The duo felt creatively liberated while making 'Love You to Death,' out June 3
In 2013, Tegan and Sara found themselves in a place many artists would kill to be: performing their bubbly Top 40 breakthrough “Closer” onstage with Taylor Swift as special guests on her Red Tour in Los Angeles. It was a sign that their big pop experiment had worked. Earlier that year, after spending nearly a decade and a half toiling in the indie-rock world, the duo released Heartthrob, a flashy synth-pop record full of sky-high choruses that didn’t just crack the mainstream, it helped shape it. Swift would go on to reference it during recording sessions for 1989. Kylie Minogue and Carly Rae Jepsen cited the group as inspirations. Katy Perry even took them on tour. (Forget the purported bad blood—if there’s one thing Swift and Perry can agree on, it’s Tegan and Sara’s talent.) “It really encouraged us,” Sara Quin says of the band’s success.
So for their eighth LP, Love You to Death, out June 3, the 35-year-old identical twins from Canada reunited with Heartthrob producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, P!nk, Beck) and doubled down on the keyboards and programming. As jarring as Heartthrob’s sheen may have seemed to their famously zealous fans—at a recent New York show, some spent the night outside the venue—the band admits they were actually holding back. “There was still a bit of, ‘Maybe we should keep the guitars because that’ll be familiar,’” Sara says. “I just don’t feel those hesitations or obligations.” Add Kurstin, “This time we felt liberated to go wherever we wanted to go.”
With a new sound came new subject matter. Tegan stepped away from tales of heartbreak and unrequited love to reevaluate her roles in her relationships on songs like “U-Turn” and the shimmering opener “That Girl.” “I didn’t write about ‘woe is me,’ I wrote about how I’m empowered—I’m the one that leaves relationships, I’ve never really been broken up with,” Tegan says. “I’m not a victim. I’m often times the bad guy.”
And for the first time ever, Sara digs deep into her relationship with her sister on songs like the devastating “100x,” which seems to address a romantic breakup but actually draws on a tumultuous time years ago when the band nearly broke up. It’s a topic neither could have addressed if their sibling relationship wasn’t so healthy now. “There’s a perspective we didn’t have when hated our band and wanted to abandon each other,” Tegan says.
Their complicated bond is a running theme throughout the album. It’s true that Love You to Death is a nod to matrimony: Tegan and Sara fought for marriage equality in the U.S. but address their own disinterest in that institution on the poignant “BWU.” (“I don’t need a ring to prove that you’re worthy … I don’t need a white wedding,” Sara sings.) Yet the title also captures the ways that sharing a band (and a face) with your identical twin is like a marriage. “We own a business together, we own property together, our songs are like kids,” Tegan says. “It’s this crazy cyclical relationship where we’re trapped in ‘We love it, we hate it, we have no other option.’”
Fittingly, Love You to Death found the two working together more closely than ever. Tegan and Sara have historically written songs separately with some feedback from the other, though they become more collaborative on their last few records. This time in the studio, they were so involved in each other’s material, ping-ponging melodies and ideas back and forth, that discerning who did what can be tricky at times even for longtime listeners. The pinnacle of their collaboration is the pulsing “Dying to Know,” which the two Frankensteined together from a handful of their own songs over the course of two days—not unlike how teams of radio hitmakers work today.
“The challenge for us was, can we make a pop record without a village?” Sara says. Evidently yes: Thanks to their heightened collaboration, Tegan says, this album more than any other “feels like a Tegan and Sara record. It really is a Tegan and Sara record.” Eight albums in, that’s a great place to be.