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Tegan and Sara Quin weren’t always famous. That might seem like a cloyingly obvious statement, but for a duo that signed their first record contract 21 years ago this month, it seems like they’ve been visible in the indie sphere for as long as there have been blogs to write about them. There’s a point near the end of their new joint memoir, High School, where the young identical twins switch from fighting over use of their home phone to fighting over time with the computer. This is just one of many signifiers during the course of the book that point to major changes in how people would experience the world, with the late-’90s representing the end of more than just a century of numbers preceded by 19. But one thing is for certain: However the world changed with the donning of the internet, with the tragedy of 9/11, with the rise of cell phones and streaming services, Tegan and Sara were going to be cultural touchstones throughout it.
If you asked the two Calgary natives at 15 if they thought their lives would wind up having such an impact, there would surely be disbelief. High School portrays the Quin sisters as rebellious spirits, experimenting with drugs, lying to their parents, and generally disappointing teachers. It’s not until a good way through the book that the young women discover their stepfather’s guitar, transforming them from Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins enthusiasts into budding artists. But as their new album suggests in the title, the point of High School isn’t to portray them are outliers because of their creative spirits, it’s to show just how universal their experience is. Hey, I’m Just Like You.
Meeting in an empty restaurant at The Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood with a view that reaches past Beverly Hills and into the vast urban sprawl, the Quin sisters have reason to celebrate on this August day. Besides the impending releases of their first book and ninth album, earlier that morning Billboard had revealed its latest cover, with Tegan featured along with Adam Lambert, Big Freedia, Hayley Kiyoko, and ILoveMakonnen for a special Pride issue. When considered in relation to the stories they are telling about their humble beginnings, it’s easy to see the magnitude of the journey, from two young girls wrestling with their sexuality to becoming bona fide queer icons.
“I think when we started on the memoir, it was the idea that this was the origin of us,” Tegan says. “Not just us as a band, but us as people. Us as queer people.”
This latest creative period for Tegan And Sara surprisingly came from a designated break. Choosing to put a pause on their recording career after another acclaimed album and tour cycle, this time for 2016’s Love You To Death, the twins put time into their foundation work — the appropriately named Tegan And Sara Foundation — and debated ideas like starting a podcast and writing their memoir. The latter ultimately won out, with the pair uncorking a wave of inspiration that was coupled with a deep dive into the archives of their past. Anyone with an attic full of mementos can imagine the foreboding nature of searching through the events of two decades prior, but for Tegan And Sara, it proved revelatory.
“Those experiences are seminal to me,” Sara says about her teen years. “I figured out that I was gay and I fell in love. That happens to a lot of people in college, where they figure themselves out. I started grade ten and I didn’t know how to write songs and then by the end of grade twelve, not only did I know how to write songs, I was being offered a record deal. Of course, that experience for me is more interesting than just being like, ‘I know I had the worst hair, right?'”