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The Morning Show - With Jill Riley

Catching up with Tegan and Sara: interview with Jill Riley

Tegan and Sara – full interview with Jill Riley The Current
  Play Now [15:15]

by Jill Riley

February 03, 2023

In recent years, Tegan and Sara have continued to turn out new and reimagined music. After 2019’s Hey, I’m Just Like You, Tegan and Sara released Still Jealous, an acoustic remix of their 2004 album So Jealous, in early 2022. And then at the end of last year, they released Crybaby, their tenth full-length studio album.

And in the midst of all their musical output, they deftly segued into publishing, releasing their memoir, High School, in 2019. The book was crafted into a TV series of the same name, streaming on the Amazon Freevee service.

While all of that was taking place, life itself continued apace for the sisters, which in turn informs their creativity. Despite their busy lives, Tegan and Sara took time to connect with The Current Morning Show’s Jill Riley for a lively and fun conversation, offering insights on what motivates them now and into the future.

You can listen to the radio version interview using the audio player above, and read a transcript of it below.

Interview Transcript

Edited for time and clarity.

Jill Riley: You are listening to The Current. I'm Jill Riley, and I'm joined by a couple of special guests. And we've been meaning to catch up with them for a while now; we finally got the opportunity, and I couldn't be happier, as in — what, 18 years of The Current? — they have been part of our playlist that entire time. And I'm talking about Tegan and Sara, joining me here on The Current. Tegan, hello! Sara, hello! How are you?

Tegan Quin: Hi, Jill, thank you so much for having us. We're really excited. We love The Current so much. So thrilled to have been a part of your long history and to have you include us.

Sara Quin: Yeah, we're really excited.

The Current
Tegan and Sara performing "Back in Your Head" in The Current studio in 2007.

Jill Riley: Sara, as we start off in New Year, before we, you know, really talk about the present, I do want to kind of review just a lot of the projects that you've had going on in the past couple of years: you have memoir, High School; out of the research for that memoir came the album, Hey, I'm Just Like You, going through, you know, just like a trip to the past and re-recording some early demos; you know, and this year, I mean, fall came, the streaming TV series High School; you went on a tour; you've got the new record, Crybaby. You know what? I almost forgot about this because the two of you have had so much going on, there was an acoustic like reimagining of the record, So Jealous, called Still Jealous. But you know, if we could just kind of go back, because you did spend a lot of time examining the past for for projects that are, you know, in the present. So when it came to your memoir, High School, and making Hey, I'm Just Like You, and now there's that streaming TV series, High School. So I wonder if you could kind of just talk about that time because it was, you know, when you were really digging into that, like we were in the pre-pandemic world.

Sara Quin and Tegan Quin, 'High School'
Sara Quin and Tegan Quin, 'High School'
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Tegan Quin: Yeah, look, you know, all those projects you talked about sort of started in 2018. So definitely pre-pandemic, but we've been working for 12 years straight, you know, touring 250 plus days a year. And in 2018, we just we're like, "Make it stop! We went off the treadmill." And then it's so funny, because our idea of getting off the treadmill was like, "Oh, maybe we'll do a podcast or write a book." And then, you know, we were able to sell the memoir, which was based, you know, about our time in high school in the 90s. And as you pointed out, you know, found all these early demos from the 90s decided to make that into an album, then decided it should be a TV show, and so our getting off the treadmill was basically just getting off the treadmill and then getting on a Peloton!

But the one thing we didn't do was go back out on tour in the way that we had in the past. And I think for Sara and I, you know, we just have such full lives; you know, Sara, her and her partner just welcomed a baby six months ago. Our bodies and our ability to be on the road has changed. And so the the book and the show, and all these things have sort of been us wanting to be creative, and definitely to process the past and, and to create content and all that blah, blah, blah. But also, we just really want it to be at home more, so it's been an amazing, you know, five-and-a-half years working on all these projects and having the ability to go back and tell these stories and you know, be able to kind of stretch our creative muscles into new areas like making a TV show was — who would have thought? You know, especially having just written a memoir a few years ago; like, we were such little degenerates, you know, little like dirtbag kids from Northeast Calgary just kind of... I just don't think anyone expected any of this from us — including us! And so it's just been an amazing five years to get to do other stuff, you know? But music is of course, you know, the heart of all of that.

