In anticipation of a return to Frederik Meijer Gardens on Aug. 17, Revue had the pleasure of asking a few questions of Tegan Quin (one half of Canadian indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara). The twin sisters are currently touring in support of their 2016 LP Love You To Death, and are gearing up for a fall tour, revisiting their seminal 2007 LP The Con. Best-known to casual listeners for their bouncy multi-platinum pop hit Closer, Tegan and Sara have toured with everyone from Taylor Swift and Katy Perry to Neil Young and The Killers, while winning over thousands at major music festivals all over the world. Still outsiders to the mainstream music world at heart, the Quin sisters bring a message of inclusion and self-acceptance to their shows, frequently speaking out about LGBTQ issues and mental health awareness. Here’s what Tegan had to say to Revue about those topics and more.
You and Sara last performed here in Grand Rapids at Frederik Meijer Gardens back in 2014. What do you remember about that performance?
Oh! I remember being so excited that people showed up! And that the show was outdoors! We don't play our own shows outdoors very often so I remember feeling really excited about that. I also looked back at some video and I was wearing my favorite polka dot pants.
What do you like most about performing outdoors, and how different do you feel the energy of your live show is outdoors, as opposed to inside?
Well, we have performed outside a lot but always for festivals or opening for a bigger act. So, the energy for outdoor shows is often huge. There are typically big IMAG screens projecting your image. And typically we imagine that not everyone knows who we are, so there is a bit of a ‘show’ that has to take place. Our band is often known for banter and intimacy with the audience, but at the big festivals and outdoor shows that's harder to create. So what is interesting about playing outdoors for a headline show of our own is that we don’t do it that often and it’s got completely different energy than a big festival or support slot. The audience is there for you! So it feels like you can create the intimacy of an indoor headline show but outside. And there is truly nothing like playing under the stars on a beautiful summer evening. It really just changes the whole energy.
I’ve heard that since the release of [your latest LP] Love You To Death last year, you’ve reworked some of your older songs to make them gel better with the more keyboard-centric, pop sound of your new material. Just how much has your live showed evolved?
With every new record cycle, but also with every tour, we try and approach the new and old material different than on record or from past tours. Part of this process is just to keep ourselves challenged and excited about playing it, but also we do this to keep the fans, who come back time and time again to see us, entertained. As creative people, sometimes playing the same songs the same way every single night can get a bit dry. So we try and approach the material — especially the older songs we’ve played so many times before — with a new approach to keep us on our toes. There is something hard to describe about seeing the faces and reactions of fans when they realize that we are playing an older song they didn’t recognize initially. It’s like throwing a surprise party for the audience six times a night! Gets me every time. And them.
Speaking of older songs, I see that this fall you’ll be doing a tour in support of the 10th anniversary of your album The Con. What has it been like revisiting that album – and that period of your life – a decade later?
Mostly positive. It’s thrilling to see the fans reaction to the announcement of the tour. I think for many of our older fans, it’s exciting for them to imagine coming to a theater this fall and getting to see us play the whole record The Con from start to finish. For us it feels the same. It’s a challenge we haven’t ever attempted before and so we are really looking forward to it. We are also reissuing some of the merchandise from that era, and we just announced a covers record of The Con with 14 artists we love and respect. So it’s an exciting time. Looking back can be hard, but that era of our career and life was full of so many great things. There were still so many challenges but that was truly when we felt our career start to give way to so many new heights.
Speaking of the covers album, who were you most surprised to hear covering your songs, and how does it feel to see how that album impacted other artists?
The Con X Covers project has been a dream. Seriously. It was always something we had talked about doing but had never had the right project to do it with. When we decided to go about getting artists to cover The Con, I was initially terrified no one would say yes. We really wanted to engineer a ton of diversity and we wanted as many women as possible. Too often the numbers are so unbalanced – men versus women – on festivals, the radio, the charts, in magazines, signings to labels. ... So we are trying to balance things a bit. So most of the artists on the record will be women. There are some awesome feminist men too though, don’t you worry. And every song has blown my mind in a different way. Some are tear jerkers, some are bangers. It’s fascinating to hear how each artist interpreted the music. It’s a beautiful record, if I do say so myself. I think as an artist it’s very strange and exciting to hear your music through the lens of someone else, especially artists outside our own genre. It’s like it’s not our song anymore. You can almost hear the words, or feel the energy of the song as if it’s not your own, or as if you are hearing it for the first time. It’s hard to explain, but thrilling. I think our fans – and fans of the other bands – will love the record. I am so proud of it!
