Tegan Quin, musician, Tegan and Sara
I think it has been very important and humbling to Sara and I as a band to have such a connection to our audience and realise our music represented more than just our experiences ...
The past few years have seen a huge surge in awareness of issues surrounding LGBTQ individuals all around the world. As the fight for equality progresses, several high-profile individuals have thrown their support behind the progressive cause – none more so than Tegan and Sara. The musical duo has been active on the global music scene for more than a decade, earning legions of fans with its heartfelt and engaging pop. Last year saw Tegan and Sara release its eighth album Love You To Death and also saw the creation of the Tegan and Sara Foundation. The foundation aims to help further the cause of equality for self-identifying women in North America through education and mentorship programs. Ahead of Tegan and Sara’s tour in Australia next month, we spoke to Tegan about how the foundation came to be and how it will help marginalised communities.
With the recording of your new album, the release cycle, the touring and the creation of the Tegan and Sara foundation, have you had a chance to catch your breath lately?
(laughs) You know, it’s always been an ongoing process to balance all the work we have with our personal lives – making sure we are healthy and not overdoing it. I think we’ve become real experts on that. I think sometimes we push ourselves too much to do too many things, but I think we have a really great balance of work and personal stuff and the foundation. It’s been a really great year and we’ve definitely had a lot of time for perspective – we’ve become a bit more established internationally and that’s meant we’ve been able to tour more internationally and that’s sometimes easier than touring domestically. We don’t do as many shows and we fly instead of drive.
We are feeling really good and really happy with the first year of work on this record. It felt really positive and the response has been great and the songs are so fun to play live. The foundation has really added some purpose to what we do. We’re still very purposeful about the music we release and the places we go, but it’s definitely something quite close to our hearts and we are excited to fill part of every day with giving back to our community.
With the album – the eighth so far in your career – what part of your music are you noticing resonating with fans new and old?
I think on the surface level even though our music has become a little more slick and more pop-sounding, we are just getting better at translating the music we loved growing up and the music we listen to now into our records. I think Love You To Death and Heartthrob are really personal records. People sometimes correlated the rawness of our early records with a rawness of emotional content, so as we became a bit more refined there was an automatic assumption that we weren’t infusing as much emotion or rawness into the music. I think it is some of the most personal work of the past couple of records. I think we’re getting better at translating our thoughts and emotions onto record. These last two records feel like true Tegan and Sara, because we also had more of a hand in the production side.
On that note of personal expression, the Tegan and Sara Foundation seems to be an immensely personal project for both of you. Although it has come at a poignant time and is still a recent thing, it’s obviously not something that came overnight. Where did the initial idea come from?
We’ve always been really activated politically and I’d say in the mid-2000s was when the marriage equality fight really started to heat up in America. We recognised how lucky we were in Canada because marriage equality came in when we were so young, so we didn’t have to fight for anything. We saw how apathetic we had been in that fight and really tried to get involved with the whole Prop 8 and national marriage equality debate in America. Since then we’ve tried to give back to our community as much as we can and when we were putting together Love You To Death we started talking about finally been doing that thing we’d always talked about, which was having a focused effort to give back to our community, specifically women and girls in our community. We pledged to give money from every show in North America to different groups that we thought were doing great work and we decided that before we could pick what groups we’d make donations to, we’d start a foundation and we’d have a real focus.
How did you go about planning how you’d approach the running of your foundation?
We went out over the past six months and met with every LGBTQ organisation that had a focus on self-identified women and girls and we learned a lot. We learned that the most marginalised group in our community are women, specifically women of colour and transgender women. It became less of a choice and more of an absolute need. It’s going to be a large undertaking with a lot of long-term plans and investments but our first goal in 2017 is to partner with a few really great organisations and come up with some focused agendas and strategies that will directly benefit women and girls in our community. I’m sure it’s the same around the world, but a lot of the big catchall organisations unfortunately underrepresent, underfund and under-research women. We want to be a part of helping change that.
When you mentioned the process of going out and learning about the issues facing self-identifying women, did it reveal a level of injustice that you weren’t expecting?
Oh, yeah. We all hear about the wage gap and stuff like that, but meeting with these economic and social justice organisations specifically revealed an incredible disparity. As a queer woman I already understood that, because it’s been a central focus of my life. To actually meet with these organisations – women of colour and transgender women run many of them – there is such a lack of funding specifically for them. It felt that there was such a focus over the last decade on marriage equality, which is a great thing, but it left a lot of people in our community out and it didn’t focus energy on specific communities that were most marginalised. We spent every afternoon of the North American tour meeting with organisations and it was really heavy. Not to put down what we do, Sara and I are very proud of the 20 years we’ve spent in this industry but sometimes the music and the business feels trivial compared to what is happening in the world. I think it has been very important and humbling to Sara and I as a band to have such a connection to our audience and realise our music represented more than just our experiences.
In terms of the organisations your are partnering with and the initiatives you are spearheading at the beginning, can you give us any insight as to what work the Foundation will start with?
We haven’t launched anything officially, so I can’t give any specific details but our focus is on self-identified women and girls. A few of the partnerships that we are focusing on will revolve around mentorship and hiring and representation. We want to encourage giant national companies and workforces to have good LGBTQ policies in place. One of the biggest takeaways that we learned was that educating and influencing people when they are young has a huge affect on how they end up existing and succeeding in adulthood. A lot of our programs are going to be teaching about young people. If we want to educate young LGBTQ women about health and the opportunities that exist in all major fields while creating a network that allows them to reach their highest potential – that has to start when they are young. These programs will also look to engage older LGBTQ people who have succeeded as well.
There are people further abroad that might be seeing the same disparities in their own communities, but maybe their movements towards equality are still grassroots in scale. What advice would you give to those communities to kick-start the process of positive change?
I remember when we started the marriage equality fight in the States people said it was going to take 20 years and it took a lot less than that to have a national conversation and policy change. I think the big thing is to not become discouraged and also that we all have to work together. At this point if you are not talking about transgender people and people of colour within this community you are ignoring a huge part of the community that needs your help. I think it’s all about working together – intersectionality is important right now and we need to work together and sharing ideas and reaching across the aisle is important. When it comes to international stuff, Sara and I are obsessed with it all – we know the fight in Australia is underway for recognising marriage equality and I hope that within two years the foundation has global partners to try and help move things forward. We don’t want our LGBTQ fans around the world to feel like we are only focusing on America. We’re starting here because we have the most influence here, but just like how we fought to bring our music to international places we are hoping to bring the foundation and its work to other places as well.
Well, speaking internationally, Australians absolutely love Tegan and Sara and we’re super excited for the upcoming tour. What is it about our country that you really like?
Australia was the second place that we ever had a real audience. We started in Canada and toiled in America for a long while before we acquired an audience there. Australia was so supportive from the beginning – our fan base has been awesome and rode through the changes of our sound and who we are for the last 15 years. We just think Australia is beautiful and wonderful – the entire country is so interesting. I think we’ve travelled around Australia more than some Australians! We did tours around Australia early on with Little Birdy to all the small places – it’s always well worth the trip over. We’re so thrilled to be coming back for the second time with this record.
Image: Pamela Littky