“Our last two records felt like something you listen to on headphones alone in your room and I wanted to make a record that felt like you could really listen to it at a party,” says Sara Quin, the soft-spoken, crop-haired half of Tegan and Sara, the indie rock group she formed with her identical twin 15 years ago. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to have substance.” That last bit is key because the 10 tracks on the Canadian duo’s seventh album, Heartthrob (out January 29) make for a decidedly more dance-oriented, anthem-heavy, commercial affair — on the heels of blustery collaborations with Theophilus London and superstar deejays Tiesto and Morgan Page — that stand in a rather stark opposition to their recent shoegazing, heartbreak-tapping rockers The Con (2007) and Sainthood (2009). A rollicking meditation on the two sides of youthful infatuation — the idol and the worshipper — Heartthrob is the album that should take them from the auditorium to the arena because, as Sara notes, it “doesn’t have a subtle song on it.” To wit: the Olivia-Newton John-channeling single, “Closer” and its equally lusty counterpart “Drive Me Wild.” Even the lower moments (“Now I’m All Messed Up” and “Shock To Your System”) feel empowering, which is big for a group whose stock in trade is spinning post-breakup ennui to a crazed legion of fans who send them leopard print jeans (and marriage proposals).
That said, it’s a breakthrough that almost didn’t happen, says the punk-influenced, wild-haired Tegan, who does interviews separately from her sister. “We probably can’t stay in the same space for very long, our organs shut down,” jokes Sara, as they pass each other in the lobby of a Phoenix hotel. While the sibling animosity is funny now, when they sat through a “five hour therapy session” nearly two years ago at the home of Warner Bros. chairman, Rob Cavallo, they “realized we were not aligned on anything,” recalls Tegan. “Sara wanted to write more pop music and was listening to more Alicia Keys and urban music and I was a raving punk rocker in high school and the one who listened to more electronic music and pushed for [collaborations with] Tiesto and Morgan Page and David Guetta.” When Cavallo suggested they were almost like two different bands Tegan thought, “Oh my god, this is the moment we break up. This is the end of our band.” Rather than forcing them together, the label encouraged the sisters to approach their ideas separately—Tegan lives in LA; Sara in NYC—and as a result they actually collaborated more to great effect. “Every song makes you groove” says Tegan. In addition to opening up for The Black Keys stateside and The Killers in Europe, the 32 year-old twins are gearing up for a revamped solo show with a new touring band (musically directed by Katy Perry’s keyboardist), which gets a test run tonight at the Bowery Ballroom. “We’re not up there being pop star sex symbols,” says Sara, noting while there won’t be dance numbers or synchronized hand gestures this will indeed be “the pro show, but we’re not that pro, so we’ll still fuck up constantly.”
For two girls that got signed by Neil Young this is a big departure. Had you secretly always wanted to make an album like this?
SARA: Not really. Straight up I feel we kicked our way out of the folk corner almost immediately because that wasn’t my world. We knew where we wanted to be so we made the records we wanted to make so we would fit where we wanted to fit at that time.
So how did you arrive at this new sound?
SARA: I don’t think we would have ever thought we would end up making this record but I also didn’t know we’d make The Con, so I think you just get there. We still wanted the record to feel like it was rooted in the things we understand and know and care about, but I didn’t want the record to feel like a dance record, either. I wanted it to feel like we would still be servicing the parts of ourselves that still want to rock out. Tegan and I love to play with rock bands but I feel like we could easily play at 10 o’clock at a festival and have a dance crowd.