Tegan and Sara on their creative process and why they cringe at their old songs

Tegan and Sara on their creative process and why they cringe at their old songs

Their music has changed a lot throughout their 17 years in the industry, but their new album is pure pop


Tegan and Sara have been around the music industry for 17 years and just have more and more music to make.

Canadian pop duo Tegan and Sara have been hard at work. The twin sisters toured around for three years after the release of their 2013 album Heartthrob, and headed to the studio straight after to make their next album. Love You to Death is scheduled for release on June 3, and Young Post caught up with Sara to chat about their new music:

What can we expect from Love You to Death ?

This album is definitely a pop album. The production is very much inspired by some of our favourite bands growing up in the eighties and nineties, but we also wanted it to feel modern. I think it’s an impressive sounding album, and these are some of the best songs that we’ve ever written. They’re emotional but they’re also clever, and we put tremendous effort into making sure that the songs still had big heart. We’ve only revealed four songs so far but the reaction has been really positive, so we’re very relieved and excited.

How is it different from your last album, Heartthrob ?

On this record there was a real focus on the vocals and making sure that all the songs had incredibly strong melodies and that the arrangements felt really good. Those are things that we didn’t necessarily focus on as much on the last record. In a way we wanted to make something bigger, to make the record more powerful. With this one, I think we were more disciplined, so I think it feels clearer.

Besides Greg Kurstin, who was one of Heartthrob’s producers, you didn’t collaborate much with anyone else.

Often we would demo the song and there’s be a tonne of parts and we’d bring in a musician to play the parts live for a different feeling. With this set of songs it just felt really natural to programme everything and Greg is just so incredibly good. He has such a vast collection of sounds and samples that it didn’t feel necessary to bring someone else in. All the ideas were there and the three of us were able to do it ourselves. This was probably the most intimate group for a Tegan and Sara record that we’ve ever had. It was important for us to have that singular kind of mentality and it also felt very cohesive. Instead of bringing in a lot of different people to give different ideas, it was just our ideas. I think that’s a strength with this record.

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Do you and Tegan write your songs separately?

We always start alone. I write by myself and Tegan will write by herself. Generally, once we’ve got a couple dozen songs we’ll start to open up the discussion. Which materials are jumping out at Greg? Which of the songs do we both feel are strongest for the album? Then once we are in the studio, we tinker with them. Greg might suggest adding a section or extending a section. We fool around trying different tempos and keys. There were a few songs, like 100x , that I actually wrote with [Heartthrob producer] Jesse Shatkin, so that song was a collaboration. But then we brought it into the Greg session and he just sort of changed the production.

How do you decide on the sound of a song, like keeping 100x a simple ballad?

We try a lot of different things and then we might start to remove certain sounds or textures. There were a few songs on the record, like 100x and Be With You, where we tried a lot of different presentations. What if we tried a certain type of drum? Or what if we treated it like a pop song? What if we scale it back and make it more relaxed? We’ll try different ideas and usually we can tell what is really working out. With 100x we tried a few different approaches, but ultimately that song just felt right as a very stripped down piano ballad. It just felt like that was the most effective way to showcase the vocals and the power of the song.

Tell us more about the inspiration for 100x.

I wanted to write about my feelings and the situation I was in when I moved away from Vancouver where Tegan and I were both living after high school. This was 14 years ago, I was 23. I felt I was not in the right place. I wasn’t connecting to the city, I was having a lot of conflict with Tegan, and I was in a relationship with someone who I wanted to separate from. I had this very impulsive thought that I should leave Vancouver and move to Montreal, which was about 2,000km away, a five-hour airplane flight. I just wanted to start fresh somewhere. I think it shocked everyone in my life. Back then I didn’t have the internet at home, so it was like I was moving to Siberia or something. It was really intense. That was really hard on Tegan. But yeah I just needed to escape. So the song is about that time, about my relationship with Tegan but ultimately about my self-imposed exile when I was trying to figure just exactly who I was.

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That experience was a long time ago. Why write about it now?

The truth is, it’s not the first time that I’ve tried to write about it. Maybe it was triggered by the fact that I was moving back to the West Coast last year, so it was the first time since I moved to Montreal that I was making my home again in Vancouver. I was thinking a lot about that homecoming and how I was actually in a lot of grief over leaving Montreal but also really excited about starting a new chapter of my life. As I was packing up, there were boxes of things of when I first moved out from Vancouver to Montreal, which I had just put in the basement and never looked at until I was moving back again this year. So I was having a bit of an excavation. I was looking at all this stuff and it was reminding me of that time and it just felt like the right time to start talking about it again.

Why did you choose dogs filmed in slow motion for the music video?

It’s sort of a silly video. Jess Rona, who made the video, is a friend of mine in Los Angeles, and she makes these beautiful slow motion videos of the dog clients that she grooms, and she’ll match them with a Beyonce or Father John Misty song. Every dog gets a song and I find it wild how you feel that this is the perfect song to capture this dog’s feelings. Honestly, I think people project on their pets all the time. I find it really funny because we probably actually have no idea what they’re feeling. I love that these dogs, just because they’re in slow motion, you imagine that they’re very sad. I think that this is an interesting way to showcase the song instead of Tegan and I just looking very sad and singing the song.

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Looking back on 17 years in the music industry, how has your music developed?

We’ve now been through 17 years in the music industry, and as you get older you just have more life to write about. I cringe about our older songs from when we started as kids, because when I hear them, I know exactly what I was thinking when I wrote them. I was so dumb. That doesn’t represent how I would see the world now. So I think each album is a better and more articulate representation of where you are in your life. At 35 years old, I just feel like we have a more nuanced and stronger sense of who we are and how we see the world. That’s adds an interesting texture to the music.

What’s next?

Right now I’m focused on what’s going on with this album, getting a band ready for tour and all kinds of things. But in terms of music, I have no idea. Maybe when we’re finished with this album we won’t wanna make a pop record, maybe we’ll make an electronic or dance or acoustic record, I don’t know! We’ll just have to see where life takes us.

Tegan and Sara will perform at KITEC on July 28.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Two musical peas in a pod


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