High school was a tumultuous time for Canadian identical twins Tegan and Sara Quin. They both, separately, were coming to terms with their sexuality — and they were also beginning to write and record songs together.
"Almost right away, we started to weave our voices together. That was something that we had an instinct to do," Tegan says.
The music Tegan and Sara made in those early years helped jump-start their career. In 1998, when were 18, they signed a contract with PolyGram Records, which eventually led to a tour with Neil Young. They've since won awards for their music, including three Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy.
Now, the sisters revisit their early years with the memoir High School, along with the companion record, Hey, I'm Just Like You. The new record features songs they wrote as teenagers — but re-recorded as adults.
Sara was initially reluctant to listen to the songs they recorded in high school. "I was afraid that I would hear something that I would be embarrassed by or ashamed of," she says.
But, she adds, "When I finally did listen, I was struck by the joy in our voices in our early recordings. ... We were great, and we were writing these really sophisticated, adventurous songs as teenagers. And that was why we ended up signing a record deal as teenagers and starting our career."
Tegan likens finding the balance between their teenage and present identities to mixing a cocktail: "We threw in a lot of different things from the last 20-some years, and hoped that if Tegan and Sara from 1997 could get in a time machine and hear it, that they wouldn't be embarrassed by how we changed it."
On revisiting their past selves for the memoir High School and its companion album, Hey, I'm Just Like You
Sara: When we were writing the memoir, Tegan was the initiator in finding some of our archival materials — like the audio recordings, the VHS tapes that we had from high school of ourselves hanging out with friends. I was more reluctant. My takeaway from both the memoir and the album and that general time period is that I have a lot more self-loathing, insecurity and shame than Tegan does.
Tegan: A lot more.
Sara: And I have the therapy bills to prove it. ... Tegan stole all our self-confidence in the womb.
Tegan: Yes, I siphoned it. She got all the food and I got all the confidence.
On figuring out their identity as twins
Tegan: I think that's one of the most significant through-lines for us in our life, not just in high school, but the experience of being twins. ... Our whole experience from birth until today has always been, OK, we are sisters and we share a face and we share a birthday. We share a common interest or common place in the world, and in some ways there was power in being twins. It was also, in some cases, like a terrible inconvenience.
Sara: I know for myself — more so than Tegan — I've talked about it as almost like a burden, and in some ways the origin of my insecurity. I never knew if people really liked me. I always thought, "Oh god, do they only like me because I'm part of this thing?"
Tegan: [And] I was, like, grabbing Sara and shoving her out in front of new people and being like, "I'm a twin!"
Sara: I did feel Tegan exploited us sometimes. But in some ways it really made us uniquely qualified to be musicians, and to be public people.
On Sara questioning her sexuality before Tegan did
Sara: My questioning of my identity and sexuality started in elementary school. I never shared this with Tegan or spoke about it with her. I was really ashamed. I was really scared about what I started to understand about myself. And I remember in high school, that was the breaking point. I had started to have romantic, sexual relationships with girls in secret, and Tegan scared me, because I knew she understood what was probably happening with me. And I was afraid because I think I knew that that was going to happen to her too, that she was going to be gay, and then there was no way for me to control — like, I couldn't protect myself, because it wasn't just me who was gay, it was Tegan who was gay also. And I remember feeling a sort of resentment and fear about the fact that there was two gay people to protect, not just one.
On not talking to each other about being gay
Tegan: What this book and this record has done is made us have to talk about our sexuality in a way that we pretty much never had.
Sara: I came out before Tegan. I mean, I was sort of dragged out by my mom when I was 18. I was having another fairly significant relationship with another girl, and my mom — I think she just was at the end of her rope — she was like, OK, OK, how long is this is this going to go on?
And I didn't have one single conversation with Tegan. Even after I had the conversation with my mother — and then had the conversation with my dad and my stepdad and other relatives, friends, whatever — Tegan and I, there was just always such a discomfort for me in discussing it. And I think in some ways, that was those unresolved issues around experiencing Tegan's invasion of my privacy when I first began dating girls as her maybe shaming me or making me feel like I was doing something bad. I think I had sort of protected myself from her, because I was afraid of her in some ways. ... I felt betrayed by her.
My coming out was very challenging with my mom. She had been such a cool parent, very open-minded. She was a really advanced, forward-thinking, feminist woman. And yet when I came out, we struggled. She didn't handle it the way that I would have imagined: She was really mad, she was really disappointed that I hadn't told her. We had a very difficult time, and I felt mad at Tegan for not supporting me.
Tegan: I do agree that I had it easier of my coming out. ... I just showed up with what was obviously my girlfriend and everyone in my life was like, "OK, so you're also gay." Three months after dating this woman I said I was going to move to Vancouver and move in with her, and my mom flew to Vancouver and bought me a couch and a pot set. I felt Sara's very, very, very palpable resentment at the way that that went down. Sara took the initial blast, for sure.
On using gendered pronouns in their music before they were out as gay
Tegan: Sara and I were so candid and raw and uncovered in our early music, which is why I was so struck by it when I listened to the demos 20 years later.[For] all of the hiding that we were doing in our real lives, we were completely exposed in our music.
Sara: We actually did use pronouns!
Tegan: So it feels so obvious, which is so strange, because once we actually signed a record deal and became professional musicians, [on] the first six records that we put out into the world, we didn't use pronouns. We did see pop music as a universal medium, and so we tried to keep our music less specific. But yes, as teenagers, for all that lying and hiding, we were really exposed.
