We may be in the icy grip of winter, but rock duo Tegan and Sara are currently basking in the warmth of critical and commercial acclaim for their latest album, Heartthrob. The seventh studio album from the out and proud Canadians debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart and its first single, “Closer,” went platinum in Canada, a first for them.
Tegan and Sara will be performing in front of thousands of gay girl fans when they headline The Dinah—the largest lesbian party in the world—in Palm Springs, California this April. We recently caught up with Sara to talk about touring, the difference between playing festivals and their own shows, and how to survive an Arctic airmass.
GO: Where are you? Are you in New York? How are you handling the insane cold?
Sara: This might sound crazy, but I prefer harsh winters. I like hot summers and cold winters. I like having different seasons. It creates a rhythm to life. I’m a Virgo, so I love order and things that are compartmentalized and defined.
You’re also Canadian, so maybe you can tell Americans how to survive a polar vortex.
I like that this interview is tailored to my Canadian expertise. Truthfully, Canadians are probably just like Americans. If I called my dad right now and asked him how the weather is in Calgary, he would complain for 45 minutes. [Canadians] talk about the cold and complain about it, too.
You have to embrace it. When I was living in Montréal, I was always cold. I was always rushing from one place to the next, and at some point, I just gave in. I bought a crazy Arctic parka. I started a snowshoe club. We used to go out snowshoeing for hours. You have these crazy, beautiful, sunny days when the weather is minus 15 degrees, and it’s shockingly beautiful because it’s so extreme. So, I just got into it.
You’re also into touring like a maniac. What’s it like being a famous musician on the road?
I think people imagine our glorious, fancy lifestyles, traveling and being rock stars. But being on the road is sometimes just gross and endless. Once you start living on a bus with anywhere from six and 10 other grown-ups, you realize that you’re still just living in a bunk. You trudge out to make coffee and try not to bump into your coworkers.
For example, just this year, we were traveling and doing shows for almost 290 days. So, it’s amazing how quickly things—what kind of suitcase, what your bunk area looks like, the clothes you wear, how you travel—become very compact. Every detail becomes important. I’ve become an expert traveler and found things to make it less monotonous and less uncomfortable, and sometimes, even enjoyable. Because that’s where I live: on the road.
You have your own custom, tricked-out tour bus?
We rent our tour buses. It’s the way we’ve been traveling around North America since 2004. You
make them as comfortable as you can.
If you could design your own tour bus, what would be on it?
Yes! We love to discuss how we’d design the inside of a tour bus. These days, Tegan and I are on the bus by ourselves with one or two people, so there’s additional sleeping space and living space that we don’t need. So, we’re constantly like, “OK. If we were only going to have two sleeping areas, what could we do with the rest of the space?” And we’re always like, “Oh, we could build a little studio,” or “How nice would it be to have a walk-in closet?” The biggest issue is that we’re sleeping in these bunks that are tinier than a single bed. We call them coffins. The thing we constantly fantasize about is how we can sleep in normal size beds.
That doesn’t sound glamorous at all.
So much of what happens in our lives on the road is [unseen] by fans. They see us sort of triumphantly come on stage, play for an hour, and leave. There’s a mystique in that. It’s romanticized and the media romanticizes it, too. But there’s actually something human that’s missing from all of that. And maybe that’s what people want. I kind of want that myself, actually, with an artist that I really like. But there’s something really human about the rest of my life. Just me in pajamas—eating nachos at midnight on the bus.
Tegan and Sara are headlining The Dinah in Palm Springs this year. Do you know about this lesbian Mecca called The Dinah?
Oh, God, yes—of course! Being in the industry, and also being gay, it’s a legendary event. I’ve had many friends go. It’s fairly infamous! I guess “infamous” sort of implies that it’s bad. [Laughs] We’ve heard many, many stories. It’s really fun that we’re finally going to get to go, and be headlining! I think it’s going to be a really excellent time.
Are you going to stick around to get your Dinah on, or do you guys have to rock and run?
