In 2013, Canadian twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin installed a mailbox in the lobby of their concert venues so their fans could drop off letters to them, often of the highly personal variety. Over the course of seven albums, Tegan and Sara, as they’re officially known, had cultivated a devoted following that responded to their guitar-centric, heart-swelling music, and as their popularity grew, they didn’t want to lose this intimate connection they had established. Nonetheless, after releasing that year’s Heartthrob, a slick, pop-spiked curveball whose hit song, “Closer,” was an earworm that burrowed a home in pop radio and helped them land an opening gig on Katy Perry’s world tour, they anticipated some backlash. “I get it,” Tegan says on a recent Los Angeles afternoon. “Our fans attach to a certain era of our band. I’ve been there. But just like how I can’t go back and look the way I did when I was 24, musically, I can’t go backwards. I don’t want to.”
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Love You to Death, the duo’s latest album, makes it abundantly clear: Tegan and Sara are done gazing in the rearview mirror. The aggressive, whooshing pop fever dream was overseen by of-the-moment producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Ellie Goulding), and it doubles down on its predecessor’s mainstream sheen. Whereas Heartthrob found the duo still occasionally wielding guitars, LYtD is an entirely electro-pop affair. “There were so many years where we felt like people would not let us change or evolve,” Sara explains of the duo’s forward-thinking mind-set. Even as the 35-year-old identical twins collaborated with everyone from rapper Theophilus London to punk rockers Against Me! and EDM maestro Tiësto, they still found it hard to shake fans’ preconceptions of their musical identity. “It was like, ‘No, no, you’re the lesbian folk twins that we saw in 1999 and we’re never going to let you live that down,” says Sara. “As a result we really aggressively pushed back.”
Sure, the outset of their career was defined by Lilith Fair folk, but beginning with 2007’s The Con, their first taste of mainstream success, Tegan and Sara progressively incorporated more pop elements into their music. By Heartthrob, they’d become a full-blown pop act.
Photographed by Derek Wood. Styled by Dani Michelle. Suits by Marc Jacobs.
Much to their surprise, the pop world embraced them in ways that the sometimes insular indie-rock community never had. Last year, they joined The Lonely Island onstage at the 87th Academy Awards, and performed The Lego Movie’s Oscar-nominated song “Everything Is Awesome” in front of more than 65 million viewers. “How wonderful to be included,” Tegan recalls. “I like this party a lot better!”
Tegan and Sara’s new album is undoubtedly hook-heavy with pristine production, but, as Sara says, it also includes “some of the most bare, lyrical songs” of their career. The production, she emphasizes, doesn’t obscure “the intensity or the emotional depth” of the songs. Case in point: On lead single “Boyfriend,” Sara, who has been in a relationship with her girlfriend, Stacy Reader, for five years, recalls the pain of her partner being involved with a man when they first met: “You turn me on, like you would your boyfriend/ But I don’t wanna be your secret anymore,” Sara sings.Photographed by Derek Wood. Styled by Dani Michelle. Suits by Marc Jacobs.
The sisters’ relationship has evolved in step with their music. “I always had this horrible guilt and shame about how much we fought,” Sara recalls of their early twenties, when the sisters would physically tussle, something Tegan attributes to “power struggles with how we expressed ourselves.” She adds, “Over the last decade we’ve grown closer and grown to understand each other’s vision. I think there’s a level of respect we have for one another that has trumped any sort of disagreement or personality clash that can happen.”Photographed by Derek Wood. Styled by Dani Michelle. Suits by Marc Jacobs.
It’s also allowed them to operate on a unified front when speaking on social issues. On LYtD’s “BWU,” Sara sings: “Save your first and last dance for me/ I don’t need a white wedding.” She admits she couldn’t have written that song before last year, when gay marriage was legalized across the U.S., if only because marriage isn’t for her. “Part of what I love about being queer,” says Sara, “is I don’t have to adhere to any cultural standards.”
But with their pop sound firmly crystalized, don’t expect Tegan and Sara to remain static. “We’ve survived and thrived because we took risks,” says Tegan. “When a lot of artists waited to be invited to the party, we invited ourselves.”Photographed by Derek Wood. Styled by Dani Michelle. On Sara: vest by Assembly New York, shirt by Equipment; on Tegan: blazer by Vince, top by Bassike.