On coming out publicly
Sara: We never did. We just really looked gay. ... I can remember very distinctly thinking, "OK, I can't do this — I can't lie. I can't pretend that these songs I'm writing, that are obviously love songs, are about boys." But when we when we got out of high school, someone from the record label called and said, "We have a couple of big pieces of news for you. One, Neil Young is going to take you on tour" — we were 20 years old — "and you're going to tour all across the U.S. with him, opening his show. And we are also going to get you guys a publicist, and you're going to start doing press." And I remember, one of the first rounds of press we did was with gay press.
Tegan: It was a magazine called Lesbian News, and they put us on the cover.
Sara: We had a conference call with the label, and I remember being really nervous. I said, "Is it OK if we do this gay press?" And they were like, "Of course." And we were like, "Is it OK that we're gay? Is it okay if we talk about our sexuality?" And I remember Elliot [Roberts, Neil Young's then-manager] saying, "Are you gay?" And we were like, "Yes." And he was like, "Then you can talk about it."
We were like, "What if it hurts our career?" And he was like, "What career? You don't have a career yet. There's nothing to hurt." And I remember feeling such tremendous relief that they were accepting us as we were.
On why they switched the order of their names from "Sara and Tegan" to "Tegan and Sara"
Tegan: We changed the name only because we had a manager [who] gave us one good piece of advice during that time. He said, "When people say 'Sara and Tegan,' it all blends together into one word and they don't know what you're saying. But if you say 'Tegan and Sara,' you have to enunciate. So I think you should switch your names around." So we did.
On the homophobic, misogynistic press and bullying they got early in their career
Tegan: I don't think that we had homophobic people who targeted us. What we had was an entire music industry that was predominantly populated by men — and straight men, it seemed. And there was this incredibly specific language used about us, so that even when we were being given praise, it was first, "Hey, this band is only for women or queer people. You're not going to be interested in this if you're a dude." Every headline was full of words that just felt like language for men to not listen to us or like us.
The next layer down from that was men who were like, "I can't believe I like this because I'm a guy. But the whole time I was at the show I just wanted to have sex with them!" Like, really blatant sexual language. And then there was kind of the hipster critical journalists, who would go in and analyze why we could possibly be successful, why someone like Neil Young would like us. Was it about our sexuality? Was it just this odd freak show of identical twins who are gay that's drawing people in? That first handful of years, the analysis felt like people trying to wrap their minds around why on earth we would be worth listening to.
Sara: Tegan is being diplomatic — she she can spin anything. I mean, people would ask us if we were incestuous. Like, on the radio.
Tegan: Or share girlfriends, or, "Do you get your period at the same time?" I mean, questions I just felt were very below where we were at.
Sara: Yeah, let's not sugarcoat it: It was horrible, and if it wasn't homophobia then it was misogyny. It was the wild, Wild West of music journalism for us back then, and because we were out, we were easy targets. There wasn't this allyship that we see now. It wasn't like we had this great queer community who we could fold back into. We didn't have this strong fanbase who could say, "Excuse me, this is inappropriate." And we didn't have social media where we could police our own. I can remember writing letters, old-school style, to the editors of certain magazines and online publications and saying, "This is sexual harassment. If we were in any other industry this person could be fired. ... This is bullying. This is abusive language. This is homophobia. This is misogyny."
Tegan: Sara's right that it was a difficult time. Mostly what it did was it shouldered us with shame, because we were supposed to just take it. I think we were always really good at taking criticism when it felt fair, but when it was personal, about our sexuality, or it was about the way we looked, or us about us being twins, or being girls, it did feel unfair.
Sara: In the first 10 years of our career, that was really difficult to deal with, because it did feel like we had two options: ignore it or argue with the people in power. And at the time we didn't have power, so it often felt like we were out of our weight class.
I am really grateful that we are now in a place where not only do we have power and can address these things systemically and institutionally in the music industry, but we're also able to support and and encourage the young artists that are coming up now to do the same. We have your back. If you feel that something is going on in this industry that is inappropriate or is bullying or racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever it is, now we do have a community that can come together to say, "You're not doing this on your own." When we first started out, Tegan and I didn't have that. And so we're trying to pay that forward now, and build and support the community that we longed for when we were young.
Therese Madden and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Daoud Tyler-Ameen adapted it for the Web.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guests Tegan and Sara are twins and musical collaborators, singer-songwriters who have won awards for their music and for their advocacy of LGBTQ issues. They've won three Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys, and they've received a Grammy nomination. They were honored by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Their album "Heartthrob" was on our rock critic Ken Tucker's top 10 list in 2013.
Tegan and Sara have written a new memoir called "High School" about their lives when they were in high school. It was a tumultuous period when they each started falling in love with girls and when they started writing and recording songs. There was a lot of tension between the twins as they tried to create separate identities while also collaborating on music. Their memoir ends in 1998, when they turned 18 and signed a contract with PolyGram Records.
