Tegan and Sara Set the Record Queer!

I always wanted to have a twin, but after talking to Tegan and Sara Quin about the realities of such a life… I want one more than ever. The iconic Albertan indie pop duo have splashed the last few decades with musical hits like Feel It in My Bones, Closer, and Walking With A Ghost. This year, they plan to add more favourites to your playlist with the release of their tenth studio album, and fresh new content for you to binge with their Amazon Freevee series High School (based off their 2019 book by the same title).
The Universe blessed me with a Zoom call with my gals Tegan and Sara to talk about their epic career evolution, their coming-of-age-queerness show, and, my personal favorite topic—drugs.
  • Brooke Burgstahler: Tegan AND Sara!! I actually heard a rumour there was only one you.

    Sara: Right, like Fight Club. But no, we were in the womb together, but have spent at least half of our lives in separate cities.

  • Tegan: Nice to meet you, Brooke. I actually looked you up.

    BB: Don’t believe everything you read!

    Tegan: I’m still here!

  • BB: I’m a longtime fan of your music. I saw you in 2013, so many moons ago at Coachella on a cornucopia of substances and yours was the absolute best set of my entire experience.

    Tegan: Best to see us intoxicated.

  • BB: You have a helluva lot going on besides relocating to Calgary—a new single, new music video, NY Times bestselling book, and soon-to-be an Amazon TV show. How does it feel, over the decades, to continue evolving while making a cultural splash?

    Sara: Gratitude.

  • BB: We love that.

    Sara: After 20 years of making music, it’s nice to try different things. And we consider ourselves storytellers, so whether it’s graphic novels or TV, I feel like we have strength and experience, plus it’s nice to feel busy again after two years stuck at home.

  • BB: Right now y’all are working on a TV show based on your memoir High School—firstly, a huge congratulations! What’s that emotional experience been like, laying your vulnerabilities out there? Was anything too cringe-y to be shared?

    Sara: When we started with the memoir, it was definitely more like what am I OK with sharing publicly and what can I reveal about my friends and family that won’t feel like exploitation? I wanted consent and this wasn’t a tell-all. We weren’t going to burn all our relationships to the ground in pursuit of truth. But one big takeaway, was that outside of being moved by the ambient queer moments on screen, I’ve also never seen twins before like this. I remember the first time I saw a queer movie—my head exploded, but now with this, the first time I saw twins on camera, I cried.

    Tegan: I think we’re making something unique that you’ve never seen before. In the struggle between the Tegan and Sara characters, there’s a lot of raw emotion and intensity between us. When we see women, we don’t see that. We see boys fight, boys argue. Siblings like brothers beat the shit out of each other, but there’s an assumption that girls are clean and sweet and smart and stay out of trouble… but we were little dirtbags doing drugs and stealing and sneaking out.

  • BB: The centre of the show is your coming of age story—about queerness and finding your sexuality. Do you feel like if a show like this had existed when you were younger, or if you had more role models in the public eye, things would’ve been different for you growing up?

    Sara: It’s not like when we grew up the culture was a desert and nothing existed, there was But I’m a Cheeleader and Show Me Love, and My So Called Life had a queer character, so we exist because of trailblazers making film and television in the late 90s and early aughts. But what I find striking is 24 years after we graduated high school, making a show about queerness still creates a space in the world that we haven’t seen before. And we have some of the worst anti-LGBTQ legislation being passed in the United States, and we still have rates of suicide among LGBTQ youth that far surpasses their straight peers, so I don’t know that our world today is so different than it was with hate crimes, homophobia and misogyny. Today, we have different access and understanding, but if the show is a lifeline for as many people as the culture we brought into our world in the 90s, if that gives people hope or a window to view life in a different way, then that makes me happy—and is worth every dollar that Amazon is spending.

  • BB: Thank you daddy Bezos. Now let’s talk MUSIC! For your new record, you’re also dropping on a new label. Can you talk about that shift, especially after you spent so many years with your previous label?

    Tegan: With our previous management, it was a great eighteen years and we’re all still friends—that was the foundation—but it feels fresh and exciting going down our own path. What matters most is that we’re still making stuff we love and are inspired by.

    Sara: Plus, the new label brings us back into the indie world. Warner always let us behave like indie artists, and we’ve been lucky to get to do what we want, but we feel good about where we’re at and think we made a record that’s cool and weird and interesting and different from what we did for the last ten years. We can’t wait to get it out and tour.

  • BB: OOO yummy! You said your new record is weird, and that’s appealing to me. Tell me more.

    Sara: There’s things we can’t get away from, our voices are distinct, and our phrasing, our syncopation. It's like, no matter how we try and change them, they shine through, and it’s a blessing and a curse, but it’s allowed us to genre hop and collaborate with people from Tiesto to Against Me!, but I think that this record feels different. We’ve captured the kind of frenetic energy and spirit that some of our pop work didn’t. That was a little more disciplined and engineered, while this record feels more like you could bust it out in a club.

  • BB: Are you going to the club?

    Sara: I was thinking like a rock club or a punk club, but you know what? I’ll go to the club.

  • BB: Hell, yeah.

    Sara: I’m curious to see what our fans think of the album, but all we can do is play the shit out of it and hopefully some of the songs become fan favourites.

  • BB: Speaking of the club… kind of. I read that your show will feature your time spent in the rave scene when you were younger, as well as experimenting with LSD. What’s been your takeaway from that medicine (and yeah, I call it a medicine)?

    Sara: Especially in the beginning, I was taking a substance or using a substance daily for all of grade ten and parts of grade eleven until I swapped my drug obsession for music.

