BY WHITNEY YOUNGS
Coming of age in Canada, identical twins Tegan and Sara Quin, had become obsessed with all things grunge by 1993, the year of Nirvana’s In Utero and Siamese Dream, the sophomore album from The Smashing Pumpkins.
“Our rooms were covered in Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins posters,” remembers Tegan. “We listened nonstop to Nirvana records and drove our parents crazy with pleas to find bootleg cassettes of live shows of the band.”
The Quin twins started making music at the age of 15, right around the time they stumbled upon their sexuality—as most teenagers do at the onset of puberty—and for a short time, despised each other because their mutual best friend, Naomi, grew closer to Sara, according to their 2019 memoir, High School.
“I felt confused, injured, abandoned,” recalls Tegan. “I instigated violent clashes with Sara in front of Naomi when they left me out, further damaging whatever bond remained between the three of us. It was war.”
The memoir, now an adapted television series with the same title, begins on the first day of high school (tenth grade) during the pre-Internet, analog days of the ‘90s. Tegan and Sara alternate as narrators for each chapter. The book documents angsty and rebellious behavior of many grungy Gen-X teenagers: sneaking out of the house; falling in love; cutting holes in jeans; playing a favorite CD until it’s practically warped; getting sucked into an excruciatingly uncomfortable conversation about sex with one of your parents; experimenting with drugs and alcohol; hanging out at the mall; and calling collect on a payphone. The memoir ends with two epilogues—one written by Sara, the other, Tegan—both notating the momentous morning of their 18th birthday, September 19, 1998, when they inked a deal with PolyGram Records. The twins recorded some demos with the label but not much came of it, so they were subsequently dropped, but they convinced their grandfather to lend them $11,000 to buy a Pro Tools rig and they recorded Under Feet Like Ours in their mother’s house.
“It would take us a long time to find success, to sell records, to win awards, to be acknowledged by our peers, the industry, and the world,” recalls Tegan. “But at that moment, years from any of that, I felt my first taste of success.”
The twins wrote the book and the songs for their new album, Crybaby, during the pandemic. The sisters recorded the tracks in a Seattle studio in 2021, marking the first time they left their bubble in Vancouver, British Columbia, since the Covid lockdown.
“The word crybaby seems sweet and innocent and youthful, but there's also this other energy to it,” explains Tegan, “like when you're in the airport, and you see a three year-old throw themselves down on the ground and cry. And you think, ‘I would love to be able to do that every once in a while. I'd feel better if I could just toss myself on the ground and have a good ol’ tantrum.’”
Aside from recording 10 studio albums, publishing a memoir and signing on as television producers, the twins established The Tegan and Sara Foundation in 2016, a nonprofit aimed at bettering the lives of LGBTQ+ women and girls. The foundation awards summer camp scholarships and invests in programs that provide improved access to healthcare, among other things. With a career spanning 25 years, Tegan and Sara know what’s required to endure as independent artists who’ve always made music on their own terms.
“I think what our new album is about is looking back over the years of making music but also asking ourselves what comes next,” adds Tegan. “I think we are still pretty hyperactive, pretty engaged and we still have a lot to say and I think Crybaby is a record of those emotions.We are not ready to pack it in.”
Tegan and Sara play BeachLife Festival May 5.