Taylor Swift squad member Sara Quin of sister-sister electropop duo Tegan and Sara calls Epigram‘s Alexia Kirov from their Cophenhagen show to chat ‘woke’ pop, LGBT activism and the role of women in music.
When I first heard the lyrics ‘Do you remember me as devout / How I prayed for your calls?’ in the opening verse of 2013’s ‘I was a Fool’, by twins Tegan and Sara, I never thought that I’d one day be waiting for Sara to call me.
Our conversation begins by discussing the genesis of the pair’s appetite to playmusic. Sara tells me that their music-loving family “certainly encouraged” their interest: “Our grandparents had a country and western bar in their basement, and they had a jukebox. On Friday night, we’d go over and they would be listening to Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton… and eventually let loose and dance on the dance floor.” she said.
I remember the riot grrrl movement and Sleater-Kinney and thinking it was so cool that girls were in bands.
Another source of encouragement was growing up so close to Seattle, a city which has fostered some impressive musical heritage: “I remember the riot grrrl movement and Sleater-Kinney and thinking it was so cool that girls were in bands”. Yet despite the riot grrrl movement being part of a long history of successful female bands, and Tegan and Sara being one of countless female artists whose records fly off the shelves today, last week the music press was once again filled with discussion of the recent Reading/Leeds line-up announcement, which currently features 57 men and just one woman.
To this, Sara laughs somewhat resignedly, lamenting “Although increasingly, there are headlines about the inequity between men and women on festival line-ups, it doesn’t seem to do much to change anything. It’s totally nuts, but if I have to find a positive in all of this, it does seem that women are able to reign in other areas of the industry, women are making inroads into electronic music and DJing and the pop charts, and other areas”.
Tegan and Sara’s 2016 album Love You To Death is something of a tour de force when it comes to music videos, with one made to accompany each track. The band decided to undertake this project because they would “spend a ridiculous amount of money, sometimes $50,000 or $80,000 on a video. On the last record, we had a single, ‘Closer’, and when you spend so much money marketing the song, it makes sense to have a video that is very fancy. But with this record, I just kept thinking to myself, ‘Why not take that budget and make 10 videos?’ The trick really was making sure we weren’t exploiting any of the people who we were working with, but pretty much from that point forward we were wondering how do we make inexpensive videos that will be visually and creatively stimulating?”
Although the twins are in the midst of their European tour, our conversation inevitably veers towards the current political situation in America. I ask Sara what she believes the role of artists should be in such a turbulent and troubling political climate. “I think speaking out is what’s required of us right now, although I’m careful about calling other people out because the truth is that a lot of people don’t have an opinion, or they don’t feel safe or comfortable talking about it. I also feel protective of some of the famous celebrities that people will focus on… there is certainly a social and cultural significance to speaking out to your audience, but do we put the same emphasis on our politicians or our business leaders or legislators?” she replies.
It seems that the advent of social media adds another layer of complexity, which has led Sara to question her own online habits: “Should I even post about the tour that we’re literally on right now, is that in bad taste? We try to strike a balance between what we think is socially relevant and also the fact that we are a band, most of the people who follow us are following us because they like our music and they want to know what we’re doing,” she said.
There are inequalities in the LGBTQ community that don’t have anything to do with marriage equality, like health care, economic justice, or visibility in media; sometimes just very basic things that aren’t glamourous, and don’t have a big fancy hashtag to go with them and those are the challenges that our audience talks to us about.
Alongside promoting Love You To Death, another of the twins’ current projects is the Tegan and Sara Foundation, which, their website states, is “fighting for economic justice, health, and representation for LGBTQ girls and women”. “We’re currently in a very preliminary, early stage,” Sara says. “Our big thing right now is research. There are inequalities in the LGBTQ community that don’t have anything to do with marriage equality, like health care, economic justice, or visibility in media; sometimes just very basic things that aren’t glamourous, and don’t have a big fancy hashtag to go with them and those are the challenges that our audience talks to us about.”
Mindful that the band are due on-stage in Copenhagen in a few hours, I wrap things up by asking what it is that has catalysed Tegan and Sara’s shift in direction over the years: “I think in terms of the sonics of the band there is certainly a deliberate and purposeful approach to each album and an aim to make each successive album different from the last. Even when sometimes I know that that isn’t going to be necessarily the first thing that fans want. It’s not that I don’t worry about what they think, but I didn’t make our first five albums thinking about an audience, we didn’t really have one!” she replies, before we say goodbye.
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