Calgary's popstar twins have different thoughts on 25-year career in Audible podcast

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It’s tempting to assume that identical twins Tegan and Sara Quin would have similar memories when it comes to recounting their careers.

But while the Calgary-born sisters have spent all their adult lives working together as a musical act, they have learned that their recollections of the same events can vary. This became clear when they compared notes when writing their own chapters for their bestselling 2019 memoir High School, which chronicled their pre-fame coming-of-age in northeast Calgary.

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On Dec. 1, Audible will release Under My Control, the Tegan and Sara edition of the company’s Words + Music original podcast series. In many ways, it picks up where High School left off. The book ended just as Tegan and Sara are about to embark on their music career as dedicated, if somewhat naive, teenagers signed to Neil Young’s record label. Under My Control, on the other hand, does a deep dive into the Quins’ remarkable career, from their early days as wide-eyed newbies travelling the globe, to the height of their fame in 2013, right up to the most recent, career-altering developments in their lives.

The promotional photo Audible provides is of Tegan and Sara standing beside each other beneath microphones and grinning harmoniously in what is presumably the studio where they reminisced for the podcast. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t frequent discrepancies in how the story is told.

“I could have had lunch with Tegan and we could be seeing each other two hours later and we argue about what happened at lunch,” said Sara Quin, in a Zoom interview with Postmedia. “I don’t know what that is. I don’t know if all people who spend an absurd amount of time together just naturally disagree about everything. We always have this joke that because we are identical twins and the embryo split and we became two people, it’s almost like we cannot have the same perspective. Whatever is allowing Tegan to see the world as Tegan and whatever is allowing me to observe the world as Sara, it’s like we don’t have much empathy for the other person because we are just completely missing that. So, yeah, discrepancy is a great, diplomatic way to put it. We have a lot of discrepancies in how we remember things. It’s good for us to have evidence. I actually really like it when someone can go ‘You know what? You’re both wrong. Here’s the email and you are both idiots.’”

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This is not to say Tegan and Sara spend the hour-and-a-half length of Under My Control arguing with each other, although those who have witnessed the occasionally quarrelsome nature of their between-song banter on stage will acknowledge this would probably have been entertaining

Instead, the Tegan and Sara chapter of Words + Music — past musicians who have been part of the series include Sting, James Taylor, Jeff Tweedy and Snoop Dogg — finds the Quins offering a goldmine for fans of career and personal tidbits, related with trademark humour and candour. They re-recorded a handful of key songs, including Where Does the Good Go, Walking with a Ghost and Back in Your Head.

Working with Laura Snapes, a journalist from the Guardian whom the Quins have known for years, Tegan and Sara offer stories in a first-person narrative about the hard lessons they learned about dealing with the press, the bewildering experience of being thrust on endless tours at such a young age, their at times prickly relationship with each other and their creative process. They talk about milestone songs and albums, including their creative breakthrough with 2007’s The Con and their commercial breakthrough with 2013’s Heartthrob. They talk about fretting over whether or not to come out as queer early on in their career, about creative burnout and creative resurgence and even recount a dark incident in the mid-2000s when the sisters came to blows during a miserable tour stop in Scotland. And, finally, they bring us to the modern day and the duo’s shifting priorities, including Sara becoming a mother in 2022 and the Quins diversifying their career to include executive-producing a Calgary-shot television adaptation of their memoir, writing the graphic novel Junior High about their pre-teen years and releasing their 10th album, Crybaby, as indie artists after leaving Warner Bros., their major-label home for 15 years.

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“Looking at your whole career can feel a little overwhelming but it felt like the right thing to do,” Sara says. “We’ve done a lot of re-imagining of older songs and re-recording things, but I think this gave us a new opportunity to talk about the music in a new way and create a vibe or tone around the music through storytelling and we’ve never done anything like that before.”

There is a lot to cover. Given that the Quins are only in their early 40s, it’s sometimes easy to forget that they have been at this since 1995. The companion album to their 2019 memoir, Hey, I’m Just Like You, found the duo re-recording songs they penned while teenagers living in Calgary. The graphic novel went back even further. So Sara admits they have been in the right “headspace” for reminiscing. Last month, Tegan and Sara were given an honorary degree from the University of Calgary. Their early success in music may have derailed any plans for the Quins to pursue higher education back in the 1990s, but Sara says she sees the honour as a tribute to their mother. She went back to U of C years after getting her bachelor’s degree to get her master’s degree when her daughters were in high school.

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“We watched her collect two different diplomas in that same room and there we were standing on stage receiving these honorary degrees and it was very moving,” Sara says. “It was moving to think about all the sacrifices she made that went into her pursuit of her career and her education and ultimately a lot of the way that Tegan and I look at our community building, both in the music community and the philanthropic space, we learned that from our mom.”

At one point in the podcast, Tegan suggests the duo have now become a “legacy band.” This may be another area where Sara and Tegan don’t exactly see eye to eye. But it did give them a chance to discuss The Tegan and Sara Foundation, a non-profit organization created to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ women and girls. In March, they will receive the 2024 Humanitarian Award at the Juno Awards for their work with the LGBTQ+ community.

“Tegan is really driving this whole legacy thing,” says Sara. “Every interview she is like ‘We’re a legacy band now!’ I can’t tell if she is doing this because she is claiming what people already think of us. She’s like ‘I will declare us a legacy band before someone else declares us a legacy band!’ I think it’s a tremendous honour to be around after 25 years in the music business. It’s a tremendous feat to get this far in one’s career and not have too many embarrassing moments or cancellations or disasters. I think we’ve done a remarkable job of pushing ourselves and reinventing ourselves and I think we’re still pretty normal, healthy people. Now to pivot and really put a lot of that into philanthropic pursuits, the LGBTQ+ community and the foundation, to me is a joy.”

Under My Control comes out on Audible on Dec. 1.

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