Tegan Quin on headlining The Dinah and the thrilling success of “Heartthrob”

Twin sisters and bandmates Tegan and Sara Quin have been making musical magic together for over a decade. Their latest album Heartthrob made a huge splash in 2013, capturing a whole new audience and solidifying their status as pop-rock goddesses. This year, the out musicians will be headlining The Dinah, the epic queer girl party that takes over Palm Springs every spring. Tegan Quin took time out to talk with AfterEllen about The Dinah, the evolution of the band’s sound, and how making Heartthrob brought about an even stronger collaboration between the sisters. 

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Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

AfterEllen: You are going to be headlining this year’s Dinah, or as it’s sometimes called, Lesbian Spring Break! Which sounds like a lot more fun than Ft. Lauderdale. Is your first time performing there? Have you attended as guests before?
Tegan Quin: No, I’ve never made it to a Dinah Shore before, so this will be our first time playing and our first time attending.

AE: Well I think you guys are going to be in for a treat—well I know at least everyone else there is.
TQ: Yeah we are really excited. I mean, I have a million friends who have gone and it’s just been one of those things that I’ve wanted to do and never happened, so I feel really excited.

AE: So it’s pretty obvious you are going to tear the roof off the joint. You can’t really help but want to dance to Heartthrob. I’m guilty of doing that in the subway, actually myself. Will you be playing some of your older fan favorites as well?
TQ: Yeah, we absolutely do. I mean our live shows include songs from all of our records, so we definitely love playing all our stuff. It’s a good mix, I think.

AE: I remember very distinctly going to my local record shop in Kalamazoo Michigan in 2000 and stumbling across This Business of Art. It was unlike anything else I had heard. You music continues to be very unique and progressive. With each new album comes a new feeling, a new sound. Is that something that is very important to the both of you, or is it just the natural evolution of your sound as musicians?
TQ: I think it’s a bit of everything. I think it absolutely is part of just a natural evolution, of a new vision, of constantly striving to do something new and different. I think Sara and I are. If you talk about, this is what came out so many years ago, I think we have just grown and evolved as artists. As individuals we changed, the business changed, the way we make music as changed, the way we record music has changed. I think there’s just a lot more options than when we first started and we were limited in terms of experience and ability, but also in terms of finances and money. We couldn’t afford a big band. We couldn’t necessarily translate our record live the way we can now.

Oftentimes in the studio, we were reluctant to layer all the harmonies or background vocals, because how would we ever perform them live? Now we have the ability. Just even something as simple as being able to sample a vocal and play it. Like have Sara play “ohhhs” and background things on a keyboard, on stage, while she sings a harmony. Things have just evolved so much. It’s a crazy, weird science experiment that our music has become. I think it’s allowed us to really try everything. I think that’s what’s really cool about our progress because it really hasn’t cut into the writing. I think we write better than we ever did and I think we still care most about the songs and the stories. Telling those stories and writing great songs, that is ultimately the most important thing to us. And I don’t think we compromised any of that.

AE: Absolutely not, as a fan as well, you have always been on the cutting edge of all of that anyway.
TQ: I think we’ve always been very good at figuring out what is cool, at the same time that we are doing what we do—but sometimes we don’t. I think with Heartthrob we just lucked out. What we are making and music that we are interested in right now just happens to be accessible. It was kind of just really great luck. I have no idea. We could make something that’s accessible again or make something that’s accessible at the right time, you know. I’m glad we did it this time. It felt really special to make a record like this that has really allowed us to do so many awesome things. It’s really opened a lot of doors and I feel that it’s a great time to be opening doors like that for people.

AE: Well that is along the same lines as my next question. Your latest album Heartthrob was released to much critical and popular acclaim. And of course you were featured on Glee! I know that actress Lea Michele was a big fan of the album. Did you find that Heartthrob, and being in Glee and featured in all these new places, opened up a whole new fan base for you?
TQ: Yeah, absolutely! Glee, that was a really big deal when that happened. That was defiantly a sign that the pop scene has changed and a lot of pop culture places were really going to open up their arms to us, which was really exciting. As musicians who didn’t get radio play for most of their career, we recognized how important placement in television and film was. It’s always been a place that we have put a lot of time and energy into. We ended up having seven or eight songs that ended up being placed in the tv show Grey’s Anatomy.

