INDIE-pop duo Tegan and Sara have been blessing the airwaves with their infectious music since the late nineties, and have amassed a large queer following through their advocacy for LGBTQ rights. Matthew Wade spoke to them ahead of their trip to Australia for Mardi Gras.

Canadian indie-pop outfit Tegan and Sara Quin believe that issues facing queer women are almost invisible in society, and sexism is largely to blame.

“There’s a shocking lack of research and funding for women in the LGBTQ community, and I think sexism has a lot to do with this for sure,” Tegan says.

“The last ten years has been about marriage equality and the necessary fight for gaining access to those rights, understandably.

“But the community has suffered in so many ways for so many years and it’s time to address the many issues facing our most marginalised members.”

The openly gay twin sisters began making music together in the mid-nineties and have since released eight studio albums including their latest offering Love You to Death.

The passion in their music is evident, and was sparked in their formative years when they’d listen to eighties heavyweights like Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, and U2. They both learned piano before aspiring to be in a band in their teen years.

“I just loved the feeling of performing, even if it was just for Sara in our bedrooms as kids,” Tegan remembers.

“I think we loved making music but never imagined that it could have been a career. I never imagined myself in front of an audience.

“We were actually really shy growing up but I think as we got older we grew to be quite alternative and our personalities probably came out through the way we dressed and the friends we kept.”

The genre chameleons offer an introspective side in their latest effort Love You to Death, an upbeat album filled with eighties-style synthpop anthems.

Tegan says each new album the pair creates is influenced by the music they’re listening to at the time, their travels, and other bands that are popular when they’re writing and recording material.

Each album takes up to 18 months to create followed by an extensive two to three year tour.

“As a live band that tours non-stop we often take into consideration how the records go over live and allow that to influence choices we make in the studio,” she says.

“I think we just haven’t ever felt that we are a ‘genre’ band. We feel like writers and performers and so we don’t ever think about ourselves as limited to a specific sound.

“I think this [latest] record is about taking responsibility for your choices, feelings, and actions, and less about situations or relationships – I think it’s about self, and about regret.”

As openly gay artists and outspoken advocates for sexual and gender diverse people, Tegan and Sara have witnessed significant social change around LGBTQ equality since first hitting the airwaves in the late nineties.

Tegan believes things are certainly changing and improving, however slowly these changes may occur.

“I think our industry is pretty accepting and I definitely think on a day-today basis we’ve seen that a lot of the sexism and homophobia from our earlier days has… lessened,” she says.

“I never forget though that we are not representative of the average LGBTQ person out there. There is still incredibly high rates of prejudice, discrimination, hate crimes, lack of funding, research and support for LGBTQ people.

“I hope that by being out and being visible and fighting for the rights of LGBTQ people we are contributing to the community and making it better for some.”

The pair has been vocal and passionate about advancing the rights of sexual and gender diverse communities and in 2014 performed at Toronto Pride where they expressed their queer pride and playfully quipped: “We just keep thinking, my God, what if it wears off?”

Tegan says both her and her sister feel they have a social responsibility to be good citizens and to be strong advocates for change and open-mindedness in the world.

“I think specifically we have felt passionate about LGBTQ rights since the start of our career because we are queer women,” she adds.

“A huge part of our audience is LGBTQ and we want them to have great lives and we want them to use our platform and power to improve their lives.

“We hear the stories of their struggles daily and never let it stray far from our minds that we are lucky to have the career we have and so we continue to work for our community as they helped us get where we are now.”

Both Tegan and Sara have always been happy and proud to be queer.

“I think when I realised I was queer I was about 12 years old,” Tegan says.

“Although I didn’t come out for another few years I don’t recall ever feeling sad or worried about how people would respond. Very early on in my life I recognised how alternative I was.

“I think my sexuality only complemented that alternativeness I felt inside of myself.”

From the start of their careers, Tegan said they would receive letters from young LGBTQ people telling the sisters how much their music had affected them.

“It solidified in us how significant being ‘out’ was going to be in our career and lives,” Tegan says.

“I still hear incredible stories daily from our fans about their lives and their experiences – we’ve met countless parents who have driven their newly out teenagers halfway across the country just to meet us.

“Something about the parents in these situations just breaks my heart… in a good way. I love seeing the kids feeling happy to be welcomed by the Tegan and Sara community and the joy and relief knowing the community exists brings for them and their parents.”

Tegan and Sara will soon be heading down to Australia to perform at one of the world’s largest celebrations of the LGBTI community – Mardi Gras.

The pair say they have always had a blast when visiting the country.

“We think of it as a second home,” Tegan says.

“We have family all over the country and look forward to visiting every year.

“We’ve never played Mardi Gras before though. We’re very much looking forward to being a part of the celebration next year!”

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