Tegan Quin on the 10 Year Anniversary of “So Jealous,” and the new T&S collection

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Where were you 10 years ago? I had just turned 21 and was in a relationship with my first girlfriend. We met at the college newspaper and wooed each other with our shared love of band Ts and lady-led indie rock. Tegan and Sara‘s So Jealous came out right in the thick of it. Talk about a soundtrack to our relationship. We worked “Downtown” together at our art school in Chicago. “I Know I Know I Know” was our story. And damn, there were truly some moments where “I get so jealous, I can’t even work” was all too real.

This is likely a shared experience, although your affinity for each track on Tegan and Sara’s fourth studio album will have different meaning for you. So Jealous marked a pivotal turn for the duo, bringing them to bigger venues and opening for established acts like The Killers and The Black Keys. It was put on several Best of 2004 album lists, including Rolling Stone‘s top 50.

“It was the first time we experienced any amount of success,” Tegan said. “I hate to use the word ‘success’ because we had already been on the road for five years and it was success in our minds but–it was the first time where we played crowds who knew who we were and sang along, it was the first time we hopped on a bus, the first time we sold out shows. So many firsts so it was a really emotional thing to relive it all. And it’s so neat to be able to share that with our audience. There’s also new fans who are just getting on board in the past couple of years and that’s so great but there’s this whole world of Tegan and Sara they probably didn’t know that exists.”

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Tegan and Sara started playing together as an official band close to 10 years before So Jealous came out, so anyone who considered them an overnight success then or now would be mistaken. It’s just that now is a completely different time. In a decade, so much has changed in how fans interact with artists, and the internet has become integral to connecting the two; a shared learning experience that benefits everyone involved.

When it came out, there wasn’t really that social media constant updating that we happening see now. So there was so much content that no one had ever seen or was lost in the last ten years of the internet, so for months we contacted anyone we could think of that had been around during the time period of So Jealous. And based on the content we started writing essays,” Tegan said.

The success of their 2009 book, On, In, At, hinted that another book dedicated to the So Jealous era might be as popular with fans, especially those who, like me, found them at an age in which they’ve grown alongside them, with them as fans and people. The new collection, called So Jealous X, includes a book with the essays, photographs and other pieces of visual memories from recording and touring, and also remixes, demos, unreleased B-Sides and select covers of songs like “Walking With a Ghost.”

“We paired it down to the smallest package we could but it’s still a massive amount of stuff,” Tegan said. “In the end there’s 22 additional pieces of music, of course the book itself, and a million different oddities that you can order along with it. It kinda became a monster of a project, as usual. I feel really excited about it, I love the demos, the remixes, and it’s so neat to hear the evolution. Even the remixes now make it sound so much different than it did ten years ago.”

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Although a lot has changed in 10 years—hairstyles, producers, collaborators, locations—Tegan said she’s proud of So Jealous, especially because they were so young and didn’t have to overthink what they were doing or wearing.

“We weren’t thinking about the internet,” Tegan said. “If I got on stage in this terrible wrinkly ugly trench coat T-shirt, I wasn’t thinking this is literally going to be out there forever. We didn’t think about that, back then. But now when I leave my house I think long and hard that someone might want to come up and take a picture and  it will be saved digitally, forever! Most of the content in the book, we did 14 drafts of the book so it really evolved, there was a lot of things where I went ‘Hell no!’ or ‘That shirt is a bit tight!’ I was editing to some degree. But when it comes to the music, I’m proud of the demos, of the b-sides, of the roughness. We were just learning how to record ourselves.  We were just starting to really develop our skill set in terms of practicing. When you hear these demos these are the first times we ever sang these songs and they’re recorded for everyone to hear. I’m willing to over look the off key or the pitchinesss, because I think it’s neat to share the beginning of the song writing process. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, I don’t know. I think it’s really a cool thing.”

And it is, maybe even equally for newer fans who found Tegan and Sara from The Con on. If this is their first experience with So Jealous, they will hear the beginnings of experiments that ended up becoming more of what the band is today.

“When we went into the studio to record So Jealous, we really were just starting to get a hand on production,” Tegan said. “I was never taught or thought that a note could be fixed on its own if it sounded off, I thought we just had to sing the whole song hundreds of times until we sang it perfectly. That was the record too where there were a lot of tears, and we talk about it in the book. We had a lot of resistance from the record company and people who worked for us, saying it was as terrible idea to put keyboards on the record. I remember playing ‘Waking with the Ghost’ for the drummer and he said we’d ruined it, ruined the  potential of the song putting keyboards on it. I went home thinking, ‘Really? Is it that extreme?’ I just didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I think now about how much time and energy we talk about how different we sound from back then, but the truth is every record we’ve ever made has been a step forward. We always run up against some resistance, some external, some internal. There’s still a very inquisitive and questioning mind in us now, as there was then, we’re still stepping back and asking if what we’re doing is too extreme. And So Jealous was a very extreme record for us.”

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Tegan notes that the first time she heard Sara’s songs for the album (such as “Walking With a Ghost,” “I Can’t Take It” and the title track) and thinking she was “out of her mind.”

“And I loved it!” Tegan said. “It was so weird and dark and different and she was being influenced by Montreal and the indie rock that was happening there, I remember that it was so different than what we’ve done and it really excited me.”

