A Momentous First Date with... Tegan and Sara!
Over last two decades the duo have fought for LGBT+ rights, endured misogynist critics, and transcended cult status to achieve pop stardom. I had a long chat with them about drugs, dogs, and McDonalds.
When someone offered to set me up on a date with Tegan and Sara I assumed it was a cruel, belated April Fool’s joke. Surely not. Surely identical twins Tegan and Sara Quin who comprise the Grammy-nominated musical duo Tegan and Sara have better things to do than watch me splutter through questions about their personal lives between pints and pints of water until I am red in the face. Surely they would prefer to be doing literally anything else with their time than behold a supposedly “professional music journalist” sweat and squirm, physically trying to prevent the words “I love you intensely, I’m really sorry about my personality” from hurtling across the table like a series of embarrassing bowling balls. Well, apparently not, because that’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago in the upstairs room of a fancy French restaurant off Oxford Street.
To preface: Tegan and Sara are extremely important. Over the years, the Canadian duo have fought for LGBT+ rights, endured misogynist criticism - with Pitchfork reducing them to “tampon rock” and NME declaring they were “quite lovely, even if they do hate cock” - all while navigating the strains of being both sisters and bandmates. After a decade and a half of paving their own path and striding confidently down it, they’ve transcended cult status to achieve pop stardom. 2013 was a fork in the road, with Heartthrob debuting at number 3 on the Billboard Chart and its lead single “Closer” becoming their first to breach the Top 20. Then came performances with Taylor Swift, a support slot on Katy Perry’s tour, and work with Mark Mothersbaugh and the Lonely Island on “Everything Is Awesome” for The Lego Movie. But although they broke through the doors of the mainstream a few years back, it wasn’t until Love You To Death - their eighth album in career spanning two decades, released this June - that Tegan and Sara moved from the fringes to centre stage. Usually it takes some cunning boardroom rebranding to achieve that move - the “maturation” of Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift doing a Bob Dylan and going electric - but that didn’t seem to be the case with Tegan and Sara. Mostly, they kept adamantly doing things they way they wanted to until the mainstream eventually caught up with them - arms open, poised for embrace.
I’ve been watching Tegan and Sara’s career (and their hairstyles) evolve ever since someone put “I Can’t Take It” on a mix for me in 2004. In that time, I’ve seen them go from “acquired taste” to “legitimate pop stars”, an insider tip to a household name. Seeing them play a sold out Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2009 to a screaming room overwhelmingly comprised of young women while my then-boyfriend felt awkward and underrepresented for the first time in his life is up there in my top ten memories. I don't tell them this, though. No. Instead, I asked them a bunch of questions about food and drugs and body modification.
Noisey: Hello Tegan and Sara! Have you been on many first dates?
Sara: I’ve had a lot of first dates actually. I think it’s probably most appropriate to talk about the first date of the relationship that I’m currently in [laughs]. It’s really interesting because the woman I’m dating right now, we’ve been together for five and a half years, but we knew each other for a few years before we started dating. We would hang out whenever I would come through town - she was living in New York - but never really talk about what was happening. We were just friends who spent six hours at dinner or stay up talking all night on the phone. But for our first date, we saw this really terrible restaurant called Roses and Wine. We shared a bottle of rosé and ended up at a really bad sports bar. We were at that point where we'd had enough to drink that I was like “I think this is gonna happen, it’s finally gonna happen” - and as we were leaving the bar this woman came up and said something to Stacy and when we got outside I was like ‘oh what did she have to say’, and Stacy said, ‘she says we have really good chemistry’ and I was like ‘I’m in, this is happening’, so I was really excited. Anyway so they were two of the worst places on the upper west side in Manhattan, but that’s what I would call our first date because she came home with me. By the way, she left at 2 in the morning. I was like ‘why don’t you wanna spend the night?’ and she was like ‘what kind of date do you think this is? I have to work in the morning. I need my curlers and my makeup. I have an adult job’ and she got in a cab all the way back to the east village. That’s how serious she was about it.
