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The nuts and bolts of Tegan and Sara’s musical evolution

Tegan and Sara

Lindsey Byrnes

On their forthcoming album Heartthrob, identical twins Tegan Rain Quin and Sara Kiersten Quin, of the long-running pop duo Tegan and Sara, still look the same, but something's different. Tegan spoke to The Globe and Mail about their departure from angst-ridden folk-rock to a glossy new sound.

After listening to your new album with its pop production and dance beats, I really have have to wonder: Who are you and what have you done with Tegan and Sara?

[Laughs] You know, that's been a focus for journalists, the new sound. The other day, as I was relearning some of our old songs, I decided to listen to all of our records, back to back, in order. It's a cliché to say that every new album is an evolution, but I wanted to see if this is a weird mutation or if we had evolved naturally. I can honestly say, after listening to three and a half hours of our old records, I feel we have evolved naturally. So, in answer to your question, the true Tegan and Sara are alive and well.

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Okay, that's your perspective. But how are your fans reacting?

Well, the single, Closer, went gold already in Canada. We've never gotten close to something like that before. We've been collaborating over the last five years with dance and pop and hip-hop artists. We've streamed five of the songs at our website, so our fans have heard half the album now. I think for most of them it feels real.

You did some touring with The Killers, and you're rehearsing for your own shows now. Where does Closer fit in on the set list? Last song?

We've been closing the show with it, yes. I think with this record, there will be an inclination for people to focus on the production. It is definitely poppier. But I think Sara and I have created 10 very memorable songs, or stories. And I think these 10 stories will fit in nicely with our past work.

Does it matter if they don't? You're looking for new fans, aren't you?

It's one of those things. You want to respect and keep your audience happy. But naturally you lose fans along the way. People grow up. Maybe they don't listen to music as much any more. We've seen it. So Jealous came out in 2004, and it's our biggest record. The Con, from 2007, was popular among our fans, but it didn't sell nearly like So Jealous did. And Sainthood, from 2009, sold a fraction of those two records. So we're losing people no matter what. That's why you make new records, to try to get back into people's sound systems and iPods.

Closer is a lot of fun, but I hear Love They Say as the album's grandest song, though it's acoustic based. How did it come about?

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Of the songs that made it onto the record, that was the first song I wrote. We had a long conversation with the chairman of Warner Bros. Records, Rob Cavallo. Normally we get 20 minutes with him. But this time we sat down for five hours. He had Sara and I write out what we wanted, from our lives and from our career. Then he asked us to go write a song that was completely out of our comfort zone, and think about where we wanted to hear that song played. He wanted us to close our eyes and imagine the audience and how the people were moving, before we even wrote the song.

Sounds like you were imagining a big room.

At first I thought, "What is wrong with this guy? Is this how he talks to Green Day?" But I went home and did it. I sat cross-legged on my floor of my rented apartment in L.A. with my acoustic guitar. The image I had for the song was a very large outdoor audience. I saw 10,000 people in front of me, at Austin City Limits. That's the nuts and bolts of not only the song, but Tegan and Sara and this whole record.

Heartthrob is out Jan. 29. Tegan and Sara play Winnipeg's MTS Theatre, Feb. 26; Calgary's MacEwan Hall, Feb. 28 and March 1; Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre, March 3; Regina's Conexus Arts Centre Theatre, March 4.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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