Jill Riley: Yeah, it's at the heart, and not just the music that you've made, but the music that truly brought you up. That's something that I can really relate to. You know, Sarah, Tegan just mentioned. New Baby, congratulations. How are things going? I mean, this has been this is really such a big turning point. Right?

Sara Quin: Yeah, I mean, I think that the sort of eras of our band and of our lives, I guess as adult people, has always sort of been marked by albums, so it's a really funny, new feeling to think about this era of my life related to this thing that — it's not an album, it's a human child. But it does feel weirdly like it sort of marks this time in a really specific way. Everything's happened so quickly. So I'm, you know, I'm just I'm excited to see like, where my future creativity kind of which direction that heads in, because it does feel like it's changing, you know, and there's a sort of, not grief, but like, I do feel like this is the most significant thing that's ever happened to me where I feel like there's like the Before Sid and then now there's the After Sid. You know, like there really does feel like a severing of of myself or something. It's strange.

Jill Riley: And I think that's perfectly natural to feel and even using the word "grief," I think makes complete sense. I mean, I kind of went through that a little bit, just even in my career as a radio host. It was like, Well, who am I now? And like, almost like denying, this is me as a radio host, and this is me as you know, mother. Like I wanted to separate those things, but as far as trying to deny that, it didn't work! I realized right away, it wasn't working, when it's just like, that's my whole self.

Sara Quin: It's interesting you say that too, because I think one of the things that's really striking me is how my identity feels shifted. It's like this sort of profound feeling of like, being responsible for somebody else and having to really put someone before yourself, obviously. To put it back into the context of our band and my career as a songwriter, and storyteller, you know, I look forward to and embracing the changes. And hopefully, you know, imagine myself outside of the band, and it's been really interesting. And I'm excited to sort of like, follow that path.

Two women sitting in a bedroom on set at a TV soundstage
Tegan (L) and Sara Quin executive produce 'High School,' a TV series based on their memoir of the same name.
Michelle Faye/Amazon Freevee

Jill Riley: I'm talking with Tegan and Sara here on The Current. Well, let's talk about the latest record, let's talk about Crybaby. Now, when I read the title, I had this reaction because when I see the word "crybaby," I had this, like, I kind of tensed up! Because it can be a sweet term, but it also can, like, bring up that feeling of, "Ugh, look at that crybaby." So let's talk about the record. When did the work start? What sort of motivated you at the time? Or was there a plan to write a record? Or were you just kind of, you know, fiddling around with some ideas?

Tegan Quin: I think in a weird way, it was kind of all of those things. Like I think that we hadn't written an album of original music since 2016. Like since Love Tou To Death, you know, because, as we talked about, in 2018, we started the process of writing High School, our memoir, and then put out Hey, I'm Just Like You, and then of course, the pandemic hit. So I think there was like a natural kind of itch to scratch. Like, I think Sara and I both were like, "Well, I guess if we're not touring and out promoting this new album and book, we'll start writing new songs for a new album." We also were at a place where we don't have to write a new album on a certain timeline; like, nobody was standing there with like a ruler being like, "Okay, let's go you guys." So yeah, we just kind of started the pandemic with this nebulous, like, sort of plan to just write some songs and see where it led.

