Twenty years into their joint recording career, it seems the Quin twins are hustling harder than ever. First, there’s the new hook-filled, indie-pop album Crybaby, recorded in Seattle with John Congleton and released on October 21 via Mom + Pop Music. Then there’s the Rashomon-style television show, High School, based on their memoir of the same name. Now, they are making their way cross-country on a mostly sold-out nationwide tour. On top of all that, Sara apparently decided to one-up Crybaby by having a real-life baby? I mean, why not. It’s not like she was busy or anything.
On a recent tour stop in Boston, Tegan Quin got on the phone to chat about all of Tegan and Sara's latest projects from a club's medicinal-green room that had all the charm of a prison cell (her words!). She only had 15 minutes—because holy hell, these two are busy—but that busyness may hint at something longtime fans of their ever-expanding work may already know: Tegan and Sara are busy intentionally.
“I think we're compulsive,” says Quin. “We don't know how to not work.”
I’m no therapist, but she may be on to something. Tegan and Sara have been working musicians since they were 18 when, in 1998, they signed a contract with PolyGram Records. Soon after, they hit the road, opening for Neil Young. They’ve now released 10 albums that have veered from alt-folky to folk-pop to indie rock to hyper-pop and back around again, including a little track called "Everything Is AWESOME!!!," an optimistic dance collaboration with the Lonely Island. It was featured in The Lego Movie and nominated for several awards, including a Grammy and an Oscar.
They’ve released book sets and crafted long-form music videos—2011's "Get Along" earned a Grammy nod—and they run the Tegan and Sara Foundation to promote LGBTQ+ causes. That compulsion to hustle became even more obvious when the pandemic hit. “We should have just watched television and learned how to bake, but instead, we were like, 'No, no, we have to work. We can't stop,'” says Quin.
The Quins had earned some couch-and-sourdough-starter-filled downtime when the March 2020 lockdowns rolled through—in September 2019 they released their memoir along with their ninth studio album Hey, I'm Just Like You, featuring songs they wrote as teenagers and re-recorded as adults—but the creativity didn't stop. “All of a sudden we had all this time off the road, and all this time to sort of get creative,” says Quin. “In pretty typical Tegan and Sara fashion, we just burned everything down to the ground, and then kind of rebuilt it.”
The result of that creative arson is their 10th album, Crybaby, with stand-out tracks “I Can’t Grow Up” and “Smoking Weed Alone.” According to Quin, the process of writing their book, where chapters are written from the perspective of each sister, was a huge learning experience about the true nature of collaboration, a late-arriving lesson for twins who are also long-time co-workers.
“We just started to have these sort of existential conversations about, like, are we collaborators? What do we do together?” says Quin. (Did I mention one of their tracks was called “Smoking Weed Alone”?)
In the wake of those conversations, the born collaborators figured out a way to work together even more closely and constructively. “Crybaby is a pure collaboration. Sara informed all the production, she would like literally re-record my songs after I wrote them and tell me how she wanted to hear them.”
The sisters pushed themselves to try new musical elements, like on “Smoking Weed Alone,” where they sing to each other instead of the audience. The creative push is particularly impressive because the album wasn’t actually supposed to happen. The duo was in Seattle in August 2021 to record a song or two with Congleton, who is perhaps best known as St. Vincent’s collaborator. Once they got in the studio, they realized they had a lot more than an EP's worth of material. Congleton suggested they go all-in, and the Quins agreed. They went back to their respective homes to dig through the demos they had been scratching away at during lockdown, passing songs back and forth in their new iteration of collaboration. The music became a dialogue instead of a monologue, with each sister contributing and critiquing in their efforts to build something great. They returned to the studio, this time in Los Angeles (ew), to create Crybaby.
The result is an album that mines the past, notably the mainstream pop of 2013’s Heartthrob, but looks to the future as well. That works perfectly for at least one-half of the band, anyway. “My job is to make sure that I am making something that feels really exciting because I'm the one that's going to have to sing it forever and I'm the one that has to put my name on it,” Quin says. “I think it really shows [on Crybaby]. It's a really different kind of Tegan and Sara record, and I think it'll end up probably being a record that we really ended up loving and playing a lot of because it feels like it's ours.”
Tegan and Sara play the Neptune Nov 18 with Tomberlin, 8 pm, all ages.