Tegan: I went on a blind date once.
What was that like?
Tegan: I’d just gotten out of a long relationship and was sort of dating someone emotionally but it wasn’t working out. My friends were like, seriously, it doesn’t have to go anywhere, it can just be one date, this girl’s really great, she’s a responsible grown up with a job and she’s a feminist. It sounded terrible to me, because at that point in my life I kind of wanted the exact opposite. But I was like ugh, fine. I remember I went to this place in the city and she was late. When she walked up the street I knew right away - and it was nothing about how she looked, just style-wise I was like oh no, this is going to be a disaster. In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t the most unpleasant two hours I’ve ever spent. But she was vegan and she didn’t drink or smoke, and at that point in my life I was very much not a vegan and very much a drinker. I ordered a steak and had multiple cigarettes at the table - which isn’t something I would ever normally do, I’m mostly a social smoker and if someone didn’t smoke I would never smoke around them. I just acted like a real shit. I remember saying bye and she was like, that’s it? It was 7:04 on a Friday night and I was just out of there, you know. Later that night she emailed me and I was like I’m so sorry. The one good thing about it is that it really pulled me out of myself and I realised that dating is the worst. Still to this day I mostly meet people, get to know them, pine for YEARS, and then date them. Anyway, she was very pleasant, we’ve run into each many times and she’s really cool. I was just like oh boy, I am not ready for this.
That would’ve been a really funny “how we met” story, if it had worked out.
Tegan: Oh god, yeah. I just remember having like steak in one cheek and a cigarette hanging out the other side of my mouth, drinking Patron on ice…
I would’ve been extremely impressed. I noticed you both took your lip piercings out, which I also did quite recently -
Tegan: How long did you have yours?
Like ten years. So this little hole will be there forever now.
Tegan: Same. I got mine when I was 15 and took it out when I was 33. I recently saw a plastic surgeon and he said the only way that this will ever close up is to have all the scar tissue cut off and the hole stitched up. I was like, well, I’m not gonna do that before we put the record out. If I could go back in a time machine I would tell 15-year-old me don’t do that, or just get a smaller gauge.
Sara: If I could back in a time machine I would tell younger me skip the piercings and just get the tattoos.
Tegan: Why did you take yours out?
I think I just woke up one morning and felt in my bones that the time had come.
Tegan: You know what though, you’ll be fine. We have a friend who probably had it in for a similar length and you can’t see it now. I had some terrible ticks and habits. I stretched it and really fucked my face up. This has been out for multiple years and it’s still a giant gaping hole that I drool out of all the time. It’s embarrassing.
I’m not going to lie as soon as I took it out I did immediately try to squirt water out of it.
Tegan: As long as you don’t apply pressure that’ll work, it has to come out naturally so like if you go home and put water in your mouth and just sit there it’ll probably just dribble out.
When did you get your first tattoos?
Sara: Basically as soon as we were legally allowed to get tattoos we started getting them.
Tegan: Which is why they should put a new law in the books so you shouldn’t be allowed to get tattoos until you’re 25.
Which tattoo do you regret the most?
Sara: I’ve covered almost all of the ones I don’t like. There’s one on my back and I am never going to tell you what it is. It’s pretty embarrassing and thankfully only those who have been intimate with me have seen it.
Tegan: I don’t know if I would use the word regret. My first one I picked right off the wall, and I was obviously not ready for a tattoo if I couldn’t come up with the idea myself, you know? But I’ve gone in to have it covered and decided not to. I think it’s part of the story, I think that’s why I like tattoos. I’m not the kind of tattoo person who has the perfectly planned out sleeve. I almost always get them during times where I feel like it’s important. Our mom is a therapist and says it’s a form of self-mutilation - she has tattoos by the way - like it’s a way for you to engage in creating memory etc. I think once that sort of settled in me and I created my own understanding with that I was like oh yeah, these are important. I have such an emotional attachment to the times when I got them. It’s funny, the one I picked off the wall is this ugly shape and when I get excited or riled up it poofs up because it was done too deep...