Tegan and Sara have released a new CD that's a companion to their memoir. It's called "Hey, I'm Just Like You," and it features songs they wrote as teenagers. They describe it as a record they never could have made as teenagers, full of songs they never could have written as adults. Let's start with a song from the new album. It's called "I'll Be Back" (ph).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE BACK SOMEDAY")
TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) Sit and watch my TV set. What is on will make it better - make it better. I want to call and ask what's up. Going to dial, but then I stop - why don't you call? To the end, my friend. Oh, what a lie. Oh, what a lie. If I could pretend, if I could lie - if I could lie. But I can't stay. No, I can't stay. I run, run, run, run, run away. Get, get, get, get, get away.
GROSS: Tegan and Sara, welcome to FRESH AIR. It is a pleasure to have you on the show.
SARA QUIN: We're so delighted to be here, Terry. Thank you so much.
GROSS: Were you afraid about going back and, you know, revisiting songs that you wrote as teenagers and then recording them? When I look at things I wrote when I was in high school - I actually have some things I wrote when I was in high school. I have them deeply hidden...
GROSS: ...In boxes, in closets. And there are so many things on top of those boxes I can't possibly ever get to it. I'm not quite ready to burn it, but God forbid I should ever actually look at it. So what was it like for you to revisit early songs?
S QUIN: When we were writing the memoir, Tegan was the - was sort of the initiator in finding some of our archival materials, like the audio recordings, the VHS tapes that we had from high school of ourselves hanging out with friends in that school. I was more reluctant, and I think the - my sort of take-away from both the memoir and the album and that general time period is that I have a lot more self-loathing, insecurity and shame than Teagan does. And...
TEGAN QUIN: A lot more.
S QUIN: And I have the therapy bills to prove it. But yeah, I was really reluctant to listen to the songs from high school. And Tegan had to do quite a hunt to find them. We hadn't kept our original demo tapes. And so she ended up sort of scrambling around asking friends and friends of friends, and when she did eventually find them, she had them digitized and sent me the audio, like MP3s, and I avoided listening to them. I think I share a sort of social similarity or anxiety that a lot of us have. I didn't want to look back at the reality. I preferred my memories, and I preferred editing my memories.
And I don't know, I was afraid that I would hear something - I thought I would hear something that I would be embarrassed by or ashamed of. And the truth is that when I finally did listen, I was struck by the joy in our voices in our early recordings, and I actually felt a lot of grief in a way because I think that the narrative or that insecurity that I sort of had been carrying around with me was not real. You know, we were really - we were great, and we were writing these really sophisticated, adventurous songs as teenagers, and that was why we ended up signing a record deal as teenagers and starting our career.
And I don't know why I allowed myself to believe that there wasn't something of value for us to, you know, write about or think about or listen to. And those early songs, for me at least with my 38-year-old ears, I just thought, oh, my God, this music is - there's just something really valuable about it, and I wanted people to hear it.
GROSS: Tegan, were you as afraid to look back as Sara was?
T QUIN: I was not, Terry. I think - yeah, as Sara said, I think we had to...
S QUIN: Tegan stole all our self-confidence in the womb. She just...
T QUIN: Yeah, I siphoned it. She got all the food, and I got all the confidence.
T QUIN: I think - yeah, I think my memory of high school and my memory of that time has been less eroded, you know, by the sort of shared, you know, narrative that I think all of us have, which is - you know, when people look back, they do exactly as you've just done, which is to say, oh, I wouldn't dare look at what I wrote or what I created when I was in high school. And I think, for me, I hadn't looked, so obviously, some part of me didn't think it was valuable. But I think that I had more confidence, and maybe I had a little more memory around the music itself.
And I'm definitely self-conscious about some of what I created, but some of what Sara created from that time has stuck with me the last 20 years. I think Sara had developed a sense of songwriting and had already established herself as a very specific kind of songwriter at that age, and it's something she's kept consistent through the last 20 years. I think Sara's always been spectacular at saying a lot with very little, and I think she was able to do that even as a teenager. Her first songs had profound meaning to me at that time.
S QUIN: So what you're saying is I peaked; I peaked in high school.
T QUIN: Well, you've sustained a certain - you climb - you hit the summit and you've sustained. And I think for me, most of my cringing was over maybe some - more my music than hers. And the joy and the enthusiasm I felt listening to Sara's material is what really inspired me to push us to finish the book and then immediately record these songs for a new record.
GROSS: So the book is called "High School," and it's about when you were in high school. And that's a difficult time for most people. And during high school, it's one of the periods of your life - of everybody's life, I think - when you're trying to figure out who are you, how do you fit in with other people and how do you differentiate yourselves from other people. That's kind of standard high school things. Did being twins make it more complicated to figure out not only where you fit in but how to differentiate yourself not only from other people but from each other?
S QUIN: I think that's one of the most significant, you know, through lines for us in our life, not just in high school - but the experience of being twins. We didn't have other siblings at the time, so you know, our whole experience from birth until today has always been, OK, we are sisters, and we are - we share a face, and we share this - we share a birthday. We share a sort of common interest or common place in the world. And in some ways, there was power in being twins, and then there was also in some cases, like, a terrible inconvenience.
And sometimes it was - you know, like, there was this invasion of privacy, sometimes it was physical, since we were little kids. I mean, I always like to say that in some ways we were famous since we were born. I mean, people would - my mom and dad would separate us at the mall, and one would take one of us and the other would take the other because, you know, people would come up and touch us at the mall and talk to us and look at us and...
GROSS: Because you were so identical?
S QUIN: Because we were so identical, and we were adorable, Terry. I mean, we were very cute. I mean...
GROSS: No doubt.
S QUIN: But it wasn't just that we looked the same. I mean, but - you know, I seriously think that in some ways, even as small children, we understood that there was a way to use our twin-ness, like, the - you know, for good, and then there was ways that it was really inconvenient, and I think it caused - you know, at least I know for myself more so than Tegan, I've talked about it as almost like a burden, in some ways the origin of my insecurity. I never knew if people really liked me. I always thought, oh, god - or do they only like me because I'm part of thing, this identity with my sister.
T QUIN: And I was, like, grabbing Sara and shoving her out in front of new people and being like, and I'm a twin.
S QUIN: Yes, I did feel Tegan exploited us sometimes. But in some ways, it really made us uniquely qualified to be musicians and to be public people. And, you know, in high school, I remember it was particularly complicated because I had started to - I mean, my sort of questioning of my identity and sexuality started in elementary school. And I didn't - I never, of course, shared this with Tegan or spoke about it with her. I was really ashamed. I was really scared about what I sort of started to kind of understand about myself.
And I remember in high school, that was just, like, the breaking point. I had started to have romantic, sexual relationships with girls in secret. And Tegan scared me because I knew she understood what was probably happening with me. And I was afraid because I think I knew that that was going to happen to her too, that she was going to be gay. And then there was no way for me to control how to - like, I couldn't protect myself because it wasn't just me who was gay. It was Tegan who was gay also. And I remember feeling a sort of resentment and fear about the fact that there was two gay people to protect, not just one.
GROSS: Well, Tegan, you write in the book about when Sara had her first girlfriend, who had been your best friend. You - all three of you had been best friends...
GROSS: ...And you felt like Sara stole your best friend from you. And you were, like, bereft. And it took you a while, I think, to figure out that, well, they were girlfriend and girlfriend too. It wasn't just best friend. And so what was your reaction when you not only felt excluded, you knew that they had something very special that went beyond just friendship?
T QUIN: It's interesting because one of the things that made me want to write the book was just how different Sara and I's experience was growing up and coming out. And that's one of the big things that I felt writing the book, was just how profound it was to read Sara's experience and see how different it was from what I remembered and also what I felt.
And when Sara and Naomi - is her name in the book - but when Sara and Naomi get together, I don't know that's happening. But I am sort of shoved out of this, you know, three-person best friendship. So it was very, very distressing for me. And I was sort of coming out of a darker period. For me, middle school was really hard. Grade nine was really tough. I had terrible acne and was very - I would say now, with - using my adult language, I was definitely depressed. But I didn't know that I was depressed.
And so when this happened, when Sara and Naomi got together, I was very confused. And I sort of had been coming out of this darkness, and Naomi was a big part of that. So I felt really left out. But then, when I read Sara's side of the book, it was so sad to me that Sara had seen my reaction was to be angry and to be, you know, pressed against their door being like, let me in.
T QUIN: Why can't - why am I sleeping in the guest bedroom now? And for Sara, my anger and insistence on being around was homophobia. So for her, she felt like I did know and that I was, you know, disgusted or angry or ashamed of her. And that was really hard to read. But I think it was really important for me to read and to understand how that shift that had happened for Sarah that she just assumed I knew and that some of her anger and her frustration was fear. You know, it was her own homophobia.
And, you know, then, near the end of the book, of course, I have a relationship with my best friend. And I find Sara to be cruel to us, you know, constantly calling me gay in front of her and teasing us and not giving us space. And I didn't understand because by that point, of course, I understood that Sara had been having this relationship. And so for me, it felt just so unfair that she wouldn't let me (laughter) have this experience.
And so, again, I didn't - reading the book, it was like, oh, she was afraid. She was afraid. She felt I was exposing us, me and Sara. She was - you know, she felt I was uncovering this horrible shame that she had, which, for me, wasn't a horrible shame. I was - I couldn't - I was thrilled when I figured out that I was gay. It was like, you know, clicking the last piece of the Rubik's Cube into place. I finally understood myself. And so we had just these profoundly different experiences.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guests are Tegan and Sara. They're a songwriting and performing music duo. And now they're also the authors of the new book "High School," which is about their high school years. So we're going to take a short break, and then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are Tegan and Sara. And they're a popular songwriting and performing duo. They've won three Juno Awards, which are basically like the Canadian Grammys. And now they have a new memoir called "High School." And they also have a companion album of songs they wrote when they were in high school.
Do you remember the first time you spoke to each other about being gay?
T QUIN: It's today, Terry.
T QUIN: I'll tell you what this book and this record has done is made us have to talk about our sexuality in a way that we pretty much never have.
S QUIN: I don't think we ever - like, you know, I came out before Tegan. I mean, I was sort of dragged out by my mom when I was 18. I was having another fairly significant relationship with another girl. And my mom, I think she just was at the end of her rope. She knew, and...
T QUIN: She was like, all right (laughter).
S QUIN: She was like, OK, OK. Like, how long is this going to go on? And I didn't have one single conversation with Tegan even after I had had the conversation with my mother and then had the conversation with my dad and my stepdad and other relatives, friends, whatever. Tegan and I, there was just always such a discomfort for me in discussing it.
And I think in some ways that was those unresolved issues around, like, experiencing Tegan's invasion of my privacy when I first began dating girls as sort of, like, her, you know, maybe shaming me or making me feel like I was doing something bad. And I think I had sort of protected myself from her because I was afraid of her in some ways. And I think also I felt betrayed by her when I was coming out in - you know, I write about this a bit in the book, at the end of the book. But my coming out was very challenging with my mom.
And she had been such a cool parent, very open-minded, went back to university and college as an adult, had brought ideas like racial justice and social justice and, like - you know, like, we were - we talked about gay people. Like, she was a really advanced, forward-thinking feminist woman. And yet when I came out, we struggled. And she was - she didn't handle it the way that I would have imagined she was going to handle it, knowing that she was so open-minded and had this kind of, like, gay people are fine, there's nothing wrong with being gay, and then I came out, and she was really mad. She was really disappointed that I hadn't told her. And we really struggled, and we had a very difficult time. And I felt mad at Tegan for not supporting me.
GROSS: Yeah, I couldn't tell, reading the book, whether she was mad at you for lying to her because she had asked you if you liked girls and you kept denying it. And if she was mad at you - well, if she was mad at you for having lied to her and upset because she knew things might be harder for you because you were a lesbian, or that she was just upset that you were a lesbian, you know?
S QUIN: I think it was a lot of things. I think it was that I had lied to her. I think that there was an angry reaction, like perhaps she realized, oh, I could have been supporting my kid differently. And maybe there was a guilt or a regret in the way that she responded. You know, she and I obviously now have repaired that part of us that was sort of damaged by that, my coming out.
But, you know, she would probably tell you today that a big part of her anger was that she was mad that I didn't tell her, that I had lied to her, that I had - that she had done the good parent thing and sit-down and say, hey, I think you might be having feelings for girls; you can tell me. And I was constantly saying no. And I think, you know, what - I've said this to her now as an adult many times, and I know it's really hard to forgive herself for the way that she treated that experience at the time.
But, you know, when she would say to me, I just don't understand why you wouldn't tell me. What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? And I think what's important for me to tell other parents and other people is that I couldn't tell anyone because I couldn't even admit it to myself. I did not use the language, I'm gay or I'm anything. I was utterly terrified to define myself using those words. And so even when my mom was coming to my room and saying, hey, you can trust me. I'm on your side. If you're doing this, I want you to tell me. That would have required me having a first conversation with myself.
And I just was - you know, I was taking drugs, drinking, denying, denying, denying. I was so afraid. I was running in the opposite direction from the truth. And so, you know, my coming out was painful because I sort of had to - I had to come out to a lot of people, including myself at that time, even though I had been having - I had almost four years of relationships with women. And in some ways, Tegan - again, because I think I knew Tegan was about to have her own coming out - again, I was afraid of her. I was - in some ways, I was taking on the emotional labor of coming out for both of us. And I resented her because I knew she was going to have it way easier, and she did when she came out...
GROSS: Do you agree, Tegan? Do you agree that you had it easier?
T QUIN: Yes, I do agree that I had it easier. My coming out happened almost a year later, and I also didn't really use the words. You know, I just showed up with what was obviously my girlfriend.
T QUIN: And everyone in my life was like, OK, so you're also gay. And my mom, I - three months after dating this woman, I said I was going to move to Vancouver and move in with her, and my mom flew to Vancouver and bought me a couch and a pot set.
T QUIN: And I felt Sara's very, very, very palpable resentment at the way that that went down. You know, Sara took the initial blast, for sure.
GROSS: My guests are the musical duo Tegan and Sara. They're identical twins. Their new memoir is called "High School." Their new CD comes out Friday. After a break, they'll tell us about going on tour with Neil Young when they were 20 and what it was like to be queer identical twins in the music world in the late 1990s. And David Bianculli will review "Evil," a new show from CBS, which he says is worth checking out. Here's a song by Tegan and Sara from their 2013 album "Heartthrob." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WAS A FOOL")
TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) Do you remember I searched you out, how I climbed your city's walls? Do you remember me as devout, how I prayed for your calls? I stood still. It's what I did. Love like ours is never fixed. I stuck around. I did behave. I saved you every time. I was a fool for love. I was a fool for love. I was a fool. I was a fool. Then you blamed me and blocked me out. How long did you think I'd last? Then you disappeared for weeks to pout. How many times could I pack? But stand still is all I did. Love like ours is never fixed. Still, I stuck around. I did behave. I saved you every time. I was a fool for love. I was a fool for love. I was a fool. If you're worried I might've changed, left behind all of my foolish ways...
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Tegan and Sara, the songwriting and singing duo who are also identical twins. They've won awards for their music and for their advocacy of LGBTQ issues. Their new memoir "High School" is about their teenage years when they started writing songs and performing and when they started falling in love with girls. They also have a new CD called "Hey, I'm Just Like You" featuring new recordings of songs they wrote in their teens. They just celebrated the 39th birthday.
So let's continue our conversation. Why don't we start with a song from the new album? The album's called "Hey, I'm Just Like You." But the song I want to play is a song that's about lying. And I know, like, you had to lie to your mother to not tell her that you were lesbians. You had to lie about drugs when she asked you about doing drugs. You had to cover up your sexual identities from a lot of people who you knew. So tell us about this song, which is about lying. It's called "Don't Believe The Things They Tell You."
S QUIN: So when Tegan and I were 15, we discovered a guitar. Our stepdad had, like, an acoustic kind of stuck away under the stairs in the basement. And we started writing songs. It was a very sort of intuitive process. You know, we had played music. We'd taken piano lessons. But we had always played classical music. And as soon as we picked up the guitar, we actually just started writing our own music. And one of the first fully formed songs was "Don't Believe The Things They Tell You (They Lie)."
And when we discovered these old demos, this song, it was just - as soon as I heard the first - like, the opening chords, it was just permanently in my - like, I knew exactly what the song was. It was just such a hooky little - like, a pop song, but it was, you know, very like crunchy electric guitar, very trashy singing. Lyrics were somewhat incoherent. There were certain lines that stuck out. But this chorus would come up. Like, don't believe the things they tell you. They lie.
And I just remember the power of singing that when I was 15 years old. And I think, you know, Tegan and I have talked about this. We really struggled with the fact that we'd been these really good kids, sweet kids. And we hit 14, 15, and we started lying. Like, we just started lying to everybody, lying to ourselves, lying to each other, lying to our mother, lying to the teachers. We were skipping classes. And I think we really were wrestling with this idea that we were now bad, that we were bad kids and that we were disappointing people.
And I love the song. We've obviously, like, you know, added a little bit of an adult voice in the current version that we have out - coming out on our album. But I still love that kind of, like - that idea of being - you know, wrestling with this kind of, like, good - both good and bad personas within yourself.
GROSS: OK. So let's hear it. And this is "Don't Believe The Things They Tell You" from Tegan and Sara's new album "Hey, I'm Just Like You," which is about to come out.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T BELIEVE THE THINGS THEY TELL YOU (THEY LIE)")
TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) The things I've almost told you, all the things I've thought about you, it takes all my strength to face you, to hold still. But when you give me your attention, things get lost in translation. Again, tell you I don't love you at all. But I do love you. I don't want to be a liar, but I do it every day. I don't want to be so tired, but I can't sleep anyway. Don't believe the things they tell you. They lie.
GROSS: So that's a track from Tegan and Sara's forthcoming album "Hey, I'm Just Like You." It comes out on September 27. So when you started writing songs, how much of it was you writing individually and how much of it was collaborating at the same time?
T QUIN: Right from the beginning, we've always written separately. But I think in high school, we needed each other more. You know, we would write, and then - you know, or I would write a song. And then I would go next door to Sara's bedroom because I needed her to operate the tape deck, you know, to help me record the song. We were obsessed with listening to ourselves.
So right from the first song we ever recorded, which was called "Tegan Didn't Go To School Today," you can hear the other's - whoever's singing is the person who wrote the song. But you can hear the other's voice in the background trying to shout out, you know, (laughter) vocal lines or adding extra lyrics. And almost right away, we started to weave our voices together. That was something that we had an instinct to do right away. I don't - wouldn't call it harmonizing initially, but there was definitely a lot of collaboration like that.
And then, about maybe six months after we started writing songs, we had our 16th birthday. And our mom got us an electric guitar. And that's when you can hear us really start to take shape. Like, the sound starts to take shape because there's two guitars. There's two different vocals happening. But the bulk of our songwriting has always been that one of us writes the song, and then the other just kind of provides an editing or a background vocal or something.
GROSS: But they're credited to both of you.
T QUIN: Always, yeah. Sara doesn't know this because she's never bothered to look. But I'm actually - as the publisher, I get 60%. But she doesn't...
S QUIN: You do not. No.
T QUIN: She doesn't understand, but - no, no. We 50/50 on everything.
T QUIN: We share the work. You know, I think we never saw it as my song or Sara's song. I think we do...
S QUIN: I actually get...
T QUIN: ...Craft our music to sort of come from both of us in a way.
GROSS: So you cited a song called "Tegan Didn't Go To School Today."
GROSS: That was the first song, Sara, that you wrote. And it's the lyric - a part of the lyric, anyways, is quoted in the book. And as I read the lyric, I thought, I need to hear how that sounds. So would you...?
T QUIN: (Laughter).
S QUIN: Oh, yeah, sure. It went, (singing) Tegan didn't go to school today, left me all alone to play, took her purple shoes when she went back to bed. I could have kicked her in the head.
TEGAN AND SARA: (Singing) Where's Tegan?
S QUIN: (Singing) Where's Tegan? That's basically how it went.
GROSS: And was that an autobiographical song, like, torn...
T QUIN: It was.
GROSS: ...From your life stories?
S QUIN: It was. Tegan had these incredible - we would - basically, we would do one annual shopping trip for a new back-to-school clothes. And it was so stressful because it was like you only got one shot, you know, for the whole year. This was going to be your look. And...
GROSS: Oh, God. I remember shopping trips like that (laughter).
S QUIN: It's so stressful. I mean, what a - kids think they're anxious now. Try shopping once a year.
S QUIN: Stressful. Anyways, my mom took us out. And I remember Tegan - this would happen a lot with us as twins. We didn't want the same thing. You know, like, people will always say, did your parents dress you the same? Like...
GROSS: Oh, yeah.
S QUIN: We did not want to dress the same. Occasionally we would become so, like, deeply connected to a piece of thing - like, our snowsuits were the same because I think we just found the snowsuit we wanted, and we were like, we have to have this - but Tegan had these great skate shoes. Like, you know, like, purple kind of...
T QUIN: Purple Etnies.
S QUIN: Purple Etnies. And, man, did I - I was just deeply jealous of them. They were fantastic. And I remember we would always get mad at each other - when Tegan would get sick and I would have to go to school alone, I really felt angry with her. But the one sort of saving grace in this - on this particular occasion that I wrote about it in the song, she did loan me her shoes, her purple Etnies. And I wrote a whole song about it. I mean, it started as a joke. But truly, it did launch our songwriting.
GROSS: Let's take another short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Tegan and Sara, the identical twin songwriting and singing duo who have a new book - a new memoir called "High School" about their high school years. And they also have a new companion album that features songs that they wrote during the period covered by the book, when they were in high school. And the album is called "Hey, I'm Just Like You."
So we'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Tegan and Sara, and they're songwriters and singers and musicians. They've been performing together since high school and been making albums for about 20 years. And now they have a new memoir called "High School" about their high school years, which was a turning point for them in terms of understanding their sexual orientations, understanding that they really wanted to make music.
So they have a new memoir called "High School" and a new companion album called "Hey, I'm Just Like You," which is songs that they wrote while they were in high school but performed the way they perform now.
So your aunt suggested that you enter a competition at an area college and the winner of the music competition was going to get hours of time in a recording studio and the possibility of a contract afterwards. So you entered the contest. You were the youngest ones in the contest. You won. You were 16 at the time, I think.
S QUIN: Seventeen.
GROSS: Seventeen, yeah. Then by the time you were 18 - as soon as you became legal and could sign a contract, you signed a contract with Polygram (ph) - and so another big turning point in your lives.
I think, judging from your book, it was also a big turning point in differentiating yourselves more from each other. And Tegan, something that you say in the book - you say, (reading) a lifetime of calibrating myself alongside Sara ended abruptly. And this was about the same time period. So what ended it? And in what sense did you feel you were always calibrating your life alongside Sara's?
T QUIN: Well, we always joke that when you meet twins, there's always one that really wants to be in the twinship, and then there's the one that's always trying to escape. And Sara's always trying to escape.
And I think that, you know, starting with the fracture that happened when her and Naomi got together, I had sort of been clinging to Sara for dear life. I'd always really relied on her and always been really proud of the fact that we were twins. And when we started making music, it was like, great - Sara and I would be together forever now making music together.
And as Sara, you know, struggled more and more with her identity and we got closer to the end of high school, it was like she was withholding that option from me. That's what it felt like at times. You know? She was very, very much in love with someone, and that person was going to go out to Toronto, and Sara talked about maybe going with her. And my mom had been pushing us to enroll in university, and neither of us had wanted to. And then the second we won that competition, my mom said, all right - kind of gave us her blessing to spend a year focused on music.
And immediately, Sara started talking about going to university.
S QUIN: (Laughter).
T QUIN: And I just I felt like she was withholding our dream from me. But in a way, we became very angry and at odds with one another. But also, I started to just kind of climb out of this prison that I had sort of put us in together.
And I realized - well, if Sara doesn't want that, then I'm going to go get it, and I'm going to be this. You know? I cut all my hair off. I started to speak openly about moving away after school. I was going to move to Vancouver; I was going to sign a record deal. I was going to do all these things. I had uncovered who I was, and I started to just see myself as an individual, see myself as my own person not in a relationship with Sara, like, as sisters anymore or in a band - which of course was all crap...
S QUIN: (Laughter).
T QUIN: ...Because actually, deep down inside, I was desperate for Sara to agree to do this. And I needed her, and I knew I needed her. But I just thought - well, I'm going to push through, and I'm going to make this happen anyway. And you know, thankfully, Sara (laughter) agreed to sign the deal and move to Vancouver and be in a band.
S QUIN: Still thinking about going back to university now.
GROSS: At what point did you decide to come out publicly? And how did you decide to do it?
T QUIN: We never did. We just really looked gay. And I just don't think anyone...
S QUIN: Like, there was not - I mean, there was a handful of interviews we did in high school where we were - I mean, we were 17-year-old high school students who just want a competition. You know, the questions weren't very probing. I mean, it was very like - what did your boyfriend think? - you know, that sort of thing. I mean, I can remember very distinctly thinking, OK, I can't do this; I can't lie. I can't pretend that these songs I'm writing that are obviously love songs are about boys. Like, I really remember feeling that way. And again, it wasn't something Tegan and I discussed.
But when we got out of high school, we took the long road, and we ended up signing with Neil Young. And we - he had a little label called Vapor Records, and it was perfect for us at the time. There was a lot of discussion around - you will find your voices; you will tour the world; you will cut your teeth on big stages and little stages; you'll take the Greyhound. You'll - you will learn how to be musicians. You will build a career. And you will write your best music in your 30s and 40s. Take your time.
And I remember being really nervous but excited about the opportunity. And one of the first things that happened was someone from the record label called and said, we have a couple of big pieces of news for you. One, Neil Young is going to take you on tour - we were 20; we were 20 years old - and you're going to tour all across the U.S. with him opening his show. And we're also going to get you guys a publicist, and you're going to start doing press.
And I remember one of the first rounds of press we did was with gay press. And I remember them saying, like - whatever it was at the time; like, I don't know if it was Out magazine. But it was like, this is...
T QUIN: No, it was a magazine called Lesbian News.
S QUIN: Lesbian News - so pretty obvious.
T QUIN: And they put us on the cover.
S QUIN: And I remember saying - Tegan's like, it was actually just called - you're gay, and we have a gay magazine for you to do.
