Interview: Tegan and Sara on their new album, 'Love You To Death'.
Even via e-mail, one-half of Tegan and Sara are as amiable as ever - with Tegan Quin telling us openly about the duo’s latest album, ‘Love You To Death’, sharing her thoughts on love - “The better the love, the more capable of stretching and growing you are.”
The album is a slice of 2016’s best pop music - a natural progression from ‘Heartthrob’, with songs like ‘Boyfriend’ and ‘Dying To Know’ both being danceable yet meaningful at the same time.
Eight albums into their career, artists can often find it hard to continue to innovate their sound, but with ‘Love You To Death’, Tegan and Sara have proven that they’re long-term artists in the music industry.
We spoke via e-mail with Tegan, about the new album, marriage, and her relationship with Sara…
"...real love exposes the work you need to do in yourself. I think the better the love is the more it reveals the parts of you that need to be improved upon. The better the love, the more capable of stretching and growing you are."
COUP DE MAIN: Last time we spoke to you, you were in New Zealand supporting Jack Johnson on tour - back in 2010! So… the obvious first question is, when are you finally gonna return to visit us?
TEGAN AND SARA - TEGAN QUIN: We have plans to return in early 2017!!!!
CDM: ‘Love You To Death’ is amazing! ‘Dying To Know’ is my favourite on the album, it’s so relatable, but also super personal at the same time. You sing, "Should've never let you into my life” - do you think it’s better to have loved and lost, or to have never loved at all?
TEGAN: I absolutely believe it's better to have loved and lost. But, I also think that over time I am determined to be better at the actual loving. I think this record is very introspective for that reason. Even a song like ‘Dying To Know’ is more about me not repeating the same mistakes and less about the other person hurting me.
CDM: In ‘That Girl’ you say, "Nobody hurts you like me." Love and hurt are such interconnected emotions - do you think there’s a reason that hurt always hurts more when it comes from the ones you love?
TEGAN: As I have gotten older I have learned to have better boundaries so I don't get hurt so often. I also think I've redefined my role or re-characterised my role in some of my earlier relationships and that's allowed me to recognise my part in the break-up or the ‘hurt’. On some level I think I liked getting hurt. Or enjoyed the turmoil when I was younger. I think ‘That Girl’ acknowledges that I at some point knowingly participated in that. I'm attempting to take responsibility. I also think I've learned that love doesn't have to hurt the way it did. It doesn't need to be fiery to be good.
CDM: The album deals with heaps of ideas about love, desire, jealousy. What do you think the strongest human emotion is?
TEGAN: Love. For sure.
CDM: “Real love is tough,” you say on ‘Faint Of Heart’. I feel like there’s this expectation that the best love (whether it be a platonic or romantic relationship) is easy - no work required, it just clicks. Why do you think that real love requires real work?
TEGAN: I think real love requires work, because I think real love exposes the work you need to do in yourself. I think the better the love is the more it reveals the parts of you that need to be improved upon. The better the love, the more capable of stretching and growing you are.
CDM: In ‘BWU’, you clearly state your ideas about weddings - you don’t "want a white wedding". Why do you think that the ritual of weddings are considered so necessary by society for a relationship between two people that love each other?
TEGAN: I think we both have a deep respect for relationships and for rights and privileges that come with marriage. Weddings are a bit different. Truthfully, we didn't really go to a wedding until we were in our mid-20s. Our Mom never remarried after our Dad and her split when we were five. But my Step-Dad was with us for 15 years and their relationship seemed as valid as any of our friends with married parents. So weddings weren't ever a big part of growing up, or the narrative we had around relationships. I think as we get older we respect the desire of our friends and community to want to have a wedding. Standing up and declaring your love is important for some people. For a lot of people it's about the party, or about family and keeping them happy. I imagine that as time goes by less people will get married, as it seems that is how things are going. But, I think most of all we just want people to have the option. And that's why we fought for marriage equality in America so hard. Now that we have the rights it's a choice, and that's important to us. I have never been married myself, but I have been in long serious monogamous relationships before and never felt like my love was less than my married friends' love. But I roll with a pretty alternative crowd. :)
CDM: Do you feel the same way about any other societal and social norms that exist that are ritualistic (like weddings), but just exist because of tradition?
TEGAN: Look. I could type for hours about children and marriage. I think both are expected norms for couples. And both seem like... a lot of work and often like they kill the passion and fun of a relationship. But, I do see people modelling marriage and kids in a way that is appealing from time to time and catch myself thinking, well, maybe that isn't all bad. But for now, I think my life is perfect. I have freedom and joy and love and don't answer to anyone. The idea of changing that seems... silly - but who knows? I do feel happy for people who want to have kids. I just think sometimes people have kids because they think they should or they have to or that something feels like it's missing, and I worry about those people. Those don't seem like valid reasons to procreate. Especially with so many millions of kids in need of a home - but, the pressure is intense to have kids and get married so I totally get why people do it.
CDM: ‘100x’ is beautiful. With this being the first album where you’ve felt comfortable openly writing about your struggle with your sister, was there a point in the creation of this record that you realised you would be able to write about these experiences?
