Standard Sounds

Backstage with Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara are in New York promoting their new album, "Heartthrob" which drops January 27th (Pre-order iTunes here) and stopped by The Standard, East Village for a little live session downstairs. We flashed our press passes and made it backstage to challenge the spritely duo to some Canadian doubles. Due to lack of tennis courts, we settled on the classic, "question and answer" format. Read on to learn about their "Heartthrobs," their collaboration, and what inspires them in the pantheon of pop.

How did your new album,“Heartthrob” come about?
Sara: We took a long, long period of time off and we always sort of sit down and start talking about who we want to work with, what we want the next couple of years of our lives to look like, and the thing that kept coming up over and over again was that we wanted to do something different. We wanted to challenge ourselves. We have this fan base, and they’re amazing, but if we do something that’s -- if we play it too safe -- we may lose them, and we may not gain new people.

So we wanted to definitely make something more pop, something that had a broader sound. “Pop” is kind of a funny word. In Europe, “pop” has a very specific meaning. I’m not sure that its always the most, um... appropriate term but I definitely feel like in our world, when we think of pop, we think of the things we grew up with like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna and Bruce Springsteen and U2, music that crossed or transcended boundaries of aesthetic.

What do you think makes a good pop song?
Tegan: Well I think what Sarah was just saying, something that transcends genres, something that can connect with everyone. I was writing a list of the songs “I wished I had written” for an article, and I kept noticing that all these songs, at first listen don’t give away their true meaning. You know, a song like “American Girl” by Tom Petty, you would never know that it’s about suicide. [Sarah interjects, “or dancing the dark”] They juxtapose really dark themes with really poppy arrangements of music and there’s something that just feels good. I think pop music feels good. Whatever kind of music it is, a great pop song just, it feels good. You know, like, our new single “Closer” is supposed to feel fun, but when you really, really understand the meaning of the song, I’m writing about unrequited passion.

So we watched your first Heartthrob video interview series with Pitch Perfect's Skylar Astin. Can you tell us who you'll be interviewing next?
Tegan: I think it’s Kate Moennig from “The L Word.”
Sara: We picked someone from every genre. But these are also people we know. In my fantasy world we would have gotten Joey or Jordan from “New Kids On The Block”.
Tegan: But we have some good ones coming.
Sara: We really tried to look for people who we think were iconic--
Tegan: us...
Sara: To us, yeah for sure. Of the two girls we got, one is like an 80s icon and the other is arguably the most famous, hip, lesbian of our generation. And then the two guys, Skylar Aston and the one that we have not announced yet, is arguably, again, in the last five years, one of biggest teenage heartthrobs.
Tegan: He was never my heartthrob, the guy we haven’t announced yet. But then we got into the bed with him [on set of course, and on top of the covers] and I was like, every single person that was working on the set, when he left, were like damn. He was such a babe, it was crazy how charming he was so... I mean everybody else was so self-effacing. Nobody wanted to actually be seen as a heartthrob except for him, and he was like, “yeah I guess I’m a heartthrob, whatever.” [laughs] But he also spoke very eloquently about how status is short lived...

You mentioned “New Kids.” Who would you say was your top heartthrob growing up?
Sara: They were our first “heartthrobs” when we were 8 years old and I think that they, I mean, they’ve aged pretty well. I think it’s cute that they still go out and tour.
Tegan: Joey looks great. He’s always looked great.

Did you have "New Kids" bedding or posters on the wall?
Sarah: Sleeping bags!
Tegan: But what’s strange about it is that we were tomboys and we hung out with a lot of boys. And we had boy haircuts and people were kind of mistaking us for boys, so I wonder what my parents must have thought. Like did they actually think that we were sexually attracted to the “New Kids on the Block?” Now, I think it’s just that we, well even then, even though we wouldn’t have been able to articulate it, we were very interested in being them. We saw the attention that girls were giving them. We did love to perform although we never vocalized wanting to be performers even though we were in theater and choir. We loved to act for family friends. I think we were probably obsessed with them because we imagined being them.

What about heartthrobs today?
Sara: I don’t necessarily feel like I let myself run away with the idea of liking someone enough to claim that they’re a heartthrob but I feel like––
Tegan: Daniel Craig
Sara: Tegan loves Daniel Craig.
Tegan: He is a man.
Sara: He is a man. My big one is Alicia Keys. She is really powerful. Also Robyn.
Tegan: I love that they’re pop stars and they’re so confident and they make this great music, but they’re also really intelligent and have wonderful things to say. Lately, I’ve been really obsessed with Jennifer Lawrence, because it’s not very often that these big stars have something interesting to say.

Tegan and Sara performing live to a packed house at The Standard, East Village

Tell us about how you collaborated on this album. Do you guys like to hole up in a hotel for a week?
Tegan: In the past we’ve done all sorts of different stuff. We’ve tried writing in person, and that was not that fruitful, just like, “sometimes I don’t feel like creating.” And we tried a lot of that on the last record and it didn’t work very well. Good collaborations, the ones that have been successful, have come from just sending music back and forth digitally over the Internet, which is what we did primarily for this record. For example, the song, “I Was a Fool” I just sent it with the bridge, like an instrumental, and Sara just sang over the top of it.

Although we did write in the studio as well. We wrote three times in the studio together which we had never done before. On the spot, like Greg Kirsten spun around in his little chair and was like “we need a new chorus for ‘Closer.’ We need something big.” And we just went days in the studio writing together ... which I found to be shockingly hard, but actually really really really satisfying. I wanna do more of it I think. It was cool.

Check out their latest leaked track over on Tegan and Sara performed on Thursday January 17th, 2013 at The Standard, East Village, a Bowers and Wilkins Session, hosted by Annie O. and Standard Sounds.

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