S QUIN: But - so I remember calling. We had, like, a conference call with the label. And I remember being really nervous. And I remember saying...
T QUIN: Which the label was...
S QUIN: Three people.
T QUIN: ...Three people. One was Neil Young's manager, Elliot Roberts.
S QUIN: Yes, and I remember. So we're on the phone with a couple of people from the label and Elliot Roberts, Neil Young's manager. And I remember having to work myself up to it. But I said, is it OK if we do this gay press? And they were like, of course. And we were like, is it OK that we're gay? Can we talk about our sexuality? And, like, you know, I remember Elliot saying, like, are you gay? And we were like, yes. And he was like, then you can talk about it. And we were like, what if it hurts our career? And he was like, what career?
S QUIN: Like, you don't have a career yet. There's nothing to hurt. And I remember feeling such tremendous relief that...
S QUIN: They were accepting us as we were.
T QUIN: I also want to point out that this is, you know, late '90s, early 2000s. Talking about being queer or gay was like hot potato.
S QUIN: Oh, yeah.
T QUIN: You'd lob that at someone, and they would just be like so ready to get it out of their hands, you know?
S QUIN: Yeah. Yeah, like, you take it. You take it.
T QUIN: Nobody really wanted to dive in, as Sara said. It wasn't an era of deep probing from journalists. It was very much, you're twins. You're from Canada. Neil Young signed you; end of interview. Next interview; you're twins. You're from Canada.
T QUIN: Neil Young signed you. It was - and I think we were glad for the space to find our language, you know?
S QUIN: Yeah.
GROSS: So it must've been great to tour with Neil Young.
T QUIN: It's so funny because...
S QUIN: (Laughter) It was.
T QUIN: It was an amazing experience, and we were absolutely thrilled. But we were 19, so...
S QUIN: Twenty.
T QUIN: Sorry. We were 20. So we cared. You know, careerwise, we understood the significance of what was being offered. The direct support on the tour was The Pretenders. I mean, we were living some sort of dream, and we knew it. But we were also, you know, opening. You know, people are getting their seats with beer and nachos. It's like...
S QUIN: Telling us to take our shirts off.
T QUIN: ...Older guys - yeah, like yelling free bird and - you know, and then they'd put us in a golf cart after we played to a nearly empty house and make us play in the beer gardens. And then we'd get in the van to drive 15 hours to chase the tour. And...
S QUIN: It was hard.
T QUIN: ...It was hard. Sara and I were - you know, just had moved to Vancouver. We were both in new relationships. I think we were really just lonely. You know, there was no Wi-Fi, no Internet. No one wanted to hear about this, by the way. Everyone would cut us off and be like, but it was amazing, right? You were having the time of your lives.
T QUIN: And I'm like, I don't know. We took three Polaroids. We kind of looked depressed, but we were thrilled. I mean, we were...
S QUIN: We learned a lot.
T QUIN: We learned a lot. And we learned how to run a business, and we learned how to be good every night. And we learned to show up and have a good attitude. And we learned to be grateful.
S QUIN: We got really good at dealing with cat-calling, like, you know - I mean, this is going to...
T QUIN: Yeah, we acquired a lot of skills.
S QUIN: We did. Like, I mean, we laugh about it. There was trauma involved. I don't want to downplay what it was like to have, like, 60-year-old men tell us to take our shirts off. We were 20 years old. I mean, it was awful. But on the other hand, it did give us this kind of clever, quick wit that we had to employ on stage. And I think it made people like us and root for us. And I'm not saying that I'm glad it happened nor - I mean, of course, I wish that the tour had felt different in terms of, like, the way that the audience had responded to us. But on the other hand, I can't deny that we did learn from the experience.
T QUIN: Well, after that tour, we also did a cross Canadian tour of small clubs, and they were sold out. And I'll tell you it made me appreciate our audience and also appreciate that no matter if there's 50 people in the audience or a hundred, if they're there for you, it feels extraordinary. And I think we learned that lesson very quickly that we wanted our own audience. We wanted our own audience.
S QUIN: Yeah.
T QUIN: And we would appreciate them and work hard to keep them.
GROSS: Tegan and Sara, thank you. Oh, saying Tegan and Sara reminds me. When you started performing, you were Sara and Tegan. How did you become Tegan and Sara?
S QUIN: Well, we changed the name only because we had a manager at the time - very short-lived. But he...
T QUIN: But he didn't die.
S QUIN: No, no, no, no. He only managed us for, like, eight months, but he gave us one good piece of advice during that time. And that was - he said, when people say Sara and Tegan, it all blends together into one word. And they don't know what you're saying. But if you say Tegan and Sara, you have to enunciate, so I think you should switch your names around, so we did.
GROSS: Oh, OK.
T QUIN: That's it.
GROSS: That's it.
T QUIN: I know it's not very exciting.
GROSS: Secret to your success (laughter).
S QUIN: No.
T QUIN: No.
S QUIN: Yeah.
GROSS: All right. Tegan and Sara, thank you so much. It was really such a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.
T QUIN: Thank you.
GROSS: Tegan and Sara's new memoir is called "High School." Their new CD, featuring new recordings of songs they wrote as teenagers, is called "Hey, I'm Just Like You." It will be released Friday. After a break, our TV critic David Bianculli will review a new CBS show from the creators of "The Good Wife." This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF QUINCY JONES' "MONTY, IS THAT YOU?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.