Tegan Quin makes up one-half of the music juggernaut that is Tegan and Sara. For nearly two decades, Tegan and Sara have been raising awareness for the LGBTQI community through their music and by simply living honestly. Their most recent album, Love You To Death, was released June 3.
How does the spirit of music, in terms of its relationship to activism, inform your attitude toward speaking out?
I can remember early on in our career talking a lot about paying equality between men and women, and women in the industry, and sexism and homophobia, and people being like, "Oh my God, just shut up and sing!" It just irks me, it annoys me. We grew up in a household with a mom who was a single parent for a very long time and went back to school when we were young and was a feminist and worked for the county sexual center, and we had grown up learning to speak our minds. I mean, intelligently, and on things that we were educated on, but we learned to speak our minds. So I think right at the beginning of our career, we saw it as an opportunity to speak our minds. I was like, “Oh, we’re talking to the press and the media, and they’re asking how my experience in the industry is. Of course, I’m going to speak to my experiences as a woman and as a queer person in the industry.” It was inevitable. We were just raised that way, so we just got into it. I don’t know that I knew another way to go about it. But certainly, in the 2004 to 2005 time period, when we started to see radio play, and get more exposure and become a bigger band, we saw an opportunity to use the stage and use our audience to make change. It was then we started to pick a smaller charity organization that we felt was in the kind of boundaries of what we thought was appropriate to talk to our audience about, and that we think that they would be interested in fundraising for, and we would start running fundraisers and we would match the amount that was raised at the end of every tour, and I just realized how good it felt. It felt good to alert people to things that matter. It felt good to raise money for these organizations, but it also just felt good to sort of infuse some purpose into this thing we were so passionate about. Which would have been enough, to just be passionate about music, but we were aching for more.
What does “outspoken” mean to you?
It’s interesting because I feel like sometimes when I hear the word “outspoken,” there’s almost like a tinge of negativity to it. Like you’re speaking out of turn, or you’re speaking when you shouldn’t be. I think that, for me, when I think of “outspoken,” it just means, I would imagine, someone who always speaks their mind, who always takes their opportunity to talk about something that matters that people might not know about or something that’s happened in the news. So I get really excited when I hear about “an outspoken artist blah blah blah.” I’m always like, “What are they speaking out about? Let’s check it out!” [Laughs]
How would you say your sister has helped shape your personal identity?
When Sara moved out to Montreal, it was, I think, 2002 or 2003. Right away she got involved with a lot of amazing feminist political characters. I would go out there, and we’d go to these talks, and we’d all have crazy haircuts, and everyone was riding their bikes, and we were going to all of these amazing things, and Sara was reading all of this incredible stuff, and just really educating me. And again, we’d grown up in a political household, but you know, when you’re in your early 20s, you become this complete narcissist, and you’re just thinking about yourself and your relationships. [Laughs] Sara helped ground our band and keep us focused on things that we could help and things that we could change in the world. She got really involved with a political organization that was helping raise money for political prisoners, and that was, like, the furthest thing from what I was engaging with. It was really amazing. I think she, just as a person, has been so well-read and so educated and so invested in what’s happening in the world. She helped make our band a much more interesting, important project because she cared.
What surprised you the most about coming out?
At 35, I think the thing that struck me the most about coming out was how not big of a deal it was. Sara did come out first, so I think she took the major blowback that happened from our family. It was short-lived. Our family was really supportive almost right away, but you know, there was the initial like, “What the fuck is happening?” [Laughs] I kind of just watched from the sidelines, which caused tension between me and Sara for many years, because I think she thought I had it much easier because I came out after her. But yeah, I think the most shocking thing was, especially considering we came out in 1998, we came from a more conservative city, although we had alternative friends and alternative family, I think we had it really easy, compared to... I’ve heard so many stories now, just of thousands and thousands of awful coming out stories, and ours was nothing like that.
As far as your career goes, what would you say is your proudest moment?
That’s so hard! [Laughs] We played the Oscars. Who would have thought that would happen? I think that was a big one—certainly for our family and friends back home. I mean, that was just such a huge thing. I think everyone’s been very proud of us throughout our career, but I think getting the Oscars stage, that’s a pretty big accomplishment. When we think eight records, I mean, that’s a hard thing to do this day and age. And I think a lot of bands throw in the towel or just dissolve and move onto other things, and the fact that we’re still doing it and still fighting, eight records in, I’d say that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
In light of everything that happened in Orlando at Pulse nightclub, how has nightlife played a role in your life?
