Tegan Quin And Lynn Gvnn Get Real About What It’s Like To Be Queer In The Music Industry

“I think everything has changed. And nothing has changed.”

Photos by Lindsey Byrnes

Tegan Quin and Lynn Gvnn are key parts of two of our favorite musical acts working today (Tegan and Sara and PVRIS, respectively). And while interviewing the two of them would definitely be a NYLON dream come true, it was even cooler when we had the two of them sit down recently to interview each other, and talk about everything from what it's like to be nonstop touring to how their identity manifests in their music and how they came out to their families—and record labels. Check it all out in the interviews, below.

Tegan Quin: I'm curious about how you approached being "out" in the music industry and in your band. Was it a conversation with everyone? Or were you always out?
Lynn Gvnn: I came out to my family when I was 18. I don’t remember there ever being a conversation amongst the band or management regarding me being “out,” but I do remember a big debate in my head that existed for a little while before things with PVRIS fully set sail. I never wanted to compromise in fear of others’ approval, and I recognize the importance of being “out” as far as representation and visibility. [But] the debate existed from a different angle [for me]… I wanted to be “out,” but I wanted it to be the last thing people paid attention to. I didn’t want to be known as a gay woman playing music; I just wanted to be a musician who also just happened to be gay.

TQ: Do you feel comfortable talking about being queer in the press? Do you even identify as queer? Or as a lesbian? I know more and more young people are shaking off labels. Do you feel comfortable sharing how you identify?
LG: Initially, when people began to ask me about it, I felt uneasy. Not because I didn’t feel comfortable speaking about my sexuality, but because I always questioned the intentions of the interviewers and the intent behind the questions being asked. And again, I never wanted the topic of my sexuality to draw away attention from our music and art. However, now more than ever, representation and visibility is absolutely crucial in my opinion, so I feel more than happy to talk about it. As for how I identify, I absolutely love women and have yet to feel the same way about men, so I definitely just identify as gay!

TQ: I'm also wondering how your identity plays a role in your band. I know the rest of your band is male. And since my band is just [my identical twin sister] Sara and me, my identity and Sara's identity play a huge role in the music, the lyrical content, our imaging, etc. Is it the same for you? Or different because you share the band with two other men?
LG: This is a great question. I’ve never really thought about it? I write all of our lyrical content and come up with our creative concepts and visuals, but I always try to make sure everything I’m saying is representative of and applies to all three of us as a unit. It happens pretty naturally.

TQ: Sara and I felt VERY much like we had to be out. It was never a question if we were going to be honest or keep it private. We felt a responsibility to our audience who were quite young and female, to be honest about who we were and the challenges we were facing and what we were writing about. Did you feel this way? And what role or responsibility do you think public figures like yourself have to play in being out or being involved in the social justice of LGBTQ rights? I'm also wondering how you feel now that you're further into your career. Has it changed? Do you feel it in any way marginalizes your music or success?
LG: Absolutely! I definitely always recognized the importance of representation and visibility, so it wasn’t even a question as to whether I was to be open with my sexuality or not. The only hesitancy in my mind existed in what I explained earlier. That mindset still applies for me nowadays, but the hesitance around it, regarding press and the media, has definitely dissolved. In today’s climate, I think it’s crucial to talk about. As for other public figures, I can’t speak for them because not everyone has been given the same circumstances, so it definitely inspires me, to be involved for those who can’t be, and I hope that can inspire others as well.

TQ: Can you give me a quick overview of what you have coming up in the next year? What does the rest of 2017 look like for PVRIS!?
LG: So much! We’ve got a new record coming out in August, so [there's] that whole process! After that, just lots and lots of touring, filming for more videos, and everything else that comes with a new record cycle. [Laughs] The biggest thing on the list though is to enjoy it!

TQ: And then lastly, any advice for a band on their eighth record who's been touring for 20 years? You must have some awesome tour/life/industry hacks, being 23, that I could adopt to ensure I'm on the cutting edge of the music biz!? SERIOUSLY THOUGH!
LG: [Laughs] I’m probably the worst person to ask… I was hoping to ask you YOUR secrets!

Lynn Gvnn; Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

LG: I’m not familiar with your's and Sara’s coming out stories… What was your experience? Did you both figure out your sexuality and come out around the same time?
TQ: Sara came out first. There were some bumps initially with some family, but they came around pretty quickly. I came out next. Sara had weathered most of the trauma of coming out, so my coming out was a pretty easy affair. I’d go so far as saying it became a non-issue once Sara was “out.” I think everyone just assumed I was gay, too. I think it was pretty obvious. My haircut didn’t help.

LG: The amount of LGBTQ representation, support, and acceptance has obviously progressed so much over the past 20 years. What’s it like to look back to when you began and see where you are now? What were some of the biggest struggles just starting out? Which struggles that existed back then are you still seeing today?
TQ: While we never even considered being closeted, I think we definitely sensed awkwardness about our sexuality with the industry when we first started in the ’90s. That left us often speaking very little about it initially, but we never lied or hid it.  

