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Tegan & Sara’s dramatic change of heart
This humble Star Observer correspondent was mere seconds away from speaking to Sara Quin (pronounced Sarah – right?) of Canadian indie-pop duo Tegan & Sara when disaster struck.
“Just putting you through to SAH-ra now,” said the operator, instantly striking a chord of doubt about just how one-half of the world’s most famous lesbian identical twin music duo pronounces her name.
“Hey…guuuuurl,” was our panicked introduction, eliciting a hearty laugh from the singer, who has clearly fielded the question from many a confused hack.
“You were right, it is pronounced Sarah. People always call me ‘Sah-ra’ and it makes me feel really exotic, so I never correct anyone. You can call me whatever you want, though.”
Let’s go with ‘pop star’. Because, primed by recent dance collaborations with the likes of Tiesto and David Guetta, Tegan & Sara are about to release their strongest, most accessible record to date. Heartthrob is a fizzy burst of power pop, like the soundtrack to some long-lost John Hughes teen movie.
“We definitely knew we wanted to make a record that was going to be more universally appealing. I felt after our last record [2009’s Sainthood] that we’d hit a bit of a glass ceiling. What about pop radio? What about headlining festivals? What about visiting countries we’ve never been to? It was about making songs to help with those goals,” Quin explained.
“We wanted to work with producers from the pop world who’d challenge us with more ambitious ideas about where the songs could go. Someone who could say ‘You need a new chorus here’, and instead of crying or telling them to go fuck themselves, we’d be pushed to try something better.”
Given the sisters started their careers as earnest indie-folk singers, their transformation into ambitious pop idols hasn’t been without a few bumps. Quin said some had already criticised Heartthrob as being ‘less personal’ than their past work.
“It’s weird, because I think the opposite is true. Instead of being a 25-year-old indie rocker hiding my meanings in weird metaphors, I really just sat down and wrote what I felt. It was so embarrassingly straightforward, and I don’t know that I would have had the confidence to write those songs in my 20s.”
She’s right – tracks like lead single Closer (sample lyric: “All I’m dreaming lately/is how to get you underneath me”) have the unvarnished honesty of teenage diary entries.
“It’s interesting, because when I was younger people would say that to me and I would always be annoyed by it. Like, ‘Oh, do you ask Sufjan Stevens if he’s writing in a fucking diary?’ Why when a woman is writing in a confessional way do we turn it into Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex & The City, reading aloud while eating ice cream on her bed?” she asked, leaving the Star Observer feeling as though we’d asked when she planned on growing out of this whole lesbian phase and finding herself a nice husband.
“But now as an adult with so many different responsibilities, I find it so freeing to sit down and just write a song about, say, somebody being mean to me. It’s so nice to sit down and have an emotional tantrum and not be 32 for a minute.”
As Quin explained, Heartthrob isn’t just a title – it’s a thread that extends beyond the music to every aspect of the campaign. The sisters are in the process of interviewing a few modern-day heartthrobs for their YouTube channel – in one video, Pitch Perfect dreamboat Skylar Astin joins them in a poster-covered bedroom to ruminate on the complex relationship gay kids have with their heroes.
“The people who initially made me feel funny, I can now look back as an adult with more of an understanding of why. Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block – I don’t think I wanted to date him, I think I wanted to be him. When Tiffany was huge with I Think We’re Alone Now, I felt really weird but looking back, I realise it was probably my first stirrings of teenage sexuality,” she chuckled.
Now Tegan & Sara are themselves heartthrobs, they’re increasingly held up as spokespeople for the entire LGBTI cause. It’s a topic they tackle head-on in album highlight I’m Not Your Hero.
“We feel pressure to always have the right answer, and to be representative of everybody. That song is me reflecting on being a young person and not feeling like I have anybody to look up to – and now as an adult, being on the other side and often feeling like I’m letting people down,” she said.
“You have to say, ‘You know what? I may not be your hero but I know I’m a hero to somebody’.”