Oh wow, so anytime you experience an extreme emotion it inflames and you can’t even hide it.
Tegan: Pretty much!
There's a bit in the BuzzFeed profile on you that touches on one part of your teenage years where you’d drop acid during school and take turns looking after each other...
Tegan: Yes, we were really fun when we were on drugs.
Sara: I don’t remember it [laughs]. Acid is one of those drugs - well, at least the acid we were taking - where everything is chaotic. When I look back on it now what remains for me is just the crippling anxiety and insecurity. It made me feel really paranoid. We were teenagers so we weren’t in cool fun drugs spaces that were curated for our comfort and fun; we were on the city bus going back to our horrible neighbourhood. I remember the first time someone was like, do you wanna do ecstasy? And I was like, I guess, sure, let’s do ecstasy - and then thinking ‘oh my god, this feels amazing, I can’t believe I wasted so much time taking acid!’ I felt positive and happy and I loved everyone and everyone loved me and I was like, jesus, I might be a really different person if I hadn’t spent the last three years taking a drug that made me feel like shit and that the whole world was against me and that the whole world was rotting from the inside or whatever. Acid was the worst.
Was acid the first drug you tried?
Sara: It was the only drug I did, really. We would smoke pot every once in awhile, but usually once we were on acid we were trying to bump our high back up. I don’t remember doing anything that made me feel good until I was an adult. We used to drink bad, cheap beer too, taking shots from the cheapest bottle of vodka until you passed out. Like a lot of teenagers we were experimenting, but somewhat recklessly and financially dependent on what was cheap. But yeah, as an adult I fully don’t do drugs or drink like that. I was actually turned off drugs and alcohol until I was in my mid-20s, and then I met someone who was really into food and wine. It was through her that I discovered this whole other world of adult drinking. I remember when I met her I was like 4 or 5 years out of high school I guess and - on one of our first dates, actually - I remember she was like ‘can I make you dinner?’ And I was probably imagining her making something I would make, which is like pasta or whatever. She came over to my house and she had gone to the fish store and got this beautiful tuna, and she did a seared tuna with a mango chutney and brought wine and I was like… First of all, I had never eaten tuna that wasn’t out of a can, and I’d never drank wine ever. I remember not liking the meal because they were completely new flavours and foods to me and I was still like a child. But it was through her that I began to appreciate a totally new kind of food and drink landscape. Also I never had money. Until I was like 26/27, I couldn’t even really afford the luxury of a nice restaurant, but she was one of those people where we would always go to the market and get all these ingredients and cook together and drink wine and have people over. I was like, yes, I am an adult now. I’m really living an adult lifestyle! So yeah, there was that period between the acid days and the mango chutney days where I didn’t indulge very many things.
I have a similar experience growing up, trying drinking the most with the least. Then one day you realise oh, this could be an enjoyable experience!
Sara: You’re like - oh! I guess $11 for a bottle of vodka is bad.
Tegan: Or, you know, you don’t need to drink the whole thing!
Sara: It doesn’t have to end with you wetting the bed throwing up [laughs]. And that’s why I don’t have kids. Because even if you do really excellent parenting you could end up with assholes, like us.
What do you think you guys would be doing if you weren’t musicians?
Tegan: My mom’s favourite story to tell us is when we were 4, we came home from preschool having done one of those things where you have to write who’s your hero and what’s your favourite this and what’s your favourite that. Under the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ we’d both written 'McDonald’s worker'.