We’ve been reading all these heartbreaking but beautiful pieces about how big LGBT clubs were for so many young people coming out, and it’s interesting because Sara and I, we graduated high school and almost immediately signed a record deal and went out on tour. And so, a lot of that sort of four or five years when you first graduate and you go to college, and you experiment and you go to clubs, we missed all of that. We didn’t even really drink until we were in our mid-’20s because we were just touring so much, and we were underage, nobody would give us alcohol backstage. [Laughs] It was interesting reading the pieces. It was extraordinarily moving to me because it was like, there’s this whole part of our culture that we actually missed out on because we were on tour. I was talking about that at dinner a couple nights ago, and someone pointed out that we provided that for a lot of people. Especially early on in our career, it was a lot of queer people that were supporting us. And they were like, "But you were the nightlife, you were the club, you were the gay band that was coming to town." And I was like, “Oh, okay, so I did have that experience.” Obviously, a huge part of what our band does is encourage other people from every type of background and every type of sexual and gender identity to come and be a part of the community, open and loving. And we’re so proud of the audience that we have and how diverse it is and how open and welcoming. Community is the biggest part of what’s kept Tegan and Sara alive through 17 years of making music. There were lots of times when we didn’t have any interest in media, journalism, or radio, and it was the fans and the community around us that kept our band thriving. Queer nightlife is so important, and having a space where you can go and be around people like you is integral to the health and welfare of our community. And when it’s shattered, like it was this month, it’s a tremendous loss and a tremendous hit for our community. I think it’s important to note that in the last two years we’ve had shootings at elementary schools, at army bases, at Planned Parenthood, at universities, at private homes, and now at a gay club. There’s not one that’s more awful than the other. They’re all awful.
Do you feel that celebrities have a responsibility to come out?
It’s something that’s been debated for so many years now. I think that responsibility, that’s tough. I don’t think that anyone has a responsibility to reveal anything about themselves personally. But I think that there’s power in being a celebrity, and I think being a good role model or coming out or attaching yourself to projects, movements, organizations, or charities that are making a change, I think that’s important. I think we do have a responsibility to be upstanding citizens. I think that’s part of the deal when you’re a public figure, no matter how big or small. I know lots of closeted people, and it’s hard, you know, especially with people who work in industries that are incredibly male and heterosexual. It’s tough. And I think, especially for actors, it’s tough because people have trouble suspending what they know. It’s hard. I don’t think you do have a responsibility to come out, but you do have a responsibility as a public figure to do good, and there’s so much good that can come from showing and revealing to millions of people that someone that we’ve all come to love and know and think of as an incredible person is gay. I think it would definitely balance the scales a bit. We’re all at this point on our own path, you know. You have to do what feels right, I suppose.
Does being visible count as activism, or do you have to do more than just exist?
For Sara and I, we’ve always said that it’s a huge, massive part of our activism. We’ll take a tour opening for huge bands, like The Kills or The Black Keys, and audiences that aren’t necessarily as alternative as ours. And we do feel that despite being on pop radio, this is helping bring our message to the mainstream. We felt a bigger responsibility. We have felt like we do need to do more. But I think visibility is a big thing. It’s a big step for a lot of people. We definitely have wanted to do more than that.
The charity work that you guys do, that’s a whole other extension. It’s fantastic.
It’s the balance, right? I always joke, I remember my parents went—well my mom and my stepdad—one of their first dates in the ‘80s was flying to Vancouver and seeing U2 play. This was, like, the late '80s, and it was very political. I remember my parents being like, "Well the show was really good, but all he did was preach to the audience and yell at them." I feel like yeah, I don’t want to come to a show and alienate people who came to see music. We’re not doing a talking tour. But I do feel there’s a balance, and you need to make sure that people know what we care about. But you always keep your eye on the prize, and the prize is putting on an amazing concert for people, and giving them the music. And every second that I’m like “Blah, blah, blah,” is another song that’s being cut off the setlist.