Tegan and Sara Think You’re Never Too Old to Cry

"There is power in being able to be emotional and vulnerable," the duo say of their new album, Crybaby

tegan and sara interview

Tegan and Sara aren’t exactly known for being secretive. Since reaching mainstream success with their fourth album, 2004’s So Jealous, the duo have essentially turned their charming indie pop into an enterprise of sorts — culminating in this month’s release of their tenth studio album Crybaby (out Friday, October 21st) along with High Schoolthe new Amazon Freevee series based on the twins’ 2019 memoir of the same name.

“I think we’ve been in a really reflective period in our career,” Sara Quin tells Consequence over video chat. “I think partly it’s due to our age, but also because we were working on these other projects that kind of tell our origin story during this time when we were figuring out a lot of important things about ourselves as individuals, as artists, as sisters.”

Tegan and Sara both serve as executive producers and co-writers on High School, and it was in between penning the script when Crybaby began falling into place. “We started to have these new songs piling up,” Tegan Quin recalls in a separate phone call. “But we were working on so many other things, we decided to let it simmer and thought, ‘We’ll be ready when we’re ready.’ Then we went to Seattle in August, and we recorded a few songs with [producer] John Congleton. He spun around about three hours into the first session and was like, ‘So we’re making an album, right?’ By day two, I was out in the parking lot calling our management and saying, ‘I think we should schedule more time and make an album.'”

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You can feel Crybaby‘s organic roots throughout the record’s 12 songs, from the frenetic, distorted synths of “I’m Okay” to the gentle alt-country twang of “This Ain’t Going Well.” It’s a big jump for the band, but they’ve evolved way past worrying about appeasing others.

“I don’t want to make the same record twice,” Tegan adds. “I think for Sara and me, each time we go and make something, we have to take risks or else it’s not worth doing. I want that jolt and that excitement.”

Below, Tegan and Sara dig into the making of Crybaby.

Consequence: How has working on projects besides music affected your songwriting?

Tegan Quin: I do think that our foray into writing [in other mediums] the last five years has definitely influenced our songwriting. We weren’t as heavily involved in making [2019’s] Hey, I’m Just Like You because we were so focused on the book, so it had been a long time since we’d sat down to write music. I think the biggest effect that writing a book had on making an album is that we were very collaborative in writing the book, because we wrote the chapters on our own, which is how we write songs. But then the chapters had to be shoved into some sort of order and there was negotiation that had to happen in terms of where the story went, and what the themes and topics were, and what we were going to reveal and what we weren’t.

Revisiting and recording our first songs from high school for Hey, I’m Just Like You, I realized Sara and I used to collaborate so much when we wrote together, and we’ve never done that in adulthood. When I started sending songs for Crybaby to Sara, she would just, like, re-record my demos in the way like she wanted to hear them. It got to a point where we’d go back and forth co-writing for the first time in a long time.

Sara Quin: I’ve never done that before. It was a really interesting exercise just to get inside of Tegan’s songs in such a specifically new way and think, “Well, what would I want the production to sound like if this was if I was producing this?” She was really amenable to that, so she really opened the door to that kind of collaboration. For most of our career and relationship as bandmates, I have not been in that place.

I keep asking myself, “Would I let Tegan do that to my songs?” And the answer is no — but we’ll see what happens. I’m really inspired by production. I think of myself less as a songwriter and more as somebody who creates these sonic landscapes.

Tegan and Sara Crybaby new album interview high school
Tegan and Sara, photo by Ben Kaye

How does working collaboratively change the trajectory of your songwriting?

TQ: Because we both sing on every song, and because there was so much editing and tweaking and pushing and prodding, it feels like any of the songs could be mine. And in a weird way, it also sounds like any of them could be Sara’s, in a weird way, even though thematically her side of the record is more about this next huge step in her life and being with her partner over 10 years and trying to have a kid. For me, my writing was way more about having time to finally even think about my life and what I want. But both of us were writing about the future — contextualizing our lives in a way we haven’t ever had time to do because we barely ever get off the treadmill of our career.

SQ: We’ve tried to guide the theme of this album around it being our 10th album. “Are we hitting our stride? Is Tegan and Sara a vital thing anymore?” We’re doing so many other things in our personal and professional lives, but the band is still the heartbeat. The album also happened to coincide with my own personal journey over the last four years around having a baby, and that process of determining whether or not I wanted to be a parent, and the process of trying to become a parent, and now being a parent, and how that has reshaped my own identity.

