Eight albums into their 21-year career, it somehow feels like Tegan And Sara are only just getting started. The Canadian indie pop duo’s latest long-player Love You To Death peaked at No.30 in the UK earlier this month, their highest chart position to date.
Last year they performed at the Oscars, but to the masses on this side of the Atlantic at least, they remain a well-kept secret. “I still think of our audience in the UK as being a cult following, just because we don’t get the kind of mainstream radio play and television that some other artists do,” Sara tells Music Week. “There’s something unique about feeling like you’re this kind of treasure that they’ve discovered – that’s a really fun place to be in.”
The Calgary-born sisters, comprising identical twins Tegan and Sara Quin, returned to these shores last week for two sold out nights at London’s Koko. They switched booking agencies in 2015, joining WME from The Agency Group (now part of United Talent Agency). “After [2013 album] Heartthrob we decided that, because we’d been with the same people for just over 10 years, we wanted to take a fresh approach,” reflects Sara.
“You feel bad because these relationships are so important. We’ve always worked with people we deeply respect and admire, but we wanted to challenge ourselves, and that meant completely dismantling our touring operation and then re-approaching it. We have new booking agents, we’ve hired a totally different band, crew, and just switched up the infrastructure to try to make sure that we’re doing something totally fresh for this album.”
Love You To Death was met with rave reviews by critics, something that delighted and alarmed the sisters in equal measure. “It’s funny because over the length of our career, there have been albums that have not been reviewed well and it’s hard, because you put so much effort into it and it can really mess with your head,” reflects Sara.
“But one thing that having bad reviews taught me is that one person’s opinion is not necessarily representative of the way the music is connecting to an audience. We’re really fortunate that for a lot of our career we’ve had a fanbase that doesn’t seem interested or concerned about what music journalists think.”
She laughs: “As we get older and our records are more critically acclaimed, I’m always almost suspicious and think, Does this mean that the audience isn’t going to connect? But so far so good!”
The album was released on June 3 on Neil Young’s Vapor Records, via Warner, their home ever since signing their first record deal some 15 years ago. “We use them as a way to distribute and market our band and they’ve always been incredibly respectful of letting us set the tone,” says Sara.
“I always think that the smaller the circle and the more closed the loop, the more effective the message - that’s always been the way we’ve approached it - but I have nothing but positive things to say about Warner.”
Seventh album Heartthrob charted at No.38 and remains their biggest selling in the UK to date, shifting 16,018 units according to Official Charts Company data. The pop-oriented record has been cited as a key influence for Taylor Swift’s all-conquering 1989 (Swift is a noted T&S fan), although Sara is reluctant to take any credit.
“There was a sea change in music that we were caught up in,” she insists.
“We were influenced by what was happening in pop music, and Heartthrob was influenced by Robyn and Alicia Keys. It was just our version of pop music, taking the DNA of what we have always done as songwriters, and as lyricists, and then applying some of our sonic interest in terms of production and keyboards.
“I know Taylor has said that she really loved Heartthrob and it influenced her, but I also think it was happening in general in the music industry. I don’t think it’s as big a deal now; there are so many bands making pop records or pop-influenced records and it’s exciting. We’re just humbled to be included amongst those people.”
On Love You To Death’s lead single Boyfriend, which tackles LGBT themes such as heteronormativity, Sara notes: “I want music that is appealing and enjoyable, but I also want the message to be advancing the identities of people who very rarely get to have that kind of visibility in the mainstream.”
As prominent advocates for the LGBT community - they were named Outstanding Music Artist at the 2014 GLAAD Media Awards - their message has never been more vital, given the recent tragic events in Orlando. “It’s been disheartening because there’s so much positivity around being gay,” laments Sara.
“To me, this was a hate crime. No matter what was influencing or inspiring this person’s actions, hate was at the heart of it. It’s hate against a marginalised minority and that’s devastating. And it’s scary as a gay person, but also as someone who’s in the public all the time.
We’re very aware of how vulnerable we make ourselves by being so out and so outspoken.”
On a happier note, the duo are glad to be back on stage, where they feel most at home. “It’s how we’ve always made a living,” says Sara. “We’ve had radio singles over the years, but it’s never guaranteed, nor is record sales at this point; it’s such a crapshoot.
So for us, touring has always been a way to be with our fans and to sharpen our skills.
“I think we’ve become a stronger band because we tour so much and that helps with songwriting and delivering stronger records. I just love touring, I think it’s where we belong.”