  • BB: What did you use drugs for?

    Sara: Parts of drug use that were problematic, and part of what was attractive to me about taking drugs, was that it helped me for brief periods of time (if you think 11 hours on acid is brief). For me, LSD helped me disengage from the stuff causing me so much pain and stress and agony—stuff around my body and sexuality, depression—it was really a disaster and those times, especially in the early parts of using LSD, were joyful to me. I was able to disconnect from what felt like a cage—my body was this cage I was stuck inside of—and LSD allowed me to re-engage with the childlike part of myself that had been comfortable in the world. I want to be mindful. I’m not saying I think we should give LSD to 15-years-olds, but I also don’t think it has to be a scary, negative, toxic thing. That wasn’t the experience for me. I was far more disturbed revisiting my relationship to alcohol in high school. The things that happened to my friends and I around alcohol were terrifying, but hanging out with Tegan on acid and listening to music was not.

  • BB: That sounds like bliss, honestly.

    Sara: If we spent more time decriminalizing and thinking about how medicinally drugs could work in society, I think we’d all be healthier. And I refuse to demonize smoking pot when we have cultures like sports culture, military culture and drinking culture that I think are far more toxic, yet accepted and tolerated in our society.

  • BB: I appreciate those words so much, so I guess that means you guys support legalization?

    Tegan: A thousand percent—and psychedelic medicine should be legal.

    Sara: One of the most significant things I read while working on the memoir is How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. Anyone struggling to understand why the medicinal use of psychedelic substances is important, and how long psychedelics have been used therapeutically, should check out this book.

  • BB: Oh my goddess I love that book. Michael Pollan is the most perfect lens, particularly for the older generations, for a better understanding of the benefits of psychedelics. But let’s get real, when was the last time you tripped Tegan?

    Sara: The last time I took mushrooms I was at Tegan’s house, recently, last summer? Has it already been a year? That’s shocking to me. I’m newly very interested in mushrooms.

    Tegan: That question was asked to me!

    Sara: I just know you don’t have a good trip story.

    Tegan: I smoked weed on my fortieth birthday. It was the first time I smoked weed in a decade. I bought some and I was like, this will be so fun! We were writing a graphic novel for tweens, but then I spent the whole time feeling paranoid, like: what’s wrong with me? Why did I do this? I don’t think I’m much of a weed smoker, but the last time I actually tripped was 2009.

    Sara: I started doing drugs before Tegan and I peer pressured her. Positive peer pressure is a thing and she needs to be peer pressured to do drugs. If you’re someone who feels in control of your body and your mind there’s sometimes a fear of anything that will alter that.

  • BB: Sara, do you not need positive peer pressure to trip?

    Sara: I was an aggressive drug user in high school and then as an adult I spent years being terrified to try them again. What if I returned to that place? Did I even know how to use drugs anymore? I’m happy to report that mushrooms, for me, have always been a positive experience and as an adult I have an absolute blast—and I’m not microdosing either. I’m taking a shitload of mushrooms and it feels fun and joyful and I laugh my ass off. And in the last couple of years, I feel a surge of creativity in the days following a trip. Something happens and I’m more open in my work, which is why I’m not tripping all the time—I don’t want to wreck that.

  • BB: What about weed?

    Sara: Sometimes I smoke it and love it, sometimes I smoke or—take edibles. I literally had to wake my partner up after taking edibles a couple of years ago and said, ‘I’m halfway high to where I know I’m going so no matter what happens, don’t let me call 911.’

    Tegan: These are the stories she tells and then she’s like, ‘I don’t know why Tegan doesn’t do it anymore.’

  • BB: We’ve all been there on eating too many milligrams of cannabis but, as an American, can I just say that I’m so motherfucking jealous of the industry you’ve created in Canada?

    Sara: I can’t imagine why anyone would give two shits about weed. Americans need to legalize. Their prisons are filled with people of color who have been arrested for crimes of poverty and minor crimes of drug use, and lives have been destroyed over a fucking joint! But in Canada, we just take for granted that it’s not criminal behavior.

    Tegan: I live in Vancouver on the downtown eastside and I see how harmful not having a safe drug supply can be. I see the intersection of mental health, drugs, houselessness, and I’m glad Canada is moving in the right direction about regulating substances. There’s so many other things like climate change or housing that I think if a small percentage of the population wants to microdose mushrooms, I don’t think that’s the problem to focus on.

  • BB: Move over Trudeau, Tegan for Prime Minister!! Let me know if you need a campaign manager. So as we conclude, your new single F***ing Up What Matters is out, the album and tour are on the horizon, your new show is in production…with all of these projects in mind, what is it that you hope your audience will glean?

    Tegan: All these things are products of thoughtfulness about life and experiences and love and relationships and anxiety and what comes next, and I hope people get that. There’s also this assumption, especially with women, that you hit an age and slow down and family build and come off the road, but we have a different ambition. We’re building and we’re not slowing down. We’re putting in everything we have.

    Sara: We’re not working just to work. We’re doing this because we love it. I don’t have to do this like when I was 18, to put food on the table. To pay rent. My circumstances have changed and now we want our audience to support us because we’re making everything from our heart.

For Tegan and Sara tour dates and updates on their show, see teganandsara.com.
Brooke Burgstahler is an actress, comedian, and cannabis creator. Brooke is also the founder of Budding Mind, a plant-medicine wellness platform + podcast. Her mission in life is to help others expand their minds, hearts, and souls through health-oriented "edutainment." You can find Brooke at @BrookeStellar and @BuddingMind on Instagram.