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Tegan reflects on her, sister Sara’s tour, music

Indie pop duo also have graphic novels, Freevee TV show

By Peter Larsen, The Orange County Register
Published: August 31, 2023, 6:04am

When Tegan and Sara hit the road 10 months ago to play their new album “Crybaby,” the indie pop duo wasn’t sure what to expect on their first big tour in five years, says singer-songwriter Tegan Quin, who with her identical twin sister Sara Quin make up the indie pop duo.

“Our last big band tour before we put out ‘Crybaby’ was in 2017,” she says. “Because we wrote (the memoir) ‘High School’ and put out ‘Hey, I’m Just Like You’ and toured just Sara and I. We hadn’t done the big hurrah in a while. So when we went out last fall, it was actually really fun.”

“I was shocked to be honest,” she continues. “Because we toured around the release of ‘Crybaby’ and people already were reacting to songs like ‘Yellow’ and ‘(Bleeping) Up What Matters’ and ‘Smoking Weed Alone.’ ”

And sure, some of those songs had been released as singles or performed on late-night TV talk shows, but still it felt good to see more than two decades after their first few albums that fans were embracing this new one.

“I was actually very heartened, you know, because I feel like these days, I don’t know, the music business has become this very mysterious thing that I don’t really understand,” Quin says. “It’s like a safe we can’t crack. And in a way, that’s sort of always been our career.”

Which is not to say Tegan and Sara’s career has been anything but fruitful in recent years. In addition to the ongoing Crybaby Tour, their 2019 memoir, “High School,” was adapted into an acclaimed TV series on Amazon Freevee last year.

When Quin called from her Vancouver, B.C., home on a break in the tour, she was packing for San Diego Comic-Con where she and Sara Quin had a panel to talk about their new autobiographical graphic novel, “Junior High.” There’s also a new set of chapter books for younger readers that is set for 2024.

In an interview lightly edited for clarity and length, Tegan Quin talked about everything from making the recent record to writing their first graphic novel, and the latest on whether the “High School” TV series will return for a second season.

It’s been several months since you first toured with “Crybaby,” do the new songs feel like they’re broken in live now? What’s it like to go out with new material?

Truly, until you go out and play the album, and you really think about the songs, and you see the reaction from the audience, it’s hard to really know what the story is of the album, and what the songs are. We’re sort of forced to come up with it right away, but it takes time.

So yeah, nine months into “Crybaby,” I feel like I understand the album in a completely different way. I think these days you have to give people more time with music, but no one has any time because everything is being blown at you so fast. We’re just the opposite of that. It took people almost two years to really understand (the 2007 album) “The Con.” The first six months of promoting ‘Hearthrob’ (in 2013) people were like, “No, we want indie rock Tegan and Sara,” and we’re like, “No, you’re gonna love pop Tegan and Sara, give it a minute.”

“Crybaby” will have its day, but I also think we trust our audience. We trust them to come and listen to two hours of music and they react just as much to the new stuff as the old stuff. They know what they like.

You mentioned someday maybe releasing acoustic versions of “Crybaby” songs. It’s very energetic, lots of guitars and all the big noisy instruments on it. It must have been fun to play with that in the studio.

Yeah, absolutely. I give Sara really like 80 percent of the credit for “Crybaby.” She wrote “All They Wanted,” “Yellow,” and “I Can’t Grow Up” in pretty quick succession. And the production was basically what you hear.

When I started sending songs like “(Bleeping) Up What Matters” and “Smoking Weed Alone,” for example, and “Whatever That Was,” they were acoustic, kind of like alt-country songs. And she turned them into basically Sara songs, but with me singing. It was my song but she changed the production.

Our instinct is that we just want to go out and play acoustic, which is what we’re gonna do next year. I think Sara was pushing against that instinct. She was like: “We’re in our early 40s. I think people our age, they start to age, they start to slow down and do acoustic tours. (Bleep) that, let’s go out and rock out.”

Let’s shift to “Junior High” and the first Tegan and Sara graphic novel. How’d you and your publisher decide to go that direction with your second book?

They sort of suggested it might be loosely based on “High School,” and we might want to move our story into the junior high space. And we were free to fictionalize it as much as we needed to, i.e., remove all the references to drugs, et cetera. So that it would be more readable for our young audience. (The book is illustrated by Tillie Walden.)

And we were like, “Oh, we love this idea. So good.” Signed the deal, and really didn’t think about it for almost two years. We slated spring 2020 for when we were going to write it, and conveniently, spring 2020 opened up. And we were like, “Oh (bleep), how do you write a graphic novel?” Our publishers told us, “you write it as a script” and sent us a few samples, and we sort of just sat down and started hammering out a script.

And there are more books planned after “Junior High”?

Our second book in the (“Junior High” graphic novel) series, which comes out next year, is almost pure fiction. It’s really fun and it inspired us. We immediately wrote a new pitch and we just sold another series for kids, a chapter book series.

The whole thing was really exciting and inspiring. I mean, we’re just so (bleepin’) grateful that people are letting us try all those things because it’s really fun and we like it. And actually, we wrote before we became musicians. We were writers.

“High School,” the Freevee series, got a lot of critical acclaim when it came out last fall. I saw online you said the scripts for Season 2 are done, but the show hasn’t officially been renewed yet. Is there any news you can share?

I can give sort of an update. We wrapped writing Season 2. It’s so beautiful, incredible, got amazing notes back from Freevee and Amazon. Everybody was really stoked. And then writers strike.

All our sets still exist. They’re all in storage, nothing has been dismantled. So at this point I remain hopeful. But I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what will happen. It was very well received. So we keep telling people to watch (Season 1), and hopefully … .

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With your songwriting, and your memoir and semi-autobiographical graphic novel, you and Sara have spent a lot of time looking back on your lives. What’s it like to spend time in your own pasts?

I think this is all we’ve ever done is look back. Because the way we write music is always very reflective. It’s always been about relationships and time periods in our life where we were either falling in love of falling out of love.

I think we’ve always been very attuned to almost like a historical nostalgic setting on the radio dial. I will say that I, we, debate internally that we don’t be a band that leans too heavily on nostalgia. We have done projects like our 10th anniversary album of “The Con.” Then we had a moment and we’re like, ‘All of our other albums have come up (on anniversaries) now. OK, let’s not do that.’

But fans do love hearing older albums, revisited, played in full, and that kind of thing.

We were just having breakfast with (producer) Jack Antonoff recently, and he was like, “Any day now a whole new generation are gonna discover ‘Back in your Head’ or ‘Call It Off’ or ‘Walking With A Ghost,’ and you’re gonna have to go back and celebrate all of those again.”

But I love that. Look at how “Closer To Fine” has reinvented Indigo Girls again and again and again. Because every new generation that finds it falls in love with it, and now it’s in the (bleepin’) “Barbie” movie.

I think when you make something that’s timeless it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the past. People are gonna always want to revisit it.