Somewhere on the internet, you can hear Tegan and Sara‘s new single, “Closer.”
“It keeps getting posted!” Tegan Quin said. “I feel like every hour someone else sends me something saying ‘Oh my god I heard your new song!’ And I’m like ‘Cool.’ When you finish something, you just want everyone to listen to it the way it’s meant to be listened to, but I definitely will never go listen but apparently it doesn’t sound bad, it sounds pretty good. So the person who filmed it didn’t do a bad job, so good for them!”
The duo performed the song live at a summer session for their label and recently filmed a music video on a set that disallowed any photos, Tweets or social media whatsoever. And with the album’s title still not made public, Tegan and Sara’s new stuff is shrouded in secrecy. Thankfully, Tegan gave us a taste of how she created “Closer.”
“I had spent a really long time writing a different song, which didn’t make the record and literally like two days of messing with it and when I finished, I sort of had this moment where I sort of wanted to walk away because it was mid-afternoon and Sara and I had really made an attempt not to lean too heavily on anything we’ve done before so I’ve been writing in a very different way than I had ever before, which meant I was taking time to actually write,” she said. “I was spending a lot of time rewriting and challenging myself and not abusing the same concepts we’ve used in the past. So when I finished this two-day epic writing session I still had a few hours left on the clock and I was like ‘Well I’m just going to write a song the old-fashioned way and throw down three chords and just start singing. And I’m not going to play it on guitar. I’m tired of playing guitar.’ So I just sort of hooked up my controller and I just turned down like three chords and I’ve been listening to a lot of Ace of Base, Erasure and like thinking about what it was like to be a teenager again and I started singing almost immediately, like this really basic idea of a love song, the idea of writing something very simple and trying not to write about anything sad. I just wanted to write about wanting to get it on with somebody. Like ‘Let’s get it on. Let’s get closer. Let’s do this. Let’s get to know each other.’ That’s what came out of me in like 20 minutes and the song was done.”
Sounds kind of sexy, right? That’s kind of where the new album seems to be going. While Tegan and Sara write their own songs separately before collaborating on the finished product, they also seem to have a shared sense of what their songs and sound will be — and it all sounds pretty hot.
“Everyone’s like ‘It’s so sexy! It’s so hot!’ And I’m like ‘I guess, yeah!’” Tegan said. “For me, it’s all about that moment before it gets that way. You know, it’s about the eternal journey, the innocent, youthful summer love, when it doesn’t mean anything. Remember when we used to live off the fumes of just off liking someone and it didn’t matter if they knew? So I think I was writing a little more from that perspective. I mean there are a couple songs where I was writing about relationships but I think in general I’m writing much more about that.”
As for her twin, Sara, she says, is writing more from more modern-day real life experience.
“Sara was writing much more about before the relationship. Again, this idea of when you meet somebody, but it’s the opposite: When you get older and you start to doubt yourself and you have you that insecurity, so when you meet someone and you instantly put them up on a pedestal and they become unattainable,” Tegan said. “It’s almost that feeling you get when you obsess over a celebrity or a crush. Like ‘I’ll never get to be with…’ I’m trying to think of a celebrity someone might love. ‘I’ll never get to be with Scarlett Johansson! She’s too pretty and too famous and too talented!” It’s that feeling of doing it to a normal person. Sara’s had a couple relationships with people that I think really influenced this record with this idea of unattainable — it’s like you never even speak or tell the person you like them because you’re too afraid of what would happen.”
Of course this isn’t the first time T&S will have touched on obsession, lust and unrequited love. Last year their song with Morgan Page “Body Work” had them singing “You do your body work / I feel my pulse working overtime” over a highly-danceable bass beat. They also collaborated with DJ Tiesto and Sara sang on “Why Even Try” with hip-hop labelmate Theophilus London, venturing into genres that are a lot different from where they were when they first started with acoustic guitars and dueling folk-pop harmonies. These collaborations, Tegan said, played a role in their more dance-driven songs on the new album.
“The dance collaborations taught Sara and I two things: One, we can kind of do anything and our fans stand behind us, because I think when you’re doing a dance collaboration or a hip-hop collaboration, we’re still being Tegan and Sara about it. So it gave us a lot of confidence to explore outside the lines,” Tegan said. “Secondly I think we learned the melodies in our voices are the most important aspect of any song, and so there’s more singing together on this record, more collaboration, and even more melodies. That we shouldn’t just be doing harmonies — we should be doing counter-melodies and Sara sings a lot of my bridges on this record and so there’s a lot of that, and that definitely was the influence of the dance collaborations we have.”
Tegan and Sara were also inspired by the way they’ve learned to write for other artists. “It’s funny, as soon as I started writing for other people I was like ‘Well we need structure here! We can’t just randomly put things in willy nilly! There needs to be some structure!’ And I was like ‘Why don’t we apply this structure to our music?” Like why are we being the willy/nilly?” Tegan said. “We need to have structure! So I think the record sounds more grown up. It also sounds, you know, better because we almost tried to pretend we weren’t making a record for ourselves. It really feels like a grown up record.”