Tegan and Sara Crybaby new album interview high school
Tegan and Sara, photo by Ben Kaye

That’s kind of ironic that you both ended up writing about the future while you were working on a show that’s literally about your past.

TQ: I know! But I think by then, we were like, “OK, we’ve been in the past for a minute.” We were there on set, reading scripts, making notes, being a part of casting — we were so hyper-vigilant of the details — but when it came to actually thinking about me and my part in that story as a teenager, I let that go. I think that’s what let us look forward.

SQ: I think the album unconsciously has this idea of questioning what it means to really grow up and become an adult, which has always sort of confounded me, because I don’t feel very adult. That doesn’t mean I’m acting irresponsibly or that I’m not wise or unexperienced, but I still feel so vulnerable. I’ve always been a really sensitive, vulnerable person. I think I figured out that being an adult meant that you left behind these insecurities and worries.

Tegan and Sara Crybaby new album interview high school
Tegan and Sara, photo by Ben Kaye

I like what you said in a press release about how the title Crybaby came about because you were thinking of how cliché words like “cry” and “baby” are in lyrics. But now with ten albums, a book, a show, and a Substack, you have all these samples of how you were feeling at a specific time in your lives. How has your approach to being vulnerable changed over the years?

SQ: I think Tegan and I walk this really fine line where we have always been willing to stand up and talk about injustices that we and other people experience in the music industry. Our advocacy around LGBTQ rights and issues over our career solidified into starting a foundation and philanthropic service, which is a significant part of our lives. I think a lot about how there is power in being able to be emotional and vulnerable.

In the early part of our career, when we’d talk about our mental health, or the stuff that we were dealing with in the music industry, we were sort of punished for it. We were taught that we shouldn’t complain and we should feel lucky. I’ve been really inspired by the younger generation of artists who are experiencing success, but still coming up and saying, “I can’t tour, I’m not making any money, I’m exhausted, and I can’t believe the pressures that are put on me.” I think that’s shining a really important light on what it means to be human.

So I’ve also been thinking about Crybaby as this idea that we should talk about how overwhelming and exhausting it is. And being a parent and watching my kid — sometimes he’s having the time of his life, and then two seconds later, he’s flipping out. I’m like, “What’s he flipping out about? He’s got everything he needs.” But I want to teach him that it is OK to say, “I’m unhappy right now. I don’t know what’s wrong. I want to go sit in this dark room instead of in the kitchen.” It’s OK to tell people that you don’t feel all right.

TQ: All of us who engage with the internet and social media have probably become more comfortable with performing our vulnerability and exposing our more intimate selves. Me at 22 would look at me at 42 and be like, “Good god, you’re sharing a lot!” And I do have moments now where I wonder, “Are we narcissists?” But we’re just selling our story in different ways. I try not to like fixate too much on how narcissistic it might appear to others, because I didn’t see a story like mine when I was younger.

I’ve always been really comfortable burying tons about myself in my music, but and also like not necessarily giving you a map to what I’ve buried. It’s for you to interpret. It’s your heartbreak, it’s your feeling, because we write in a way that made people be able to like see themselves in the song. That’s ultimately what makes great songs.

Circling back to High School, what do you think teenaged Tegan and Sara would think about Crybaby and where you two are now?

SQ: Look, if you went back in a time machine to the 1990s, there was literally no way for us to ever possibly imagine that this was our future. To achieve a long, successful career in the music business is more than we could have ever dreamed of, and then to see how we’ve established ourselves as businesspeople and branched out into other creative fields… it would’ve just blown our minds.

TQ: At seventeen, eighteen — we were really ambitious and excited to tour, but we were so scared. We were so nervous for the first handful of years in our career because we didn’t have any community and we were just out in the world alone, sleeping in the car, taking the Greyhound bus. So they’d be stoked to hear the good news.

In terms of the record, I think they would love it. It’s got that sort of punk, frenetic, energetic, fuck-you kind of attitude that we had as teenagers. I think it’s a big sounding record and it’s really fresh and different than what we’ve done, and I think our younger selves would hear it and go, “Oh, this is so weird and different.” And they’d be super excited by that.

Tegan and Sara Crybaby new album interview high school
Tegan and Sara, photo by Ben Kaye

Ed. note: Catch Tegan and Sara on tour; tickets are available via Ticketmaster.

Crybaby Artwork:


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