TEGAN: You know, I talked a bit about our struggles on our first record in the song, ‘Divided’. I also touched on it in ‘I Know I Know I Know’. But, yes, this is the first time we have written about it and talked openly about it. There were definitely some tough times in the early part of our career. And at the start of 'Heartthrob’ there was a power struggle between Sara and I again. I think we both want the best for each other and this project. I think sometimes balancing how to get that and sustain that balance can be tough. We work hard to balance each other. Especially in the last few years we are trying to maintain room for each other at all times. Through the good and bad, the most important thing is to remember that we are family first, and that we need to respect one another. I think Sara writing about those earlier dark times is a result of that work we've done. I think because we now know so empathetically that we respect one another we can do a little processing publicly about that time. Whereas when we were struggling and not respecting each other, it would have been very dangerous to process those issues publicly.
CDM: It seems that the traditional Tegan and Sara writing process changed on ‘LYTD’ - you were more collaborative than ever before. Did that complicate the process when you were writing songs about your relationship with one another?
TEGAN: We definitely wrote the bulk of the tracks on our own as per our usual process. But we were much more collaborative in the studio. I think Greg Kurstin encourages that from us. It's a very relaxed studio vibe and he is very supportive. He is so good at what he does, I think it challenges Sara and I to do better. So we are constantly working on the lyrics and melodies while we are there, trying to better them. I had no knowledge that ‘100x’ or ‘White Knuckles’ were about our struggles in the early part of our career. I just thought they were break-up songs - and so I enjoyed working on them a lot! HA!
CDM: You two are known for working super well with Greg Kurstin. Has your working relationship changed with him over the years?
TEGAN: I think we instantly clicked with Greg. And so working with him again was just so natural. We are very comfortable with him. We both feel very realised by him.
CDM: ‘Love You To Death’ basically has no guitars - which is rad, although not the norm for T&S. Did it feel liberating to work almost entirely without guitars on the record?
TEGAN: You know, both ‘Heartthrob’ and ‘Love You To Death’ have considerably less guitars than previous albums of ours, but they do have guitars. We just treated the guitars differently. They are more effected and lower in the mix. A lot of the songs were still written on guitar but, we just really wanted to change things up production-wise and so the guitars aren't getting top billing right now. That might change in the near future. But for now it's nice, like a breath of fresh air. It's re-inspired us. It feels really nice to stand on stage without a guitar too. For so many years we were so focused on becoming better guitar-players and putting on a big sounding rock show. Sometimes I felt trapped behind my guitar. It has been super liberating to remove them and play more piano and experiment with samples and samplers. I feel more exposed and closer to the audience too.
CDM: This album has so many life-lessons. What’s the most important lesson you learned throughout the making of ‘Love You To Death’?
TEGAN: I think I learned how important it is to leave some songs alone. Let them age naturally. A song like ‘That Girl’, I was prepared to scrap or re-record about a zillion times. But then I just left it alone and it ended up getting chosen by everyone out of a huge pile of songs. I would have ruined it or thrown it away if it were up to old-me. New-me was learning quickly that sometimes you can't really see what you've created. You have to give it time to breath and age and walk away. Patience. ‘Love You To Death’ stretched out over a longer period of time than we have ever recorded before. There were so many breaks and days off and time spent away from the record. We let the whole thing breathe. And I think it aged well. And I think we're calmer and happier than we have ever been. So. We learned patience.
CDM: Last year, Carly Rae Jepsen talked about how she wrote a couple of songs with you both when she was writing ‘Emotion’. Will those songs ever see the light of day?
CDM: In your interview with Buzzfeed, you bring up a good point about radio promotion, and the lack of integrity around it, but the apparent need for it at the same time. Do you think radio will continue to be a key element in the music industry?
TEGAN: Well, some part of me thinks that like every other part of our industry - radio will have to change. The average person wants to make their own playlists. And unlike even 10 years ago, we are able to find new music easily through iTunes or Spotify. So I think the dependency on radio is definitely lessening. That being said, I do think radio is still a giant machine that gets music to millions and millions of people, and as an artist I am willing to do the work to try and reach those millions of people.
CDM: You and your sister have always had such a strong work ethic in the music business, right from the beginning. What’s one piece of advice you would give an artist starting out their career now?
TEGAN: Work hard. Nothing comes easy. And if it does, prepare yourself for it to go. You have to keep working. Nothing is owed to you. It's all earned. Radio, the industry, even fans sometimes can be very fickle. Radio isn't everything. Build a relationship to your audience. Ask them what they want. And then, work harder.
CDM: In your interview with Shura for The Line Of Best Fit, you talked about how the new live shows are just more about yourself and Sara - your performance and your personalities. Do you feel more or less comfortable during live shows now?
TEGAN: With the back-catalogue we have, and the natural ability to tell stories and entertain, it definitely feels like we have more than enough material to entertain. We still pour as much money into lights, sound, and the band as we can, and choosing the right venue is always important to us too, but we definitely recognise that our audience isn't looking for a big pop show with costume-changes and dancers - they seem to just want us. Which is great. Works out well for us. :)
Tegan and Sara’s album ‘Love You To Death’ is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch the ‘Stop Desire’ music video below…