Indie Duo Tegan and Sara to Bring ‘Robust Pop Show’ to House of Blues

click to enlarge Indie Duo Tegan and Sara to Bring ‘Robust Pop Show’ to House of Blues
Pamela Littky
As the indie pop duo Tegan and Sara enters its twentieth year (the band started writing songs in the mid-’90s but didn’t issue its full-length debut until 2000), singer Sara Quin says she regularly reflects on the journey she's taken with her sister, singer Tegan Quin.

“I think more than ever before, the reflection is quite important,” she says via phone. The group performs on July 31 at House of Blues. “It’s a reminder of where we started and how far we’ve come. It’s also a good reminder that creativity and making music, whether we were successful or not, saved our lives and gave us purpose and gave us a community. I’m glad just glad that whatever happened during those 20 years, we still get to play music.”

As the songs started to come together for the band’s latest effort, Love You to Death, a theme emerged.

“We’re both in really stable relationships, and there’s a longing for more self-awareness and understanding as you get older,” she says. “[The album is] a reflection on when things were harder and looking to the future, and knowing that you’ve been through hardship and can get through it again is an overarching theme.”

When it came time to head into the studio to record, the band again enlisted Greg Kurstin, the same guy who worked the boards for the duo’s previous album, 2013’s Heartthrob.

“We wanted to jump off from where we finished with Heartthrob,” says Quin. “It was such a cool collaborative situation with him. I remember thinking I can’t wait to go back into the studio. For me, I really trusted Greg. I feel he gets us and adds a lot. He definitely has a strong creative view on things. I feel like that allows us to sound like ourselves.”

The album opens with “That Girl,” a shimmering tune with layers of synthesizers and echoing vocals. Other songs embrace an '80s synth pop aesthetic.

“I think Tegan is more retro in that way,” says Quin. “She really taps into that place. Some of her songs have more of that vibe. For myself, a song like ‘White Knuckles’ or ‘Hang on to the Night,’ I’m trying to tap into something more modern. I think [the ’80s] are a safe and inspiring place for us. That was when we were teenagers, and Madonna and electronic music and hip-hop was what we were hearing. On a subconscious level, it informed what we thought about music and how we made music.”

The subject matter in the Cyndi Lauper-like "Boyfriend" stems from a specific relationship that Quin turned into pop fodder.

“I’m always sort of mining my own personal life or friends’ lives for narratives,” she says. “You can’t tell the full story. I was thinking of this idea of roles and gender identity and dating and how things are getting flipped. I was being very tongue-in-cheek about this girlfriend treating me as her boyfriend. The overarching theme is that dating is the worst, and I was excited to meet someone who could take me off the market. It’s like, ‘I’m done with dating. Let’s make this a real thing.’”

While Quin says she was “horrified” when Donald Trump became President, she says that she and her sister would have had the same amount of consciousness-raising to do even if Hillary Clinton had become President.

“I think a lot of the work that needs to be done in this country would have needed to be done no matter what happened with the election,” she says. “I know that for both myself and Tegan, who have more textured politics and a deeper understanding of what’s happening in the LGBTQ community, especially at the intersection of race and gender, stuff needs to come to the surface. This works needs to be done regardless of who’s the president. I feel like there’s hope. I feel like for the first time a lot of people are engaged, and people who weren’t listening before are listening.”

Quin says the band’s live show, which has always been a lively affair, has evolved over the years and now features a fair amount of production.

“It’s a big pop show right now with video screens,” she says. “We have an amazing backing band. We try to scale the show to fit the places we go. We’re doing big festivals, and we’re trying to compete and deliver a big robust pop show.”

Tegan and Sara, Japanese Breakfast, 7 p.m. Monday, July 31, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $30-$40,

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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