Tegan & Sara: Leaving a Political Record

Musicians Tegan and Sara, with their seventh album, Heartthrob, and a decade-plus experience under their belts, lead the pack of accomplished leaders in politics, sports, science, religion, and the arts named to our annual "40 Under 40" list.

BY Matthew Breen

April 02 2013 6:00 AM ET

“I think it’s such a cool issue, 40 Under 40,” says Sara Quin. “That’s how old my mom was when we graduated high school. When I was younger, I thought that 40 was when you had it all figured out. You’re not over the hill, like you’re going to die, but that seemed old to me. Now we’re seven and a half years from being the age my mom was when we graduated high school. It’s astounding to me.”

The twin sisters from Western Canada are seasoned pros at 32. Tegan and Sara Quin have been known to many queer and folk/indie rock fans for over a decade. In fact, they’ve been writing music a full half of their lives now. They were signed to a record deal at the tender age of 19.

“Now I guess 40 for me is like 50 — that’s what I’m thinking,” Sara continues. So 50 is when one is a fully formed adult?

“Maybe that’s the lesson here,” says Tegan. “That you’re never a fully formed adult.”

The night before the interview, Tegan and Sara finished a two-night set of shows at New York City’s Beacon Theatre. They’d just started a tour for their seventh album, Heartthrob, a pumping, synth-driven chart-topper that is a departure both in style and ambition for the duo.

“When I pitched the idea of Heartthrob, we did talk a lot about how fun it would be to appropriate ‘heartthrob,’ which is generally attached to males, for ourselves,” Tegan says. “Our first loves are heartthrobs — we obsess over something that isn’t real.”

For Tegan and Sara, those first loves were shared by a zillion grade school girls: New Kids on the Block. “We were like, We want a piece of them,” Tegan says.

“We had all of the memorabilia and the sleeping bag and the slap bracelet and the music,” Sara says. “I loved Joey [McIntyre] and Tegan loved Jordan [Knight].… That was probably the beginning of knowing that the girls that I was friends with, they wanted to kiss Joey, and I wanted to look like Joey.”

“But no,” Tegan interjects, “our record’s not really about Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block.”

It’s really not about Joey or Jordan. Both women are openly lesbian. At age 19, Tegan and Sara were signed to Vapor Records, the label run by Neil Young’s manager, Elliot Roberts. As soon as the press requests came in, Tegan and Sara, both of whom were out to their families, had to contend with being out publicly.

“We had never done interviews before, and a lot of the interest that we were getting was from gay magazines,” Sara says, “I remember I felt homophobic. I felt insecure. Like, Oh, my God, should we talk to these people? Are we allowed to be gay? Is that a decision we’re going to have to make right now?”

“People were either asking if we were gay, or ‘Do you have boyfriends?’ ” Tegan recalls. “What are you supposed to say? ‘So, you’re writing about your boyfriends?’ And we’re like, ‘Not really.’ I think we’d been signed a month.”


EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: The chart-topping heartthrobs sit down for an exclusive interview at the start of their tour for Heartthrob to talk about New Kids on the Block, the resurgence of rave, and what it was like to be openly gay from the very start of their professional careers at age 19.

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