AE: I was going to say, your songs have been such a part of the soundtrack to Grey’s Anatomy.
TQ: Yeah, that was significant because we weren’t getting radio play. That was such a significant move at that time because it helped fund a lot of our touring, but it also just helped us gain a new audience. Certainly Glee covering “Closer” was a really big deal. We are always looking for the opportunity to spread the word of our band. You have to use creative ways to continue to expand and diversify your audience. That’s just reality. The reality is people grow up and don’t listen to music as much, or they fall out with your band, or your new record doesn’t resonate with them. You constantly have to be diversifying and bringing new people to the project. We’re really aware of that and we’re ok with that. We are good with that. So that’s why we are always doing new things and trying new things.

AE: One of the things I find so compelling about Heartthrob is that it really nails female desire and the complicated feelings that rise up around that. We don’t too often hear a women singing that she wants to get someone underneath her. It’s empowering as hell. Was that the intent of these songs or just something that organically came about in the process?
TQ: I think that I was really pushed by Sara to try and write outside of where I was in the past. She was like, “You don’t have to go and write a bunch of sad, love songs. You’re not sad. So why don’t you write about something else?” She didn’t say, why don’t you write a song about making out with somebody or getting it on with somebody, but she encouraged me to try and do something different. I think for me, territory that I hadn’t really covered was that part of love, or the part of infatuation. Just even that spark when you first meet someone, I just had never covered that. It never had occurred to me I could. Even if it was about a relationship that was doomed and ended badly, just the idea that I could go back to that relationship and remember that moment…that second that I met that person, and it wasn’t bad, it was amazing. It was incredible. So I tried to focus on some of the more positive sides of meeting someone and falling in love. That became really interesting to me.

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Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

AE: Speaking of process, the two of you write very differently, correct? Do you write separately and come together, or work together from the get go? How would you describe Sara’s writing style?
TQ: We do really different things. It really just depends. In the past we’ve done a lot of writing separately, we weren’t really interested in collaborating. With Heartthrob we just kind of evolved. There were a few different songs that I was like, “Oh god, I don’t know what to write next.” So I just looked to Sara for some thoughts and she threw down some ideas. It happened very organically. There was no, “Oh we should try writing more,” but the more we did write together, the ore I was like, “Oh, this really reflects a whole other side of our band.” Also we’ve been hearing for years how much people really, like, almost preferred our live shows to the record. I think a big part of that is that in our live shows we actually sing together, and on record, we rarely sing together. I generally record my own background vocals. Sara would do the same. I think we realized that was sort of territory we hadn’t covered before. I think that’s why people really ended up liking Heartthrob so much, is that we made it a collaborative effort for the first time ever.

AE: I think it really shows. There is something so connected about the album. I can see exactly what you are talking about. I want to close with a very serious question. Did you two set out to be hair icons?
TQ: [laughs]

AE: Because with every new album there seems to come a new style and each is more awesome that the one before it. How does it make you feel to see girls with your haircuts at your concerts?
TQ: We are always quick to point out that it’s very possibly that we are seeing someone in our audience and thinking they’re very stylish. So maybe we’re copying their hair? I hate taking credit for all short haircuts. It feels like I’m stealing the thunder. I mean we grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and the style and fashion had so much to do with what was cool. We grew up on Cyndi Lauper and Davie Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and then you know, grunge music like Courtney Love and Nirvana. Style had everything to do with the music. The way that they dressed and the aesthetic and the imaging around those records that reflected who they were in a way that the music also reflected who they were. Sara and I have always been conscious of the fact that there is some sort of indie rock “I don’t care, I just wear skinny jeans” and I think for Sara and I, it’s always been about taking it to the next level.

To learn more about The Dinah and get tickets, click here. For more info about Tegan and Sara, check out their website (teganandsara.com) and follow them on Twitter (@teganandsara).

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