If you were able to tell your 10-years-younger self anything, what would you say? And what do you think she would say back?
Well. It’s cheesy, but I think I’d just tell 10 years younger self that it truly does work. All that touring and talking and fighting and marketing and rewriting worked. That it gets easier – sort of – and more fun – sort of – and bigger. I’d just encourage us to keep going. We were really starting to have a lot more fun around that time. I don’t know how much advice I’d need to give. We had finally got our own tour bus. I was finally staying in my own hotel room after nearly 10 years of sharing with Sara. I was pretty stoked. I had an asymmetrical mullet. I mean, what more could I tell me?
At this point in your career, how do you feel about being thought of as groundbreakers for another generation of LGBTQ musicians who are coming up now? Do you welcome that added pressure?
I don’t feel any added pressure. It IS a big responsibility. But one we have always felt. It’s important to be visible if you can. And we can. We have power and we have a platform and we have the support of our team, our community, our family and our industry partners. Both of us feel like there is so much work to do be done. Music is important. And it brings people together. It allows us to get in front of thousands and thousands of people a year. Which is wonderful. We don’t underestimate the significance of being the band we are for these past 20 years. But, there is much to be done still for our community. And we feel like it’s time we step up and legitimize the work.
At the end of last year, you both started the Tegan & Sara Foundation (teganandsarafoundation.org) in reaction to the presidential election and general political climate here in the U.S. How much of an undertaking has the foundation been so far?
Truthfully, it’s been a big lift. We wanted to ensure we were informed and educated. So we spent a lot of the first year meeting with LGBTQ organizations to talk through the issues facing the community and where the gaps were in funding. We wanted to truly understand how we could help and where our energy was best spent. So it’s been a big year of learning for us. Our focus will be North America to start. And it’s a big continent with a lot of issues to fight. But we are ready to do so. Regardless of this election, there were statistics that showed LGBTQ women and girls were falling behind in research, funding and representation in America and Canada. People of color and trans women in our community are suffering greatly. And we wanted to bring some hope. We wanted to give back what we could. Our access allows us to get in the room with so many people that a lot of the smaller grassroots LGBTQ orgs can’t get in the room with. We want to do our part to redistribute funds to those that need it most, and bring in new funds to the LGBTQ community. We are ready to fight!
What do you hope the foundation will be able to do to help LGBTQ girls and women all around the world?
Our hope initially was to reassure those in our community that there is a wonderful grassroots movement happening to protect and push forward rights, funding and change in our community. We wanted to raise visibility for those most marginalized in the community. As small as it might seem, we wanted all LGBTQ people – specifically women and girls – to know that we see the numbers, see the inequity, and want to help fix it. I hope we can aggressively support women and girls in our community by funding smaller organizations that center on women and girls to raise their self-esteem, help them advocate for themselves in the workplace, at school, at the doctors, and at home. To see better representations of themselves in media and to give them some of the small but incredibly important life experiences – summer camps, books they are able to relate to and see themselves in, competent doctors – that will help them build and live strong, happy lives.
I know another issue that’s very personal for you is removing the stigma of mental health issues. In light of Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell’s deaths this year, do you feel that there’s an even greater urgency to open up that dialogue about mental health now, especially in the music industry?
We have always spoken openly throughout our career about our own struggles with anxiety, depression and loss. For us it has been cathartic to be able to share with our audience, each other, and through our music, our ups and downs. Everyone struggles. Everyone suffers. We try and make that as ‘normal’ and as ‘everyday’ as we can. At shows, we try and make light of the darkness. But also reassure people it’s OK to stumble. To need a hand. More than ever before we take a moment to specifically talk about feeling hopeless. And we try and connect with the audience in order to reach the few or many that might be suffering silently. I think we – the media is a big part of this – need to do more to ensure that people out there know that depression is common and nothing to be ashamed about. And certainly through our music we hope to be creating a community of likeminded people who can support one another. I think this is the magic of music and live shows and online forums. Sadly, even for those of us onstage, sometimes that’s not enough. But, we can keep working at it. We must.
Tegan and Sara
Aug. 17, 7 p.m. (gates open 5:45 p.m.)
Frederik Meijer Gardens, 1000 East Beltline Ave. NE, Grand Rapids
meijergardens.org, (616) 957-1580