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Tegan and Sara Explain the Shift Toward Pop on New Album

Indie duo Tegan and Sara, identical twin sisters with the surname Quin from Calgary, have toured with their fellow countryman Neil Young and had their track "Walking with a Ghost" covered by The White Stripes. Their connection to their music and each other is clear during their live shows. The openly gay musicians' frank discussions about their childhood, politics, and touring have become a hallmark of their renowned performances.

"It started out as a hobby and a fun, passionate way to be creative. It happened to snowball into a really amazing and successful career. We try to be respectful with what we say and how we use our power and try not to use our stage as a soapbox. We are aware of the power we've accumulated because of what we do, but we really try to be socially responsible, great humanitarians, and we try to be great spokespeople for the things we believe in but mostly what we do is try to make music that we're proud of," Tegan says.

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Now the folk-rock darlings of the indie music world are placing all their chips on the big bet of latest album, Heartthrob. The duo's first collaborative writing endeavor, the album very blatantly attempts to be a slick, poppy, radio-friendly album -- and it is. It is also an arousing and charming piece of art.

"It was a lot more satisfying to record than our previous records because now that we're older and more experienced in the studio, we were able to have fun," Tegan recalls. "It's still challenging. You're making something that is going to last forever so there's an intense amount of emotional and mental strife that comes with making something that can't be changed. I think with Heartthrob we tried to create something that musically reflected more of our interests. We were stretching ourselves and taking a calculated risk by entering more of a pop realm."

The 30-somethings lustily sing lustily about "the rush before we touch" on the catchy pop single "Closer." Another stand out track is the anthem "I'm Not Your Hero," where the two belt out, "I'm not their hero/but that doesn't mean that I wasn't brave."

"It's like a theme song almost," Tegan explains. "We tend to feel like we speak for our community, be it musicians, women, or gay people. Sometimes it feels like your own community isn't best represented by you. There's pressure, expectation, and disappointment that comes from speaking for your community. You are just one voice. For us, there's been pressure over the years that we represent a certain class of person. Often times we think that people are disappointed by our point of view or that we don't stand up or speak loudly, or don't speak for them or misrepresent them or that by becoming more mainstream or more popular we are no longer representing them. There's some internal pressure to feel like you're still representing your basic wants, desires, and needs but also representing other people. I think that song really represents that."

The change in direction has proven to be the all-access pass that has allowed them to now open for pop superstars Katy Perry.

"We've gained experience from every tour we've done, whether headlining or supporting," says Tegan, "There's a pretty wide spectrum of bands we've performed with, from Neil Young, Ryan Adams, Bryan Adams, and Cyndi Lauper. We've also opened for big bands at the beginning of their career like The Killers and The Black Keys. When you perform in front of a new audience, you get new fans. We never really played with a huge pop artist before, so we really pushed to try to land a big pop tour. Mainly we thought it'd be really cool to stand in front of a really mainstream female audience. What we learned about Katy Perry's audience on Day One is that there is a wide spectrum of people that love her. It's one of the best audiences we've ever played. I think Katy is really intelligent, really articulate, and really powerful. I found that really inspiring."

If the 10 tracks on Heartthrob aren't enough to catapult them into superstardom, they also worked with the comedy team The Lonely Island on "Everything Is Awesome," the infectious theme of the hit The Lego Movie. Both the theme song and the album are fine examples of how it's cool when you're part of a team.

Tegan and Sara are scheduled to play Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Monday, November 17.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil