Tegan and Sara Celebrates No.10
20 years in the Industry and More Relevant than Ever
WORDS BY AMELIA JOHANNSEN | VANCOUVER | MUSIC
MAR 16, 2023 | ISSUE 10
Tegan and Sara by Pamela Littky
Still from "Yellow"
Tegan and Sara by Kalya Ramu
Canadian duo Tegan and Sara embark on new and exciting facets of the entertainment industry by influencing everything they touch with generosity and style. After a popular release of their new music video paying homage to Coldplay, this month, we’ll see the release of their 10th studio album, Crybaby. Not to mention the highly anticipated show High School. A new Amazon series based on their acclaimed 2019 memoir. We sat down with Tegan Quin to ask about the creative process behind their latest projects and what it’s like to be a successful queer artist in an ever-changing, competitive music scene.
Beyond their creative work, Tegan and Sara run a foundation providing financial support to the LGBTQ+ community. Tegan describes how they manage a nimble and flexible organization that’s better able to provide support to those who need it most and how they have become “ambassadors from within the system,” on a mission to contribute to a much-needed change in the music industry and society at large. With over twenty years in the entertainment business and more than six years helping to improve the lives of others, Tegan has important insights to share with us all.
sM | The video for “Yellow” that came out in July is a massive nod to Coldplay’s “Yellow,” one of the truly great music videos in the folk-pop space in the last 20 years. Did you have that Coldplay video in mind while you were writing this song, or was it more so you wrote it and realized, “Oh shit, we have to record a music video for this?”
TQ ─ It’s a bit of both. Sara and I joked that if the song made the record, we should do some sort of nod to Coldplay to acknowledge the greatest “Yellow” of all time. We threw ideas around with the director, Mark Myers. He’s a visual master—he likes coming up with really interesting but simple concepts. Coldplay’s video is actually very complex and challenging because it’s one take; capturing Chris Martin in slow motion while singing really fast. So we got up at 3 a.m., went down to the beach and it started raining—it couldn’t have been better. Our twist was that Sara and I sang and moved at different speeds. But it was really hard to get a single take of us singing perfectly while we were singing fast. If you watch the video, you’ll see we mess up a few times, which I think makes the video even better.
sM | The Tegan and Sara Foundation was born from a tour you went on in 2016 for your 8th studio album and the larger dialogues you were having across North America. What connected with you and Sara the most from those conversations, and how did you want to channel that connection into action?
TQ ─ As members of the queer community, we’ve always had queer issues and organizations on our radar. In 2016 we became a big enough band that many people were looking to us to raise money for their organizations. So we started exploring the idea of setting up our own foundation, traveling across the country for months talking about the major issues with both grassroots and large organizations. One of our takeaways was that there weren’t a lot of large organizations that were centering women specifically. So that became our focus. A lot of our funding goes to organizations that center trans people, women of color and same-sex partnerships that have domestic abuse, for example.
Our organization needs to be really nimble and flexible, so each time a big issue hits the news, we’re able to get money out the door quickly. I think that makes us different from other organizations. We see ourselves as finding and vetting great organizations within the LGBTQ+ community so people can trust us. We’re really trying to listen to what the grassroots organizations are looking for and get them money quickly with less red tape, administrative costs, and paperwork.
sM | The foundation has an incredibly stellar board of directors. A truly pan-Canadian roster of activist, artists – from Elliot page to Vivek Shraya in Calgary to a Toronto powerhouse Syrus Marcus Ware – what were some of your priorities in building this team and how much are they able to enact their visions?
TQ ─ Ethically, morally, I am committed to racial justice and giving back to the parts of the LGBTQ community that have been overlooked, so we wanted to make sure that our board reflected academics, healthcare professionals, the corporate world, but also the social justice and more anti-establishment world. Sarah and I see ourselves as ambassadors from within the system. We understand we’re not big enough to act outside the system, but that doesn’t mean we can’t load up our board with people who are working outside the system to make sure that our compass is aligned properly with what we believe. We’re trying to take money from inside the corporate world and distribute it to grassroots, political, and social justice organizations. We definitely don’t want to be a celebrity foundation that’s just paying lip service and looking for attention so we can feel good about ourselves. We really want to help people.
Tegan and Sara by Eluvier Acosta
sM | How can we support the foundation?
TQ ─ Visit the Tegan and Sara Foundation [www.teganandsarafoundation.org], where you will find a list of amazing organizations to contribute to. What’s even better is to set up a monthly donation (for as little as $5) because knowing how much money is coming in each month really helps with planning.
sM | The Canadian music industry has changed a lot since you guys started out; and going back to what inspired your mission with the Tegan & Sarah foundation, how have you seen the music industry change for queer artists of all colours and stripes, for better or worse over the last 20 years?
TQ ─ As queer women, of course, we had our struggles over the last 20 years and could point to dozens of misogynous, sexist, homophobic press that we had to slalom through for more than half of our career. A lot has changed since we started, but the same problems still apply. More record labels need to sign and invest in diverse artists, more radio stations should take chances on different kinds of artists, and more media have to cover those artists—that's how we get underrepresented artists where they need to be.
I think the Canadian industry works really hard to change. We’re lucky to have institutions like FACTOR and Starmaker giving millions of dollars per year. We were directly impacted by funds like these during the first 10 years of our career. It’s what sets our industry and music scene apart, specifically from the United States. The amount of support that goes towards Canadian artists from Canadian tax dollars is absolutely legendary. It’s what makes our scene so vibrant. We just need to keep taking care of our artists, because it’s tough out there.