courtesy Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara have made it big

Sara Quin talks about the ups and downs of mainstream success

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Calgarian indie-rock duo Tegan and Sara, who perform at MacHall on Feb. 28 and March 1, knew they wanted to surprise people with their seventh studio album. 

If nothing else, Heartthrob, an album influenced by the band’s recent forays into electronic music via collaborations with Tiesto, Morgan Page and David Guetta, is a surprising record. What is even more surprising is the amount of attention the record is receiving from mainstream media after the band has quietly maintained a small but devoted fan base for over a decade. 

But as has become commonplace when an indie band achieves anything remotely successful, Heartthrob, which debuted at number three on Billboard’s top 200 chart, has been met with cries of sellout by the ‘I knew them before they were famous’ crowd. 

Sara Quin, one half of the twin singing and songwriting duo making up Tegan and Sara, brushes off these accusations as antiquated.

“It’s such an outdated idea that by earning a living or becoming more broadly accepted, that somehow this diminishes or reduces the value of your art — I just don’t believe that anymore,” explains Sara. “If I was 25 and someone had called me a sellout I would have felt totally devastated, but that would have been based more on my own snobbery and fairly narrow views on how music works and how the industry works.” 

In the past the band has always been well received by indie critics and music publications, but now at age 32 with over a decade of experience in the music industry, Sara feels the band is ready to step comfortably into mainstream. 

Already Tegan and Sara have been doing more press than ever before, including a performance on The Ellen Degeneres Show and a collection of humourous YouTube videos featuring interviews with ‘heartthrobs’ like Andy Samberg. But in true Canadian fashion, one of the proudest moments of the last few months for Sara was when Peter Mansbridge mentioned the band on the CBC’s The National. 

While discussing how the electronic-pop sounds of Heartthrob fit into the Tegan and Sara’s indie-rock discography, Sara confesses that she is actually a little embarrassed by the band’s earlier and rawer efforts like their 1999 album Under Feet Like Ours. 

“I feel like we’re flailing and I don’t see what we were exactly trying to accomplish with that record,” she explains. “But I also hear the younger version of me trying to figure out how to turn my influences and my inspirations, people like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna and Bruce Springsteen and the Smashing Pumpkins and the Talking Heads and Kate Bush, those were the all the things I was listening to back then trying to take those influences and make music.” 

Now, Sara feels the band has managed to channel their influences into a separate and unique identity and firmly believes that Heartthrob represents Tegan and Sara’s strongest effort to date in terms of songwriting. 

The band’s successful transition into mainstream has also been a point of personal vindication, explains Sara, admitting to having believed that she and Tegan would never be on pop radio “because we’re not straight, because we don’t have long hair, because we don’t do dance routines.” 

But Sara says she’s abandoned those thoughts with the success of Heartthrob and believes that there is a place in mainstream alongside mega pop stars, like Rihanna and Katy Perry, for a less traditional band like Tegan and Sara. 

“Every time we put out a record it sells more copies, it gets bigger, more people come to the shows and that’s what is important to me,” says Sara.

For old fans struggling to identify with the new record or Tegan and Sara’s increasing popularity, Sara has this to say: “We are always gonna play those old songs, we are always going to be that band. That part is always there.”