Unfortunately, we’re going to be on tour during that time of year, so it’s hard to stay around. We’re always trying to get to the next thing, and we’re working every day. Tegan and I absolutely love Palm Springs and spend a crazy amount of time there in our personal lives—family holidays, etc. We would love to stay after we do the event, but unfortunately we’ll be in and out. I have a feeling the [show] experience is going to be really fun and crazy. I hope people are really into it.
Do you prefer doing your own tours, or festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza?
When I was younger, I hated festivals. We did a lot of support tours and opened for other people. My goal had always been to get to a place in our career where we just headlined for our own audiences. And we accomplished that when we spent a couple of different albums cycles doing our own shows.
It’s taken me 14 years to finally like festivals. I love playing in front of giant crowds. I love that it takes a lot of the pressure off of having to develop our own shows. You just show up, and everyone is totally ecstatic and we just sort of play to that. And, you get to see other bands. So, yeah, I think we’ve sort of arrived in a place that I love festivals. But of course, I like to do our own shows.
Do you guys have a “festival set” that differs from a “Tegan and Sara tour set?”
When we play in front of our own crowd, there’s an opportunity to play many, many different kinds of songs in a set list. We can do in introspective section; we can reach back into the catalog and play the big songs, the more popular songs. We’re able to craft something that’s a more dynamic set. When you’re at a festival, you just come out and do whatever you can think of that has a big chorus and a big moment. So there’s something really fun and exciting in trying to make it all work.
What are you going play at The Dinah?
The truth is, we’re always sort of doing sets that we think people will want. So, there will be fan favorites for sure, but we also play with the mindset that nobody knows who we are.
The Dinah is exclusively lesbian. I think it’s safe to say everyone has heard of Tegan and Sara.
If we attack the show as if no one is familiar with the band, it tends to work better than just thinking, “OK, I’m going to tailor this to the fans who have known us since 2000, and a fan since the last year.” There are too many variables and it becomes complicated.
Instead, we say, “OK, it’s 45 minutes to an hour. What are our best songs? What will engage everybody?” So that’s probably what we’ll do with The Dinah show. But there are always some oldies to do. And that’s what makes us happy, so we would like to do that as well.
Are there any songs that you would love to cover but haven’t yet?
I’ve always loved covering Bruce Springsteen. It’s very natural for me to sing. Also, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna. Currently, we cover a Pink song, “Just Like a Pill” and that’s awesome. We don’t do covers a lot in our own show, but I do like to sing other artists’ work. I like to sing Prince songs, but I’ve never done that live.
Wow, it would be great if you did some live Prince songs, someday. Speaking of legendary artists, did you see Stevie Nicks on American Horror Story?
I did not!
She played a witch, naturally. I imagine you must watch a lot of television, out on the road. What shows are you obsessed with right now?
We do watch a lot of TV on the road. It’s definitely a lifesaver when you’re doing 16-hour flights or really long drives. We watch everything. This year, we’ve all been obsessing over Shameless (Showtime) and I’m in the middle of watching this incredible documentary series called The Staircase (Sundance Channel.)
We also love Orange Is the New Black (Netflix), Top of the Lake (Sundance Channel) —it’s pretty much a constant stream of people watching TV, and then switching shows with each other. I’ll watch a season of The Good Wife (CBS), and give it to Tegan, and she’ll give me a season of Shameless, so yeah, we’re always watching TV.
Looks like we’re almost out of time, so here comes The Incredibly Random Lighting Round. Are you ready, Sara Quin?
Justin Bieber retiring. Good, bad, or don’t believe it?
I don’t believe it.
Otter or ferret?
Panda or koala?
I had to think about it.
Instagram or Pinterest?
Twitter or Snapchat?
Beyoncé or Rihanna?
That’s hard. Probably Rihanna.
Poutine or plain ol’ French fries?
Oh, just fries for me.
You’re a bad Canadian, Sara.
Poutine is a little intense.
For a complete list of Tegan and Sara’s 2014 tour dates, check out their website: www.teganandsara.com/shows. And for tickets to their headliner show at The Dinah in Palm Springs on Saturday, April 5, 2014, go to The Dinah’s website: www.thedinah.com.