I think there were genuine fears and concerns that being “out” would hinder our success within our team or the label, but, for us, we saw no future in the mainstream, so once we were embraced by alternative music, we just pushed forward full steam ahead and accepted that we were going to be seen as a “lesbian band.” And we were okay with that. I think being women held us back much more often than being gay. We worked in alternative music for 10 years before we moved to pop. And that’s a man's world. Us being gay may have helped us there rather than hurt us.   

I think everything has changed. And nothing has changed. All at the same time.  Depending on the day or which way I squint my eyes, I can be here or back then in a second. It’s just the way it is… but we’ll keep fighting.

LG: You and Sara recently launched the Tegan and Sara Foundation—which is so incredible, by the way. How long of a process has this been to organize this and finally launch it? What other organizations were you involved with prior?   
TQ: We’ve always been politically active and interested in giving back to our community. Over the years, we discussed starting a foundation to legitimize and hopefully expand our activism and ability to give. This year it just finally made sense to do it. We’ve always focused on giving to grassroots organizations and leaned towards LGBTQ orgs or women's organizations. So the foundation will do the same. We have access, privilege, and visibility right now. And we see it as our responsibility to use those things to access funds and funnel them to the LGBTQ organizations working in the trenches. Women and girls are underfunded, underrepresented, and under-researched in the LGBTQ community. We want to work to change that in any way we can. For us, this is not a vanity project. We truly see ourselves as activists and wouldn’t have the career we do if not for the support of our community.

LG: Over the past few years, the band and I have noticed a drastic shift when we play live, because we've seen a sort of LGBTQ "safe space" developing at our shows… Was this a similar thing for you and Sara? Was it a slow growing process or was it something that was present right off the bat?   
TQ: We figured out really quickly that, as openly queer women in a band, we were going to see a lot of LGBTQ people at shows, even if they didn’t know who we were, as our shows became community spaces. People came to see their friends and support the community. Music is a wonderful way to bring together different people, and so we focused on ensuring our shows were open-minded, all ages, LGBTQ-friendly, and a “safe space” from day one. But, in recent years, we absolutely continue to look for ways to ensure it’s truly a safe space. From bathrooms to culturally competent security to our messaging from stage, we ensure our fans feel comfortable, safe, and welcome at our shows.

LG: This question is slightly serious, slightly kidding… I think LGBTQ people are absolutely fucking MAGICAL. I genuinely feel like there’s something magic that exists in us that I have yet to identify. Do you agree? If so, what do you think that "magic" is? 
TQ: [Laughs] I agree! Seriously. I feel special for sure. I have always said, through thick and thin, good and bad, highs and lows as a gay person, I feel so lucky to have been born this way. I feel like my perspective on life and love and myself and society, is so unique, and I also feel like I’ve used my otherness to become a more empathetic person. I feel like I haven’t ever felt like I’ve been on the same path as anyone [else]. My life feels so unique. How people engage with me is so unique. It’s made me feel very magical at times. Definitely.

LG: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself in the past 20 years of touring that you don’t think you could have learned any other way?  
TQ: This is going to sound silly, but I think I learned that I love business. I am seen as an “artist.” And I am. But I think what I truly love is solving problems. Details. Efficiency. Running a team. Being involved with a team. Marketing and strategy. Through eight records and 20 years, we’ve really only had mainstream success a few times. Mostly we have worked in the underground, just below the surface of the mainstream. So we had to learn how to thrive and succeed with very little mainstream support or radio. The challenge of gaming the system and stretching a dollar has become my obsession!

LG: I found myself completely burnt out after only two to three years of nonstop touring, how in the WORLD have you managed 20 years of it? What’s the most important thing you've learned over the years to stay in a relatively healthy mental state through it all? How have you stayed excited and inspired?   
TQ: The best piece of advice I ever got was after nearly two years of being chronically sick on the road. Our managers sent me to a family member who was a naturopathic doctor. She prescribed a bunch of natural remedies and gave me a strict diet to follow, to help battle my low immunity and post-antibiotic body. But also, she took me aside after the appointment and said that I needed to allow myself to be sick and also to get better; that it was obvious I felt like I had to do everything, be everything, say yes to everything, be okay all the time. And that I was not going to be able to do that. And that I literally had to ask everyone around me—including my band and crew—to be sick, to lay in the back and just... get better. She basically was the first person who brought “stress makes you sick” into my life. I changed EVERYTHING after that.

We have slowly been learning to say no. We also eat as well as we can. I also pretty much refuse to do any press before 1pm. I think getting enough sleep on the tour bus is pretty much an oxymoron—like, I wake up exhausted no matter how many hours I get—but I think rushing to do early morning things leads to an early band death. You need to find joy in every day. It sounds silly and trite, but it's true. If by the time you step on stage you’ve been working and talking and doing press and taking photos all day long, how can you possibly enjoy the show? I think separating press and promotion from the musician part of your day is super important.   

I think we’ve managed to do this for 20 years because it’s not just our passion, it’s our purpose. Our audience, LGBTQ rights, being visible for our community, traveling the world, learning empathy, and experiencing the connection with hundreds of thousands of people over the past 20 years, fuels me in the lowest, most tired times. That being said, I am definitely burnt out. [Laughs]

Tegan Quin and sister and bandmate, Sara; Photo by Lindsey Byrnes