The Quin twins – better known as Tegan and Sara – have quietly become queens of all media over the past three years.
The Calgary-born duo, who began their recording career in 2009, had solidified their musical foundation by the time “High School,” Tegan and Sara’s best-selling memoir about the growth, release and development of their art, was published in 2019. The book is now the source material for the new Amazon Freevee series of the same name, which debuted in mid-October. Tegan and Sara, meanwhile, returned to the music writing block for “Crybaby,” their 10th album, which was released Oct. 21.
And, oh yes, they’re also writing a series of autobiographical graphic novels that will begin with “Tegan and Sara: Junior High,” due May 30, followed by “Tegan and Sara: Crush.”
So while the world stopped, Tegan and Sara hit the pedal and got to work. You can understand why Tegan is a little breathless on the phone from Vancouver, where she and Sara are “finishing some stuff” before hitting the road to promote — well, all of the above…
Obviously you just sat and rested during the pandemic.
Tegan: I know! (laughs) We don’t know how to sit still. You know, when Sara and I wrote “High School” the book, the children’s division (of Simon & Schuster Canada) asked us if we would consider writing a graphic novel about a younger Tegan and Sara, and then romanticize it. So we accepted. And then we had the current TV show. It was crazy; we had never written a graphic novel before, never written fiction before, never written a screenplay before. There’s been a lot of googling – How do you write a script? So when Covid came around we were actually a bit relieved – not about Covid but about having time at home to tackle all those things.
What is the place of the album “Crybaby” in all this?
Tegan: They kind of all blended into each other. We were writing (the show and the novels), taking them back and forth. When I didn’t have the script, I wrote music. When Sara didn’t have the script, she started writing. We went into the studio thinking of recording a few songs, dropping them off at different entities. But we’re old school; as soon as we walked into the studio it was like “Oh, yeah, we’re going to make an album”, and before we knew it, we had “Crybaby” finished Christmas last year, and “High School” is went into production at that time.
Have the different projects had an impact on each other?
Tegan: I know a lot of creatives who are singularly focused on one medium. Sara and I have always seen ourselves as storytellers, so we use music as a chance to tell stories. When we’re filming, we literally love telling stories on stage. We’ve always had a blog, always had a mailing list. We like to talk about our past and talk about growing up. I think every time we develop a new voice and tell stories in different ways, it helps strengthen our writing or strengthen our voices. When we wrote the book (“High School”), we didn’t know what we were doing; now when we sit down to write new stuff, we feel like we understand (the process) better.
How did that manifest during “Crybaby?”
Tegan: When it came time to write “Crybaby” and focus on the album, we took songwriting much more seriously. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of things happening now, so it was like, ‘Well, if we’re going to make an album, we have to really, really, really passionately invest in it. There’s no point in doing it halfway. So dabbling in other worlds has made us really, really serious about music, because we know that’s the engine that makes everything happen.
It’s not like you weren’t serious before, though.
Tegan: No, but I think like everyone else, if you do the same job for 25 years, you start to burn out a bit. I feel like I’m looking back on our last 10 years, after “Heartthrob” — our big pop album in 2013 — we were retired. We toured two and a half years on this album. The first year, we did 286 days on the road. We have traveled the world three times. We were tired – not that we didn’t love the music anymore, but maybe we weren’t able to devote as much to it as we had because we were totally exhausted and tired. We didn’t even know we were, but I think you can hear it in (the later albums), and the book was something new for us to do.
One thing you can hear on “Crybaby” is that the band seems younger again. There’s an energy that feels closer to previous albums.
Tegan: That was the goal. It might sound snobbish and aging, but I think when you’re young you want to look mature and you think too much, you articulate too much. We love how Bruce Springsteen talked about “Greetings From Asbury Park”, it’s so wordy, and then you listen to “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and the music later, and there’s so much space. We’re probably always going to be talkative (laughs) but as we get older and we become more mature and also more confident in our music and who we are, I think we don’t need to put on so many tunes. We don’t need to be, “Oh, here’s this super intense observation about love.” I don’t think we are that complicated. This is where the fun, the musicality and the frenetic, excited energy comes from. All of a sudden, there’s this confidence. We can kind of throw away all the things we’ve learned and we don’t have to think about it too much. He feels more free.
The album also gives the impression of a conversation between the two of you, through the songs. What did you discover that you were saying to yourself through these songs?
Tegan: I think that’s our rupture disk — except we’re not going to break up. (laughs) We spent three years at the house and we spent it making a lot of changes. We asked to leave Warner (Music, their label). We left our management and managed ourselves for a year. We had to decide if we still wanted to do that – that’s what we wrote the record about. We were asking ourselves these huge questions, “What happens next?” We had time off the road to ruminate on life and talk things over. So it looks like a conversation; it certainly wasn’t written that way, but it sounds like we’re talking to each other. In the end, we realized that was what we were supposed to do. It’s what we love to do – and if we do it, we’ll do a better job than ever, because we have to.
Have you ever almost decided not to?
Tegan: I always think about quitting. Sara and I have times when we’re like, “This is crazy. It’s so stressful. You get old — it’s so cliché to say — and you think, “Why are we doing this? It’s so hard!” We think about it. We don’t push it down. It’s valuable to watch what I do for a living, every day. is the important thing.
So what’s it like doing a TV show?
Tegan: In a word, surreal. When we wrote the book, it was surreal. For this to become a TV show is surreal. Obviously we were on the bottom floor and developed it with Clea (DuVall). We have invested so much of ourselves in it; it’s very, very cool to see so much of our history told in this new way. But it’s different enough, fictionalized enough that I can part with it. But it’s still a cool queer girl coming of age story. I don’t think you often see stories about it. It’s very real. It doesn’t feel glamorous or Hollywood or Americanized. It sounds like what happened to us in the 90s in Canada, still the true story of the absolute horror of being a teenager. And the music is amazing; we had a list of dreams and got almost everything we wanted. We loved being executive producers, loved doing TV and telling stories like this. We have to tick a lot of boxes in the experience.
Have you done anything else remarkable in your free time?
Tegan: Did I learn any new skills? No. I cooked before. I certainly cooked a lot. I have a dog, my partner and me. I had never had a dog before. He is a Border Collie-German Shepherd mix, almost two years old. He’s a very intense dog, but it’s been amazing. Now I don’t want to go on tour anymore (laughs).
Tegan, Sara and Tomberlin perform Friday, November 4 at House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Doors at 7 p.m. 216-523-2583 or houseofblues.com/cleveland.