A million things happened during that time, you know, beyond like, the pandemic. You know, Sara and her partner decided they want to have a kid; we reimagined our album, So Jealous, and recorded acoustic; we obviously made a TV show; you know, all these other things were happening. But in the midst of all that, we also, you know, we went to Warner, which was our record label the last 15 years, and we asked them to release us. We had one record left, and we asked if we gave them So Jealous reimagined, if they would release us. You know, we've been signed for 19 years to record labels. We'd been signed since we were teenagers. We felt this incredible desire to be our own business again, and to be independent. And we really had an instinct that we didn't want to make a big pop album, we really didn't want to go that path anymore. We just wanted to be independent, and Warner were amazing. We have such a long history with them. They were incredible. They released us.

A vanilla ice cream cone against a blue backdrop
Tegan and Sara's latest release, 'Crybaby'
Mom + Pop

And so I think Crybaby is a product of all of that. My questions in this album were like, what, what are we and who will we be? And what is the next phase of my life? Like, I'm technically in the second half of my life. You know, I think Crybaby was a lot of things. But, you know, at its core, I think we always write about love, relationships, heart. And I think Crybaby, similar to the way we appropriated Heartthrob for ourselves. You know, "heartthrob" was a word associated with men, and we appropriated it for ourselves. And I think Crybaby is a word that's associated with weakness or silliness. And we wanted to appropriate it for something that was more serious.

Jill Riley: The way that the record kicks off, it's very high energy, but it has like a youthful playfulness to it.

Tegan Quin: I think that it's a combination of things. I mean, we're blessed to still look very young, which I'm very grateful to my mother's side of the family for that genetic gift. And so I think like, people see us as younger than we are. And so there's this weird tug of war that happens in us; like, my mantra for this year was "lean into legacy." Because we are a legacy artist at this point;l like we are middle aged. And yet, there is this weird dysphoria sometimes where I'm like, thinking that my peers are 20. Like, I'm looking at like the new 20-year-old artist and being like, "That's my competition!" And it's not, actually. I think Crybaby is, is us pushing against that a bit and saying, "We are not dinosaurs." Like, we are still youthful and excitable and have an enormous amount of energy and enthusiasm. And we come by our punk pop, indie rock roots really honestly; it's the music we listened to and were inspired by, so I think like, you know, that album is our response to our age, too.

Sara Quin: I don't think anyone would listen to this record and not, you know, see, like a sonic lineage from our previous albums or the music that I'm influenced by, or the production that I'm inspired by. But I do think that as women as we get older, there is this kind of tendency to be like, "Well, when are you going to get your mature, like, old lady album?" And I'm like, "Give me some time. I probably will write it soon!" Like, yesterday, I just got out of bed and I had a limp. You know? Like, I mean, I'm on my way to the old-age part of my career where I'm not going to want to, like, run around, you know? My feet hurt. Like, I wear two pairs of socks and I want to play the folk festival circuit. Like give me a break! Like, just let me get there on my own terms. But I do feel like with women, there is this kind of like, if you're still trying to be goofy and have fun and playful and have a certain kind of punker or alternative spirit, it sort of is like, it's like when people make fun of women who dress too young when they get older.

Jill Riley: I love that you're talking about this, because I was thinking about maybe like a generational thing where yeah, I'm in my early 40s now, but I don't think that means the same thing anymore.

Tegan Quin: I think it is generational. Like I think these generations, like the internet, and like, just the exposure to everything is like, it doesn't feel as olden-timey. It's not like, "Oh, you aged out, you're 40 now." And I also think it's so much more progressive these days, especially for women, you know, but I think certain parts of our industry are still really old school, especially pop radio, like that's like, traditionally, like, if you still look at it, it's like most of the artists on there, like in their early 20s, or teens. This was the first cycle where it was like, "Yeah, you're not going to get a piece in Teen Vogue, you're not going to get a piece in Nylon, you're too old." You'll get a blurb in a younger artist who referenced you as their influence. And that's good!

