Alienation vs. Stagnation

Wrestling with Tegan and Sara’s new pop push

Change is scary.

And because I don’t always like it when my favorite artists change, I was nervous about Tegan and Sara’s new dance pop single “Closer.” The Canadian twin-sister duo first won my musical heart years ago with the folky earnestness and rock hooks of So Jealous and If It Was You. But this new track, from their upcoming album Heartthrob, is big, electronic and unabashedly striving for an audience beyond their roots.

I chalked it up to having one poppy single — just a flash in the pan of their career — and moved on. It wasn’t until I saw the sisters play a slew of new tunes at Seattle’s Neptune Theatre in September that it occurred to me: “Oh, the new Tegan and Sara album is going to be ALL dance-pop songs.” A chat with Sara Quin confirmed this suspicion.

“We were trying to write material that did not sound like our old material, ” says Quin over the phone last week. “If we got into a holding pattern, we knew we wouldn’t see further growth. With both The Con and Sainthood, we felt like we had made records that helped us make great strides in our career and we were really satisfied. But we also realized that if we made something that sounded too much like that, we’d potentially lose people.

“I think we have cultivated a really supportive fan base, but to continue to thrive and to ensure that you’re going to have longevity, I think you have to reinvent yourself.”

The first hint of the sisters’ new direction was their choice of producers. Indie stalwart Chris Walla was out after manning the boards for the past two T&S records. This time, the sister hired a trio of hit-making producers: Greg Kurstin (Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Lily Allen), Mike Enzino (Eminem, 50 Cent, Maroon 5) and Justin Meldal-Johnson (M83, Neon Trees). It’s a brash, overt attempt at going mainstream.

“If this record allows us to get radio play or to get onto festival in places we’ve never been before — that’s the goal, ” Quin says. “Is there sort of a way to adjust the ceiling that’s been above our head just a little higher? Just so that we can say that we tried.

“When we got into the studio some of the pop music references we used were, like, Alicia Keys, or Justin Bieber or Robyn — things that we were sort of throwing out and being like, ‘this is a cool sound, ’ or, ‘this is a cool song, ’ or, ‘this is what the kids like these days.”

My inner Tegan and Sara fan cringes at the idea of a Bieber-influenced Tegan and Sara record, but I want them to succeed. They deserve success. Sure, there’s a part of every music fan that wants to keep our favorite artists exclusively ours. But the music is the artists’ prerogative.

“I knew I didn’t want to make a dance record, but I knew that at the very least we could try to make Tegan and Sara’s version of a pop record, ” Quin says. “I didn’t want it to be unrecognizable and I didn’t want it to alienate anybody who’s come to like what we do as a band, but I also didn’t want to be afraid to do something bigger. Bolder.”

I’ll buy Heartthrob the day it comes out. Because sometimes being a hardcore fan means you have to surrender any doubt to the people who made all the tunes you loved in the first place and hope for the best.

“I mean it, sincerely, that I really do love this record and it’s not in any way a ploy to, like, become mall superstars or something, ” Quin adds. “However much this might sound like a pop record, we’re still us. We made this record so that we could say, ‘Well, album number seven: we didn’t just phone it in.’” 

Tegan and Sara • Tue, Dec. 4, at 8 pm • Knitting Factory • $28-$30 • All-ages • • 244-3279

First Friday at Golden Handle @ Golden Handle Brewing Co.

Fri., Feb. 3, 6:30-9 p.m.
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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...