Sara: Here’s the fucked up part about this. In our preschool there was a playhouse, like one would have in their preschool. But our preschool playhouse was a Burger King. It had full Burger King uniforms and everything. That was the expectation for our preschool and the kids that went there. They were like, hmm, which vocational play game should we have for the? Should it be working as an astronaut? No. Burger King. There’s tonnes of pictures of us serving food! We probably thought McDonald’s was a step up for us from that ol' stinky Burger King we had in level four.
Tegan: There was a large chunk of my youth where I wanted to be a veterinarian. Now, when I look back on it, if you’d questioned me further on why I wanted to work with animals I probably would have just been like ‘because I like animals’. Which is actually funny because I don’t want to be a veterinarian now but I’m like, maybe I could run a cat rescue! But not in high school. I think that’s when things started to fall apart for us, mainly because we were highly emotional, very social teenagers who did not actually want to focus at school. We were terrible memorisers, like we were smart, obviously, and teachers would be like they’re articulate and smart and they read, but they do not pay any attention or do any homework or study for tests. As I knew we were sort of skating by, and university was looming, that’s when we both got really into music. Not as an and/or, we just got into music and people started to give us positive reinforcement - possibly the first positive reinforcement we’d had in a really long time - and we just headed straight for it
Sara: One of the things I’ve come to understand about myself and what we do is that, as much as we loved music, one of the very first things that we did was take the music that we were writing and fooling around with, record it, then dub cassette tapes, manufacture our own demos, make artwork, photocopy them, fold them, put them together, and then go around the school selling them to people. And I think in a weird way it was the business side of things that was really exciting to us. It was creative, we didn’t see it as work. We knew right away that we wanted to make t-shirts, we wanted to make business cards, we wanted to make demo tapes, we wanted to make tour posters. We were 16 years old and booking our gigs at our friend’s parties in basements and setting up schedules. We were always incredibly structured. To me, I was never like this is art - this is creative, and this is business. It was just one entire thing. Even if music hadn’t worked out for us I know I would’ve done something like social work or English. I wanted to be a lawyer - and I may have done alright at something like that that, I think I would’ve been bright enough to catch on and figure it out. But the one thing that nobody told us we could do that we sort of learned through music was business. We run a business. We run multiple businesses, in fact, and we’ve done it since we were 16-years-old. If I could go back in time I would tell myself: if music doesn’t work out, get a business degree! You’re a good leader! But I wouldn’t have known that at the time, because when I was growing up you were either a McDonald’s worker or…
A Burger King worker?
Sara: Exactly. I just didn’t know what jobs or fields existed.
Speaking of different jobs and fields. The video for “100x” is my favourite videos in the world. How did you orchestrate this? Did you use hair dryers? Fans? I have so many questions.
Tegan: Jess [Rona] runs a dog grooming business so she has this big giant generator with a big hose and that’s how they blow down the dogs. But for us they just used regular old fans.
Sara: Jess is amazing. I’m not that big of a dog person, I’m a cat person, but when I saw her Instagram - still to this day, almost daily, I’m like, have you seen this? It’s so beautiful, sweet and so expertly pulled off. She really is a dog lover but she’s also such an artist.
Tegan: Behind the scenes [of the video], she had all these dogs there with their owners and she’d picked dogs that were well mannered and able to perform for the video on cue....
Sara: When you’re shooting a dog porn you have to know these kinds of things [laughs].
Tegan: Seriously. In return for owners letting their dog be in the video she’d groomed them earlier in the day so there were all these fully groomed dogs in cages waiting around.
Sara: [Jess] was so excited. She’s one of those people who make me feel so cynical after doing it for all these years. Like, I’ve been doing this for so long it’s so hard to get me excited about things. But the whole two hours we were there she was running around like ‘I’m having the best time!’ If only I could tap back into that enthusiasm for life.
Tegan: I had one of my closest friends on set and she is a major dog person. She took hundreds of photos and sent me about 70. She literally had to Dropbox me 70 photos. Still to this day she’ll text me like “that video was one of the best days of my life”.
Well this has been one of the best days of mine. Thank you Tegan and Sara!
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