Tegan and Sara’s seventh album, Heartthrob (out Jan. 29), is something of a departure for the Canadian twins who rose to prominence playing edgy indie folk. Now the duo has fully embraced their pop sensibilities, crafting club-ready dance songs with an indie rock edge. The result is an incredibly catchy, fun album with immediately infectious hooks, toe-tapping head-bobbing beats and songs that will be stuck in your head for days. We talked to Tegan Quin about the new album.
TIME: There’s been a lot of buzz about your new album. How has that affected you?
TEGAN QUIN: There’s a lot of anticipation and nervousness. I find myself thinking, ‘I wonder if they’re going to like it?’ We’ve already been playing songs from the album, and we’ve already released audio for two songs, and people seem to like it, so that makes me less nervous. I was out to dinner last night with my mom and she said that being as famous as Lady Gaga must be hard, because people are looking for more cracks. There’s more exposure, so there are more detractors, and people are more critical. But, however safe you make the world you’re in, no matter how much you insulate yourself, there’s still going to be criticism. I’m proud of this album and that’s what matters.
This album has a very different sound for you. Why did you choose to go in a new direction?
It was a natural progression. We’ve been working as pop artists and dance artists for the last four or five years. We wanted the production to be bigger. We wanted it to be more commercial, more mainstream. We’re solidly putting our feet down in the pop world. We’ve been in the indie rock world for a long time. I wanted to challenge myself to do something different than what I’ve done before. We wanted to make a record that was inspired by, like, Cyndi Lauper, but also by pop music now. When we say ‘pop,’ we mean pop in the very ’80s sense with hooks and keyboards and lots of big vocals. If Cyndi Lauper can do it, we can do it, too.
You just used two phrases — ‘more commercial’ and ‘more mainstream’ — that are usually anathema to indie rockers.
As we’ve grown as a band we’ve seen our audience diversify. I mean, we’ve had like nine songs in Grey’s Anatomy. That didn’t seem to diminish our credibility — in fact I think it exposed more people to our music. Ultimately, we try to make music that connects with people, if that happens to be in the mainstream that’s fine. Why keep ourselves to the fringe?
You’ve been doing a lot of production work on your albums, too. What made you want to switch to that side of the studio?
Back in 2002 Sara and I were on Vapor Records, and we convinced them to let us start demo-ing our songs. They were nervous — ‘You’re not going to try and record your own records are you?’ But we use it to explore production ideas. It lets us figure out what direction we want our record to go in and lets us get a handle on what we want things to sound like. I don’t have aspirations to be an actual producer, but being able to use their language is really helpful. We can go in and say, ‘Here’s my demo. Here’s what I want. I want this drum track.’ It has empowered us.
You don’t have a permanent drummer in your group. Who did you work with on Heartthrob?
We worked on eight of the tracks with [producer] Greg Kurstin and Joey Waronker played drums on those eight tracks. So we would lay out a song and Joey would listen to the ideas and then elaborate on it. In the past we’ve worked with Jason [McGerr] from Death Cab [for Cutie]. He came in and would listen to our tracks and build on them, but on Heartthrob there was less room for creativity. We knew what we wanted and we wanted the drums to sound really big and overly complex. Joey was able to do that. We also had Victor Indrizzo come to the studio and play drums on the new tracks. They were both great.
Heartthrob plays like the ultimate break up album, but you and Sara are both in longtime relationships…
Yes, but as we’ve gotten more stable and happy, we can look back at times when you weren’t and be more thoughtful about them. When I’m depressed, I don’t do anything. When I’m happy I’m the most productive. I look forward to being happy because I can sit and be able to reflect on times when I wasn’t without still living in it. There’s a lot of romance on the record. We’re very empowered right now. So before we would have said ‘How come you don’t want me?’ in the bridge. Now we’re saying, ‘one day you won’t hurt me, because I’m over you.’
Do you have a favorite track on the album?
I’m really into ‘Goodbye Goodbye’ right now. It’s the second track on the album, and I’m in the middle of learning it — it’s extremely difficult to sing. I wish I could go back in time and write easier harmonies.
Did you always think you were going to work together with Sara?
No! We started to commit to playing music together when we were 20 or 21, but before that we always thought we were going to live different lives. We were always motivated and ambitious, but never thought we’re going to be huge stars, but just continue to pay our bills. Then we realized we could if we committed to it. That said, Sara tells a story about when we were young — I wanted to be a vet and wanted to move up North and study polar bears and Sara started crying because she couldn’t live apart from me and she was going to have to give up her dreams and move to the north with me. Now we live across the continent from each other, but still work with each other 200 days a year. I think if our schedules changed we would have to live closer, but right now we treat the country like it’s a big city. We see each other a lot.