But I do think like musically, this era of Tegan and Sara, you know, we're expressing our power, we're expressing our knowledge and our power. We're leaning into legacy. You know, like, we're in an empowered part of our lives and our career. And we're really leaning into that. And I'm really excited by that. But there is this tug of war; I still find myself looking, like I said, I'd like these, you know, 20-year-olds who are going on TikTok and being like, "I don't know, we can do this. We're hilarious. We're fun. we're young, we're current." You know, we meet all those artists. And they're like, "Oh my god, Tegan and Sara, legends!" And I'm like, I take it as a compliment. I'm like, this is cool, like, so you know, it's the balance. I think our generation, we're just, we're expressing ourselves in a different way. And we see ourselves in a different way. And that's changing. And it's exciting.

Jill Riley: Yeah, I love that. And I run into this thing, where it's like, "Am I still trying to prove something?" Or am I just like, comfortable, like having my seat now. And then like, being able to use that seat for good. And to be able to, you know, lift other people up. You know, that's something that I really think about at this stage.

Tegan Quin: That's leaning into legacy, Jill.

Jill Riley: Yeah, I love it! Tegan and Sara, here on The Current. Crybaby is the new record. Gosh, I think we were playing like four different songs from the record, you know, "Yellow," and "I Can't Grow Up" and "Faded Like A Feeling" and "This Ain't Going Well." But you know what? Things are going well for the two of you. And it's incredible to see you at this point where it's like, "OK, you know, we spent time examining the past. And here we are, and we're comfortable with where we are. And now it's time to move forward." You know, you've talked about what you want things to look like. What's sort of like the mantra that's keeping you guys going forward? 

Sara Quin: For me, 2023 is really about, can we follow up our memoir and our TV show with something in those worlds? It was really important for us to segue into other areas of creativity. So publishing, writing, and television. And so this year for me is really focused on like, we've planted the seeds, can we grow the trees? That's kind of like what I'm thinking about for the future. And also giving myself a little bit of a break in terms of the music part. I think we've really been in this, like, cycle for a long time of making new music, and being patient with myself. Like it might take time for our next musical steps to sort of like make themselves clear.

Jill Riley: Tegan, what are your final thoughts here as we wrap up? 

Tegan Quin: You know, I just came back from a vacation where I didn't, like, do work the whole time. And it's not so much as like, I want to do less work. But I realized that I don't probably take enough time to just enjoy the life that I have. And I do think there's a compulsiveness to how hard Sara and I have worked and there's a compulsion to sustain it. And I think what Sara was just saying, like, I think at some point, we also just have to trust that our legacy, it just exists, and the music we have out there continues to be rediscovered by new people all the time. And we're not going anywhere. But that doesn't mean we have to always be on or be out front. I don't think we need to be in pursuit of work as much as we used to. And I think we should allow our creativity to just bubble up when it bubbles up, you know? And there's lots to nurture and mend and keep growing for sure.

But my legacy isn't going to be how many tickets we sell, how many records we sell, or songs we stream. It's not going to be about winning awards. That's not my legacy. That's not what people are going to think about if I die, that's not it. You know, it's about how I impacted the people in my life, my friends and family, the relationships I had, how I left the earth. You know, what I did with my wealth within my generation; you know, I'm one of those annoying people that really thinks we should, you know, disperse our wealth in our generation, like we shouldn't be leaving money to next generations. And so, yeah, I'm just focused on that.

Jill Riley: Tegan and Sara here on The Current, and Crybaby, it's the latest record. Take care, best wishes for the new year. And congratulations on all these projects. And I hope that you do get a season two; I've just seen nothing but good things about the show, about High School.

Tegan Quin: It's so special, so yeah, fingers crossed. We'll probably hear in about a month, so everybody keep watching High School, tell your friends and family. And thanks again, it was so nice to talk to you. 

Jill Riley: All right, Tegan and Sara here on The Current.


Guests - Tegan and Sara
Host - Jill Riley
Producer - Rachel Frances
Digital Producer - Luke Taylor

Tegan and Sara - official site

High School - TV series on Amazon Freevee