That’s something else that’s changed over time — Tegan and Sara are no longer nineteen and riding around the country in a van for most of the year. Not only has their sound evolved, but as people they have grown, which means their priorities have changed. And the industry has changed as well, which means they have to be business savvy just as much as they have to be making music they are proud of and that fans enjoy.
“We’re getting old, it feels like, so our intention with this record is to get a bigger audience so that we can sustain ourselves,” Tegan said. “At this point to make a living, to pay our mortgages, we have to tour all the time. Because we don’t sell records and we don’t get played on the radio so the only way to make a living for us it to tour, and not that we don’t want to tour anymore, but I definitely feel that when this record is all done and wrapped up, we’ll be in our mid-30s and we want families, and I want to write, and I love being in the studio and I don’t want to have to tour 300 days a year anymore. And so when we sat down to write this record and when we finished the record and sat down with our management to set out goals and expectations, a big thing we talked about was how to expand our band just beyond touring. That means going to radio. That means having better videos so they get played on television, not just on the internet.”
Tegan said they also want to travel to countries they either haven’t been to much or have never been to, including South America, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
“I love touring America but we’ve toured it 1000 times and touring just feels like touring and work,” she said. “And I would love to start going to new countries so I can also go on holiday, so I can experience different cultures and see the world. Going to India had a huge impact on us as a band, as artists and humans. We were like ‘Wow, we’re really going to a specific type of country with a specific type of audience, but amazing would it be to go and play all these other different countries and experience a whole different world.’ So our objective is to kind of make our band bigger so that we can go more places, do more things and experience more culture.”
And besides that, Tegan is hoping that the more mainstream the band becomes, the more influence they will have, saying, “I want to have more power. I want to have a bigger audience because I want to help more people and I want to make sure that anybody who wants to see Tegan and Sara can and I don’t want to limit ourselves. We picked a producer that had experience not only in the indie world but also in the mainstream world. He’s worked with the Shins and with Sia but he’s also worked with Kelly Clarkson and with Ke$ha and Foster the People. Our intention is to have a more commercial record. But I don’t think we compromised in terms of songwriting at all. I think this is the strongest and best record we’ve made and I think it will be the most accessible.”
Which brings us back to the single, “Closer.” We’ll finally be able to hear it how Tegan and Sara recorded it when it’s released on September 18. What we’ll hear, Tegan said, is something more simple; something everyone who heard the album as they were working on it said they loved and that made them want to dance.
“Certainly with the evolution of our band — our records, they started off so simple and then they got really complicated and I mean, obviously, each record people love for different reasons. Each record we knowingly go into some people are going to love it, some people are going ot not. Some people are going to go ‘When will they go back to playing acoustic guitar? Slow songs!’ Some people are like ‘I love the rock songs!’ We know there’s going to be pessimism and some of that so going into this record, I didn’t want the songs themselves to be complicated,” Tegan said. “The tracks themselves are delivered with a complicated ideas and melodies and whatever, but the songs themselves I definitely felt our intention was to write much more classically so we compare them to “Back in Your Head” or “Call it Off” or even “Nineteen” I think we were moving in the direction of writing more like that. I don’t think this record sounds anything like The Con but I think we were — certainly I was writing a little more classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus on the songs. And those translate.
“It’s funny,” she continued. “I think our audience sometimes, especially our diehards, gravitate to the more complicated music, but ultimately when we’re playing the record live people seem to gravitate toward the more classic, traditional arrangements so we tried that a lot more. That was the number one challenge on this record to try and write. I mean I love songs like “Alligator” where it’s way too complicated and things don’t make any sense and it’s all over the place. I wanted to try to write — I wanted to know what it would be like if Sara just wrote verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. She did it beautifully and every song of hers on the record is a homerun because she’s great. I really wanted people to be caught up in the feeling, in the lyrics and the melodies.”
We’ll be waiting until January for the full album but some fans will get the chance to hear four new songs live as Tegan and Sara play select dates this fall and are opening for The Black Keys. And while some things about the band has changed, some things will always stay the same.
“We’ll definitely absolutely play the record versions of the songs to start with. We’re learning other versions of it, too, like there’s with the single “Closer,” because it’s the single we’ll have to play it all over the place in lots of different environments so we learn acoustic, stripped-down versions of each song as well. Because we love that. That’s a part of Tegan and Sara that will never go away,” Tegan said. “The idea that we always want to be able to turn a song into a very intimate experience, so we’re just writing alternate versions of all the new music. But yeah, people will definitely be getting a preview of the record this fall, for sure. That’s something we haven’t really done since the ’90s. That’s the trend now is to have a long lead-up to your record, play the songs live, have people get excited finally and let them post videos and stuff so we’re kind of embracing it.”