Days before I spoke with Sara Quin, one half of the iconic Canadian folk-pop duo Tegan and Sara, the twins announced a fall 2017 tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of their standout album The Con. (Fans: See Chad Clark of Beauty Pill’s curated track-by-track tribute to the album published earlier this week via NPR.)
On Friday, the folk-turned-pop group return to the State Theatre, touring on last year’s Love You to Death, their eighth record and the second since “going pop” with 2013’s Heartthrob.
Phoenix: Are you still dealing with fan reaction from no longer being a folk band?
Sara: I think that in our long history there are people who prefer certain albums over others. Certainly when Heartthrob came out, people shook their head and wondered, What direction are they going in? After 20 years in the music business, you can’t take anything for granted. You can’t always count on people to stay with us and buy our albums. It almost feels like we are marketing our band anew every time.
Do you miss the intimacy of playing the style of music you used to? Or in the intimate venues you used to?
First of all, what is intimacy? Sometimes it’s 400 people, sometimes it’s festivals for 1000 people. I think sometimes for audience members, it’s small shows. When Tegan and I put out records like So Jealous and The Con, we had three backing musicians and both Tegan and myself were playing guitar. We had so much gear. We had monitors on stage blasting at full volume. Dense, but I wouldn’t say it was intimate. One thing about this album [Love You to Death] and [Heartthrob], we’ve been removing gear. I don’t wanna have amps on stage or play guitar. In a weird way, it’s opened us to interacting for the audience. The songs may have been intimate before, but the performing wasn’t as intimate. It feels great.
One of the my favorite tracks on the new album is BWU. I’m curious, how do you and Tegan go about writing the sort of political songs?
When I sit down and write songs, it’s a challenge to think of my politics from my musical personality. Music has always been a reprieve from politics. At least for me, it’s a helpful to write from a personal standpoint. A lot of songs are about my relationship with Tegan and my relationship to myself. Sometimes I’m thinking about a romantic relationship but also how that interacts with my political identity. That’s not the easiest way to write a pop song. People aren’t about to go to the club to dance to a song [like “BWU”] about marriage institutions. But a lot of songs we grew up to had a lot of political content — although i didn’t always know what they were singing about. I don’t remember thinking at eight years old like I knew exactly what Bono was singing about in “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
When you played here a few years ago, you did a version of “The Con” that was updated and gorgeous. It made me wonder, do you remake your older material to the newer sound?
Yeah, we definitely do. I don’t want anything to be unrecognizable. A lot of times you go see a band and can’t recognize them — it’s like, what’s the point? But for me, I’m such a people pleaser, I know the audience wants to hear the songs they love. We definitely have updated the musical and sonic arrangements of our older material so it won’t be jarring when we play the new stuff. There’s a song that’s been in our set for 15 years called “Living Room.” It originally had banjo, then it had electric guitar, and now that it’s a midtempo electronic song. Like, no matter what personality we give it, it’s immediately recognizable. It’s been a natural and successful evolution, and we’d go back to the originals sometimes too. We’re a touring band, so we have to keep things interesting for ourselves, too.
Tegan and Sara + Japanese Breakfast | Friday, July 28, 8pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | $30-35 | www.statetheatreportland.com