So Jealous also marked a time when Tegan and Sara began to realize they were a brand that fans wanted to buy into, from their T-shirt designs by longtime friend of the band Emy Storey, to their album art and kinds of merch made available.

So Jealous was the first record that we started to recognize that in order to capitalize and brand our band, we needed to have an image,” Tegan said. “That meant having a cohesive package. Like the record should look like the website, there should be merchandise that ties it all together. That was the record we started to tie in all these ideas.”

Today Tegan and Sara offer everything from baby bibs to calendars to pillow cases, all in their very hip aesthetic because the twins are heavily involved in every thing that has their image or name associated with it.

“I have daydreams of not being as involved, being able to have a more balanced life, but the truth is I still take more pleasure out of what we do now than we did ten years ago,” Tegan said. “I love being Tegan and Sara. I love our audience and I love this career. And that pride in what we do prevents me from stepping back too far. So when it comes to creating So Jealous box sets or coming up with a Christmas ornament, these are great things. They are creative outlets. It’s been three and a half years since we’ve been in the studio writing and recording, and we’ve been out touring and there’s a lack of creative  energy when you’re touring, it can start to feel like you’re karaoke artists. So for us they are creative projects, and creative outlets, and it helps us to remain artists. So when it comes to creating box-sets projects, ornaments , books– its partly selfish really because we really want to keep being creative.”

And it’s not just for them: It’s for the fans, who have demanded more. 

“We launched The Super Close Society and it’s our way of  giving the fan base that needed and wanted more Tegan and Sara time online, we wanted to embrace the community more, know where the community was online to give them a place to do that. They’re the ones that said, ‘We want a calendar! We want a Christmas Ornament! We want more baby clothes!’ So we say, ‘Alright!’ We are in a symbiotic relationship, we’re needing to be creative so we needs fans to care, and they need us to listen to them because they want certain things, and I think we keep that relationship going year by year.”

In 2013, Tegan and Sara released their first album with Warner Bros., Heartthrob, which was decidedly more pop than previous efforts. Understandably, longtime fans were a little nervous that they’d lose their favorites to a wider audience and more accessible sound. But Tegan said that even the most resistant of fans seemed to have come around.

“I never thought that an alternative, openly gay, out-spoken feminist band that we would ever achieve the kind of pop mainstream success that we did,” Tegan said of a banner year spent on tour with Katy Perry and playing on a stage with Taylor Swift.  “We did it without compromising ourselves, we wrote those songs, we were in the studio every single second, this was our baby that we put out into the world and it was accepted. And it goes and comes so fast. The fact is even if we never have another hit song on the radio, the fact that we were able to do it twice in one career, I feel really proud of that. I feel proud when we look at our audience at how diverse it has become, it’s just become such an interesting project to be a part of again. There’s so many things Heartthrob opened the door to. I feel really thrilled about that. Even the super fans who said they wish we were still making the same records that we were making ten years ago, even they came around and said “This is amazing!” To see our band doing so well in the mainstream and still be the same band that cares and shows up  and plays two hour shows. We are still the same band we’ve just managed to catch a lot more people and play a lot more places and it feels exciting, I can’t wait to see where it goes next.”

Taylor Swift's RED Tour - Los Angeles - 8/20/2013

As for what’s next, Tegan and Sara were just nominated for a Grammy award for their song from The LEGO Movie, “Everything is Awesome,” which Tegan said is “a neat random thing… a good story for the grandkids.” And after that, a new Tegan and Sara album.

“We’re already at work, which is exciting,” Tegan said. ” We toured for two and a half years on Heartthrob so we’re dying to get back [to writing]. But we also want to figure out how to make time for that. Because we do care about our relationship, our family and our health so we don’t want to make a new record and get on the road too soon. It’s good to step back and get some perspective. Sara and I have never been interested in rushing the creative process but we’re both itching to get back into the studio and get creative. So we’ve started writing.”

The problem is, when you’re as successful as Tegan and Sara have become, they’re constantly being asked to also write songs for other artists.

“It’s about figuring out how much of our personal creative energy we want to use to help and work with other people; but I think we’re just constantly trying to become better writers and be better at our instruments,” Tegan said. “I feel like for the past few years I’ve been obsessed with how to be a better singer, a better performer, how to sing better with Sara. I feel like it was easier when we were just using acoustic guitars but now with six piece bands and so many instruments and tracks I really want to learn how to focus better on stage so I’m interested in seeing how that changes the way we write.”

So what will the new era of Tegan and Sara sound like?

“I have no idea what kind of record we will make,” Tegan said. “I have a feeling that it will be in the pop realm because that’s what we’re listening to and interested in; but we’re 100% committed to making a record with that feels full of integrity, we’re never going to make a fluff record. We’re not interested in making something that’s throw away. We’re trying to infuse what happened in pop music in the past, the sounds we grew up with – with the intelligent, thoughtful lyrics of Tegan and Sara past; so it’s trying to figure out a way to design a record around all of those things but it should be an interesting process. I think we’re up for the challenge, we want to make something special so I think it’s going to be an interesting year.”

Tegan and Sara’s So Jealous X is available on December 23. You can pre-order it now.

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