Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Crushing it

On Heartthrob, Tegan and Sara deliberately ditch subtlety and go for the gusto

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Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith and Ace of Bass were Tegan Quin's first celebrity crushes. But as she got older and her tastes matured as she turned 10, she moved onto New Kids on the Block, Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson.

"I didn't have a true heartthrob again until my teenage years," says Quin, one half of the twin-sister duo Tegan and Sara, riffing on early dream dates because Heartthrob is the name of her seventh disc.

"I idolized the people I dated and think I'm like everybody else that, as an adult, you think you can't have heartthrobs, but you're secretly obsessed with everyone popular and attractive. There's a lot of that happening in pop music right now."

Pop music plays a large and deliberate role on Tegan and Sara's new album, a record that was designed to catapult them into an arena-headlining band. After touring with the Black Keys and the Killers, and feeling frustrated with dwindling record sales, they decided to go big on their new record -- soaring choruses, singalong anthems and four different lifts on the same tune.

"If you want to drive on the highway and compete, you don't drive a pedal bike. That doesn't mean that the pedal bike isn't awesome, but if you want to compete with the best cars, you have to step up your game," says Sara Quin, interviewed just after her sister, honouring their long-held tradition of living in different cities and separately meeting the media.

"We may never be Taylor Swift or Beyoncé, but on this, that was the challenge: Don't be subtle! If the song doesn't grab you, throw it away."

The 10 songs that earned a berth on the album -- chosen from 50 and written after the classically trained musicians appeared on dance tracks by David Guetta and Tiesto -- aren't radically different from material on records like It Was You (2002) or The Con (2007).

However, the guitars are turned down, the keys are turned up and the production sounds larger, more expensive and more expansive (it's produced in part by Greg Kurstin, whose clients include Kelly Clarkson and Pink).

However, while the music soars and crescendos -- sometimes subtly, sometimes not -- toward ear worms, as always, the lyrics deal with lust and busted relationships, and remain fixated on individual freedoms and rights.

"Even in moments of accepting our vulnerability and admitting our weakness, which we're very good at, there's an edge of empowerment to these songs and being outspoken about our sexuality and politics," says Tegan, adding that being gay women in Alberta's rock scene didn't leave the sisters with many peers.

Addressing this in the song that is somewhat ironically titled I'm Not Your Hero (the duo are absolutely heroes to their tightly knit community of fans), Sara Quin says it's about feeling insecure but being outspoken at the same time.

"I don't want to let anyone down, but you're always going to let someone down when you're someone that people look up to," she says. "I'm a spokesperson and know I have an impact on other queer and marginalized kids, but I can't please everyone. Tegan and I have experienced this our whole career."

The career of Tegan and Sara began in earnest when they were signed by Neil Young's manager, who put them on the road with the Canadian icon. And throughout their 13-year span of recording and performing, they've charted a singular, trail-blazing path. To wit, they've outlasted just about every one of Tegan's early heartthrobs. Today, if their new record can match their ambitions, the sisters will just be starting to turn a new page.

"We may not sell records like Katy Perry because we don't have the full package being consumed en masse, but there's no reason we should marginalize ourselves sonically," Tegan says.

"I love Rihanna, but how do I take that interest and combine that with our sound? The result is this album -- let's just take it over the edge."

Tegan and Sara kick off the Canadian leg of a North American tour in Winnipeg on Feb. 26.

-- Postmedia News

Concert Preview

Tegan and Sara

RBC Theatre Bowl, MTS Centre

Feb. 26, 8 p.m.

Tickets $39-$51 at Ticketmaster

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 21, 2013 C7

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