I fell in love with Tegan and Sara during my freshman year of high school. My friend's cooler, older sister burned a copy of So Jealous, and as soon as I pressed play and heard the Quin sisters sing about heartbreak, frustration, and yearning, something stirred in me. During an era dominated by misogynistic narratives and indie ballads fostered by male fragility, Tegan and Sara's songs offered listeners like me a much-needed solace. Nearly a decade later they continue to inspire, soothe, and heal me. The acoustic drive of "Walking with a Ghost" remains as relevant as it was the first time that I heard it, while the pop-drenched pulse of "Stop Desire" and "White Knuckles" embody with rhythm what I often struggle to articulate with words. As the span of their discography grew, I kept finding myself through their songs.
I was lucky enough to speak with Sara a few weeks ago over the phone about how the songs that she and her sister wrote shaped their lives and how their relationship to each other and their creativity is inextricably tied to change and growth.
Dianca Potts: When did you and Tegan start making music together?
Sara Quin: We started writing our own material spontaneously around the same time in tenth grade. It's a pretty standard story. We had a guitar lying around the house and we had both taken piano lessons, so there was some sort of songwriting ability built into us playing songs out of the piano book at lessons once a week. We were also really into punk and rock music, so we emulated that.
But going back even further, we had one of those Playskool recorders where you could sing or talk into the microphone and record onto the cassette tape when we were little kids. I'm sure that every child in the '80s had one of those. We were totally obsessed with recording ourselves, and my mom said that we were always doing that together. We didn't fight over it. We enjoyed the tandem experience of recording, singing, playing, talking, and interviewing each other [ laughs ]. We were already slightly narcissistic at five.
DP: Over the years, your aesthetic has gone from a sort of fusion between indie rock and folk to more of a pop sound. Was there a distinctive moment or experience that led to this?
SQ: We've been making music for so long. At any point there's definitely a noticeable influence that is linked to whatever we're listening to or consuming at the time.
I think that somewhere after The Con in 2007 I started to find myself not as attracted to what was coming out of the guitar-indie-rock scene. I remember very specifically hearing Alicia Keys's record and her song "Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart," and hearing Robyn and thinking, It ' s so nice to not hear guitar and layers and textures and sloppy organic instrumentation. It was like a light switch. It was a relief. I enjoyed hearing melodies. It started to alter and change the way that we're playing and writing our own music.
DP: Love You To Death is your second album that doesn't heavily feature guitar. How did that impact your songwriting process?
SQ: I always write on the computer. In 2001 Tegan and I bought a desktop computer and a ProTools setup so that we could record. We eventually moved over to [using] Logic and GarageBand, and from that point forward I've pretty much never sat down with a guitar to sketch out things like that. I work almost exclusively in a recording program to build instrumentals. I started doing that fifteen years ago, and that's the way I always sit down to work.