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Tegan and Sara Talk Intelligent Pop, Touring With fun. & Being Macklemore’s ‘Two Little Gay Friends’

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Shannon Carlin
Shannon Carlin Shannon is an associate music producer for Radio.com....
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Tegan and Sara backstage at Lollapalooza. (Jeremy D. Larson/Radio.com)

Tegan and Sara backstage at Lollapalooza 2013. (Jeremy D. Larson/Radio.com)

When Tegan and Sara released their first album, Under Feet Like Ours, in 1999, pop was Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. Fourteen years later and the twins Quin have broadened their sound, so much so that their seventh album Heartthrob meets 21st century pop at its frontier. But Tegan and Sara is a different, some would say smarter, kind of pop music.

“I feel like now you can be pop and you can be real and good,” Tegan recently told Radio.com.

The change in tides became clear when the duo released Heartthrob back in February, which debuted at No. 3 selling 49,000 copies in its opening week, according to Billboard. It sold almost two times more than their previous album, 2009’s Sainthood, which debuted all the way at No. 21.

Of course, the chart success is nice, but it hasn’t fazed the duo too much. It hasn’t even convinced them that pop is what they want to be doing for the rest of their career.

“Who knows what will be happening in two years,” Tegan said. “If we’ll still be on this course or doing something weird and avant-garde again.”

Along with their recent success, the duo talked about touring with their pals in fun., the importance of having artistic freedom and being Macklemore’s “two little gay friends.”

Radio.com: You’re currently on tour with fun. What’s it like touring with them?

Tegan: They’re horrible. It’s a terrible mistake for us. [Laughs]

Sara: We love fun., they’re the nicest guys. It does help that we’re friends. If you don’t know each other or you’ve never spent time with each other, there’s that kind of awkward getting to know each other sort of like summer camp kind of nervousness or something and I didn’t go into this tour feeling that way at all. That’s really nice. They have a wonderful energy around their band. The audience is really open. We’re really enjoying our sets every night supporting them and we feel like both musically and politically that there’s a really good parallel between our bands.

You have referred to both your music and fun.’s as “intelligent pop.” How would you define this new genre?

Tegan: I think that in the ’80s there was lots of throwaway pop music, but there was a lot of really intelligent pop music. A lot of political bands that were popular. U2 was one of them. Obviously the definition of pop has changed back and forth and back and forth and we ping-pong. When we first put out our first record, pop was Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears and now, that’s still pop but you can also be pop and be Rihanna, or be fun. or be Tegan and Sara so I just think it’s been a super interesting year, a couple of years actually, on radio.

You both have said your recent album, Heartthrob, was a new direction for the band. What led you on this new musical path?

Tegan: I think that you just kind of have to stick by what you do best. And I think for Sara and I, we don’t have any interest in doing throwaway music and we’re really particular about the collaborations we do and the kind of music we put on our own records. I think there has to be a level of intensity and vulnerability and sincerity in the music or we’re just not interested. I don’t know if we could even write it if we tried. That being said, there’s just so much musically right now that’s super interesting even in the throwaway pop music, so it’s like you have to go in and mine it for whatever you can. I think that Sara and I, we just went back and looked at nearly 40 years of music and just started picking the things we love from it. I think we just got to this point with Heartthrob where we were just hitting what’s been happening in the mainstream. Who knows what will be happening in two years, if we’ll still be on that course or doing something weird and avant-garde again.

How does it feel to have a radio hit with “Closer”?

Sara: I think mostly we like it because it feels like we’ve had so much success and so much satisfaction creatively and personally. This is sort of like icing on the cake. To have so much artistic freedom. To be making music for so long. To be on our seventh record. We weren’t unhappy or ungrateful for what we had. As I get older, I realize that we may not be relevant for the rest of our lives in music, but this is a time that we really could be. We could be a part of the narrative that’s happening right now in pop music and the transformation on pop radio. So to see ourselves amongst our peers in that way, it feels really satisfying.

Last month you joined Macklemore onstage at the Osheaga Music Festival in Montreal to perform his gay anthem, “Same Love.”  As two artists who have never been shy about their sexuality, do you feel like role models for the LGBT community?

Tegan: Absolutely. We’ve always been very open and totally fine with being role models and being like spokespersons in a sense. But we were always, even when we were young, which is so mind-boggling to me now, we were always very clear right from the beginning of our career, we’re not political artists. We’re political and we’re artists, but we’re probably never going to write a political record. That being said even in this day and age to get up on stage and sing songs about the women we love and the relationships we’ve had is a political statement. The fact that we wrote our own songs, produced our own records, signed to an indie label, funded a lot of our own stuff, you know, we’ve been making political statements all along. The fact that we have these amazing allies standing up like fun. who started the Ally Coalition and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis with “Same Love.” There’s been so much amazing support and we’re so excited because we’ve been doing this for a long time. We have been these out and proud artists and every day we get asked, “Have you faced any sexism or homophobia?” and you have to try and balance that line of being positive and also being angry. And I’m just so glad we have a gang behind us of people, like Macklemore’s up on stage [at Osheaga] giving a five-minute speech about equality and love before he plays this single that has sold millions and millions and then he invites us, his two little gay friends, and we’re all like, ‘Hey everybody!’ And they’re all like ‘Ahhh!’ It’s like, ‘This is cool!’ I would not have imagined that ten years ago. Not at all.

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