Interview: Tegan Quin on how Tegan And Sara have “changed things up” for their new album

March 20, 2012 by Annie Zaleski

Interview: Tegan Quin on how Tegan And Sara have “changed things up” for their new album

When I talked to you guys last year for the most anticipated issue, it was kind of like, “We’re not sure where things are going to go yet or how things are going to shake out.” And now it’s here! What songs are making it on the record?
Well, Greg picked six tracks to work on and I’d say that probably we wrote 45 songs in total. I’d say the six he picked are definitely more in the pop world in terms of structure and stuff—[they’re] more up-tempo, [they have] lots of really big hooks and soaring choruses and that kind of stuff. For Sara and I both musically on this record, we haven’t done as much guitar stuff. We’ve both wrote a lot on piano and keyboard this time. The guitars we added were more for texture. The songs have definitely a different tone to them. Even the way we’re singing feels really different. It’s definitely reminding me of some of our earlier work, like If It Was You and So Jealous—in terms of [how] we were way more poppy on those records and then we kind of went in a more rock, kind of indie-rock direction for our last two.

I definitely feel like there’s way more poppy vocals—way more interplay between Sara and I. We finished a song yesterday that has Sara singing the bridge that she wrote and me doing the verses and the choruses. For die-hard Tegan and Sara fans who wish we sang more together, it’s going to happen. [Laughs.] There’s definitely going to be lots more back and forth between us, which has been really nice and refreshing. I think Sara and I have really different tones to our voice and have brought a more intense story to each song, because we’ve been contributing with each other. [There are] a lot of co-writes on this record.

I’m trying to think of how to describe the direction we’ve taken, but I think it’s hard to say because right now everything is so—it’s kind of like moving day when you get to your new apartment and all your stuff is still in boxes, but you’ve ripped open a few boxes to get a colander or a shower curtain and a towel. You have a guest over and they’re like, “Yeah, the place looks great,” but really, they can’t tell. That’s sort of how I feel right now. I feel like everything needs to be put in its special place and it's not quite there, but it’ll be there soon, I promise. The apartment is going to be great.

Lyrically, what’s the tone of the record right now?
We’re both in very happy, pleasant places in our life, but I find we’re the opposite of a lot of people: When we’re really happy, we find it easier to write.  I feel like I can look back at my most miserable times and reflect on it better. When I’m really sad, I just watch television. I don’t write music. I’m not like, “I’m having a cripplingly depressing day. I’m going to write a song.” I’m like, “I’m going to eat pizza and lay on the floor and watch Netflix.”

This record, lyrically…it’s hard for me sometimes to feel my own songs, but certainly the three tracks that we’re working on of Sara’s are like… It’s crazy, because they’re so poppy and upbeat in some ways, but as soon as you start listening to it, it feels like she’s just hitting you with a fucking brick in your face. It’s so intense and deep and sad. I think we’re both reflecting on some failure in our past. We’ve kind of gotten to that age where we feel like it’s time to start taking responsibility for things. And I definitely feel like lyric-wise, we tried not to be too depressing, but definitely there’s a darkness and sullenness to this record in terms of lyrics.

Ultimately, we are in a happier place [on this record], which has made us more productive. But it’s also made it much easier to reflect on the parts of our lives that we haven’t yet dealt with, and maybe there’s some responsibility that we need to take.  At least for me, a lot of my songs are sort of from the perspective of, “Okay, maybe it wasn’t so bad—or maybe it was really bad.” You know, just like perspective—lots of lamenting about the past, but from that whole new perspective.  

I was listening to a ton of ’80s music while I was writing this record and a couple of the songs have a playfulness to it, but just kind of trying to be romantic, too. Pining and wanting something you no longer have can actually be really awesome and secretly romantic, even if you’re never going to be with that person or something. It’s kind of like drinking from a fountain of youth: It’ll never change because it’s always in your head. I feel like there’s some of the songs there’s a sort of masochism to the reasons I’m pulling from the past in this way that’s very pleasurable.

I think ’80s music is very nostalgic in general. I’m not sure why that is, but definitely the new wave songs I like are very wistful.
I spent a lot of time listening and looking through those kinds of lyrics. There was a simplicity to the way those songs were written, which I’ve always sort of erred on the side of being more literal and being simpler in my music—which sometimes dumbs down my songs or it can make them feel a little bit linear. I definitely tried not to make my songs feel linear or dumbed down, but I definitely wanted to keep the message simple. I feel like I’m at a place in my life where I wanted to find the best way to say something, not like 25 different ways.

Structurally, our music has really evolved. We spent a lot of time talking to other writers, musicians, producers. We’ve gone into the studio with a few people over the last year and for the first time ever in my career, I wasn’t just accepting the pats on the back. I was like, “Well, what would you do if you were us? How would you change it? How would you make that better? What are we not doing? As writers, why aren’t we nominated for writer of the year or whatever?” We’ve always been critically acclaimed and we have a great fan base, but we’re not necessarily always respected for being the best songwriters—why?

It was like, “No, you write great songs. Your lyrics are great. Maybe you just need to write stronger bridges or change your perspective—not so much ‘I, I, I.’ What about you and them and we?” and I’m like, “Right, okay.” I am friends with a lot of writers who write novels and short stories and those kinds of things, but television too. I got a pile of books and really felt like I went back to school. I learned how to write from a different perspective, so I hope it’s reflected in my writing on this record. I really tried a lot harder. The [record] label was like, “Tegan, you need to add more depth to your music and Sara, don’t be afraid to just give it all in your first line.” I think sometimes Sara holds it back. She creates these really beautiful, incredible landscapes, but she saves her hooks for two minutes in. I’m the kind of person like, “Here I am! It’s been five seconds. I just gave you everything!” We definitely really dove into our writing on this one.

That’s really cool. Not many people take such an academic approach to their lyrics.
Yeah, and I didn’t want to bore anybody. My girlfriend will tell you—I can repeat the same thing a thousand times. Especially if interrupted. I’ll just keep going back to it over and over and over again. I heard this wonderful

—I always blank on who said it—that [says,] “Art is never finished; it’s just abandoned.” It’s true. I literally could just rehash the same thing over and over and over again, but at some point you just decide, “Okay, it’s done” and you put it out. But when we start writing again and making a record, I just kind of pick up where I left off. This time I really wanted to—I still wanted to conjure up and pull from the emotional data base that I have going on inside of me, but I wanted to make sure I had updated where I’m coming from as a human and as a writer. alt

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interview in the studio tegan and sara tegan quin

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