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Music Interview

Tegan and Sara interview: 'We're more ambitious than you'd think'

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Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara


After spending the last 12 years and six albums quietly building a loyal fanbase across the globe, Tegan and Sara have finally made a bid for the big time.

What's more, their seventh album Heartthrob - which finds them taking on a glossier, happier and poppier sound under hitmaker Greg Kurstin (Pink, Lily Allen) - already seems to be doing the job, debuting at number three on the US Billboard chart last week.

With the LP available on UK shores this week, we met up with Sara (and Tegan, briefly) to talk about their new sound, the power of Rihanna and reflecting on the last 12 years.

Hello Sara! It's nice to have you back in London. Where do you normally hang out when you're in town?
"We've been coming here since 2000 and each time we come back it's less about work! We see friends, have dinner parties, go to galleries and museums. My favourite experience here was post-Glastonbury one year and we went to Wimbledon. That was really amazing."

Your seventh album Heartthrob is out this week and the reaction to it in the UK seems to be overwhelmingly positive. That must be encouraging.
"It's a combination of things. Obviously this album hasn't come out of nowhere, it's partly the result of a series of goals we've set of where we want to go, but some of it is about creative markers. I want people to be surprised, and we were thrilled with this record because we knew it would surprise people."

Surely that's a bit daunting.
"I suppose, but sometimes when you take a big risk, it doesn't feel like a risk anymore. We had no doubt there would be people who wouldn't be into it, but we were confident enough to know that a lot of people out there are going to love it."

Does it feel like a fresh start in a way?
"A lot of people are asking us why we're making this leap now when we've apparently been so unknown for so long. We've played Glastonbury, we've played dozens of sold-out venues... it felt like a very natural progression. When we were 25 years-old we didn't care about the charts, NME or getting on Jools Holland, we were part of a culture where it was better to have blogs write about you. Now that we're older, there is a weird ambitious drive to do all those other things. We never felt like failures, but now I don't want to miss out on those big opportunities."

Why now though?
"Since turning 30 we've talked about the fact that there's a time limit on our careers. We can't keep going the way we have forever, so we started talking about taking it up a level. We have a completely different perspective from when we were 20."

Tegan and Sara

© Warner Records

Tegan and Sara



Do you have a personal favourite on the album?
"I'm particularly happy with how 'Now I'm All Messed Up' turned out. I think it's a really different song for us and the arrangement is very different from what I've written in the past. It's also slightly out of my range, so it's a welcome challenge to perform live."

How did teaming up with Greg Kurstin come about?
"We drew up a list of dream producers and he was the one we kept going back to."

Who else was on the dream producer list?
"Some of them were super super hipster like Chris Coady and New York Eye, and on the other side we wanted Greg Wells who makes amazing mainstream records. For me, Greg was somewhere in the middle - he was quirky enough that we thought he'd understand us, but badass enough to take on the world of pop." [Tegan enters]

Hello Tegan! 'I Was A Fool' seems to be particularly popular on the album; where did it come from?
"I've told this story before but I don't think anyone actually believed me! I was deliberately writing a song that I thought someone like Rihanna would want. I also wrote it thinking of her sort of character, someone who is in the media all the time and is probably not the person they're portrayed to be. We were going to go with it as the first single as the response to it from the UK has been fantastic - I think the label are going to try and get it on radio."

You've been releasing music for 12 years now. You must have seen some crazy stuff in that time.
Sara: "Some seriously messed-up stuff! What's interesting though was watching the internet take over. Things like Napster became popular and I was still working in a CD store! We've watched these trends and changes and it's ruined some acts and propelled others to worldwide fame."
Tegan: "Now you're really showing our age, you just said Napster!"

Now you've aimed more towards the mainstream, are you starting to think about the shelf life of Tegan and Sara?
Tegan: "There's an inevitable decline in everything, but the key is having integrity through that. If we get to a point where we naturally slow down and - for example - don't tour as much, there's not necessarily a lot for us to fall back on. It feels like starting a new chapter - we chose the path of building strong foundations and we knew at some point we'd have to pull the trigger on it. Let's just say what it is - we're a very ambitious band! A lot more than people seem to think, anyway."

Tegan and Sara's Heartthrob is out now. Listen to the album in full below:

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