is a perfect breeding ground for people's opinions, reflections, and responses to what they see. If you see something that inspires, provokes, or intrigues you, you post about it and someone posts about your post. Onward it goes. So without seeming harsh, the truth is, I don't care what people write about. Because If I did, I would be completely bummed out by it. At some point, you have to realize that even the most innocuous statement can be misconstrued if someone is having a bad day or they read it the wrong way.
Tegan and I have fairly good boundaries with the internet, and we are very present artists, so the feedback, to me, is when we play live and in the studio. We are obviously very conscious of what's going on and how people are receiving us, but we can put up a photo and someone comments with, "My friend thinks this..." There's a million of those a day. I can't imagine the horrible or negative things people say. You can't buy into it, otherwise you'd go crazy.
Also, tell your friend I still hate rehearsing, and I don't care what he says. [laughs]
GN: Why do you hate rehearsing so much?
SQ: It's exhausting! You have to stand for ten hours and play the same songs over and over again. Where is this person from? Mars? It's the worst!
GN: Well, it's good that you still understand the importance of putting in that time to practice. A lot of artists believe that talent will take them all of the way.
SQ: At this point, I believe it's an absolute gift to be able to do something I love as my job. Not everybody will have that and at the end of the day, just because you're doing something you love doesn't mean there aren't things about it that you don't love.
I hate being away from my family and my friends. I hate that I have to miss my mom's birthday every year or that I have to miss holidays or people's funerals because I'm on the other side of the world and couldn't fly home. There are great sacrifices that you make when you are traveling and when you are traveling and investigating doing something for a living that takes you away from your friends and family. It's not complaining to acknowledge that there are sacrifices in your job. Sometimes you feel like you're doing the best thing in the world, and there are days when I truly feel blessed that we have this amazing opportunity to make art for a living.
At the end of the day, I don't take my job too seriously. It's still a job. You have to get up every day and sometimes you don't want to. Who doesn't want to lay in bed all day sometimes? It is what it is.
GN: There's tradeoff in life, no matter what job you do.
SQ: Exactly! The one thing that's really interesting and cool about what we do is that we get to meet so many different people. We've traveled all over the world; we've met so many wonderful bands and people in every walk of life. We've met so many different characters.
At the end of the day, the most significant thing to me is not my job. It's my friends, it's my parents, it's the private time I have with the people who I love and connect with. I think no matter what kind of job you have, most people if you ask them, "What's the most important thing in your life?" it probably wouldn't be their job. It would be their friends and family.
GN: Not to change gears, but I wanted to talk about yours and Tegan's connection to Minneapolis. You two toured with Astronautalis and Tegan did a music video with him about a year ago. I feel that when you're a high-profile artist, you have more leverage to pick and choose which artists you work with. What drew you two to Astronautalis?
SQ: I think the thing for us with Andy [Bothwell] was, at the time, we really felt he was doing something super original, and he had an incredible amount of energy and charisma. We loved that it was really different from what we were doing. We often like to bring bands that aren't making the kind of music we're making. We love the opportunity to introduce our audience to something that maybe they wouldn't have been drawn to in the first place, somebody who does hip-hop or a different genre. I think it's really important for us to both love the band we take on tour with us, and also for the audience to be impacted and inspired by them. Andy fit that bill perfectly. He's a wonderful guy with a positive attitude.
GN: Are there any other up-and-coming bands that we should know about?
SQ: We have a wonderful band on tour with us right now, Diana. They're fantastic, and their music is definitely not as straight-forward pop as the music we make, but I think there's so many wonderful elements to what they're doing. There's so much great music right now; it becomes overwhelming. Sometimes I'll check out for a couple of weeks, and all of a sudden I'll start looking at new releases, "All right, no idea who any of these people are." You get lost on all of the bands out there, but I try to keep my ear to the ground and pay attention to young up-and-coming bands. Maybe they'll have songs that might inspire me.
GN: You two are the epitome of an indie band that has "made it." What advice can you give to new bands or even struggling bands that can't seem to find a foothold in the industry?
SQ: Going back to what we were talking about before, it was always about loving this. I'm willing to sacrifice and dedicate myself to it 100 percent. I think being willing to do all of that allowed us to put in the time and energy that you need to put in to make it. There are few bands that are gonna make a record, have a video, then have a huge career overnight. That doesn't really happen. You have to be willing to tour 250 days a year. That's what we do; we work every day. I'm taking calls and making plans until midnight every night. You have to be willing to sacrifice everything. It's one of those jobs you can't do half the time.
Other advice that I can give: I think people forget being in a band is amazing and if you can make it, you are one of the few lucky people, but there are so many opportunities in the music industry. You can be a musician and still work a multitude of positions. Right now, on the road with us we have over 15 people, and they all do different things. Sound engineers, guitar techs, lighting engineers, front-of-house, tour managers, production managers -- and that's just touring. You can have a record label and radio stations. There are so many neat opportunities in music. Not every band can make it, but I think to be able to work in the field you love -- even if you can't make it as a band -- you can do so many different jobs.
If tomorrow our band couldn't do this anymore and make a living, I can imagine myself doing a dozen other things in the music industry alone. That's my advice. Your band may not be able to make a living right away, but you could work in the industry and eventually your band starts to make a name for themselves and you don't have to do that other job anymore. Learning about the industry and working within the infrastructure I think is one of the smartest things people can do.
GN: You seem passionate about music; I find people like that approach everything in life with the same view. Do you think this is true?
SQ: I love being able to make music and interact with people, so I think I'm the kind of person that -- if I hadn't ended up doing music -- would have been enthusiastic about whatever I ended up doing. I've always been motivated. Again, that's not a right, that's a privilege. I feel there's a lot of people in my life who do jobs they hate -- and they're great people -- it's just not everybody's gonna end up in a place where they love what they do. But because I love what I do, I try to be as positive as I can about it.
GN: What can we expect to see at your First Avenue show when you come to Minneapolis?
SQ: I think we have a great live show. We talk a lot to the audience and try to involve and engage them. I hate the idea of having this wall between us and the crowd. We play some old songs, but we also play the new record. It's a long show -- close to two hours -- but it's worth it. It's great.
Tegan and Sara will perform with Diana at First Avenue on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.
18+, $35, 7 pm
This show is sold out.
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