There might not be more new music from Tegan and Sara for a while, but they're not going anywhere. The duo are instead throwing themselves into charity work.
It’s hard to anticipate the impact an album will have. In 2007, Tegan and Sara are in their twenties. They’re going through a time of personal and professional upheaval; their fifth album is the first they feel completely in control of as they work. It’s a tumultuous period for the twins, but from the darkness came the most magical of sparks: The Con.
“It’s funny to me because I don’t remember thinking, wow, ‘The Con’ is great everyone loves it,” begins Sara Quin. “I just remember feeling like it was a bit of a painful period in our career; over the years with each album that comes out, those are the songs we keep playing. It’s really down to the strength of the material and the way fans took to it; it’s really such a special part of us.”
In 2017, ‘The Con’ is ten years old. What started as a chat about shows to celebrate the anniversary soon became a vinyl and snowballed quickly into The Con X, a cover album featuring Lynn Gunn (Pvris), Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches), and many more, with profits going towards The Tegan and Sara Foundation.
“We made a ridiculously long list, and then we broke it down into songs and artists, we picked through all of the bands and highlighted all of the artists it would be really cool to work with. We took a sort of territorial approach: who do we think would be great for ‘The Con’? Who would be great for ‘Back In Your Head’? Once we found people to cover each song, we would move on to the next song. It was actually a really thorough, really controlled process; it was very strategic and meticulous!”
The process was swift, given the volume of people involved. Only four or five months all in. Some went away and recorded it immediately, others wanted to talk more with Tegan and Sara to really get a feel for the song and what to do with it. The result is a stunning alternate reality for the twins’ pivotal release, some staying rigidly true to the original, others taking ‘The Con’ somewhere entirely new.
How did they feel handing such important songs over to others? “The spirit of the project was that we didn’t want to have much say in how people approached it,” says Sara. “We told people they could do it as basic and as lo-fi as they wanted; it could be like an iPhone and a guitar if they wanted. A lot of people took the approach of using the same arrangement, keeping the song in the same key, keeping it the same tempo and then other people with really no direction from us, delivered things that were unique. Kelly Lee Owens who did ‘Soil, Soil’, for example, because that song was so small almost like a songlet, it’s a beautiful piece, I really wanted to give it to an electronic artist, someone who would think a bit more unconventionally about how to cover it. Her piece that we got back was so wonderful because I was not immediately recognisable as a cover song it was more of an interpolation.
“Even hearing people change lyrics to fit their style or in some case, I think it even changed the narrative a little bit. I love like at the end of ‘Nineteen’ where Hayley [Williams, Paramore] adds a line, ‘I was just nineteen’, and she says ‘Can you blame me?’. It feels totally different, and it suddenly felt even more personal to me than the original song, so even those little flourishes or details it was very exciting for us as artists to hear people put their own creative twists and flourishes on things.”
Money from The Con X will go to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, where they fight for health, economic justice and representation for LGBTQ girls and women. “Initially some of what we’re doing is amplifying and financially writing grants to some of the organisations that we really love and think are doing crucial work. What we’re gearing up for in the next few years is to also launch some of our own unique programming, addressing some of the stuff that we feel may be being underrepresented. For example, there are a couple of really great LGBTQ summer camps that are mentorship - and leadership - centered, and we want to support some of those organisations to become national and support more kids from all different kinds of backgrounds being able to access those initiatives.”
As for what’s next, they’ll be hitting the road for The Con X tour until the end of November. “After that, I think that we’re going to go off the road for a while. Our goal is not necessarily to jump back into making a new album or putting out any more music. Our focus over the next few years will be more philanthropic and working more full-time on the Foundation. We’re not going away; we’re just going to pivot into some other areas of creative interests and work and give ourselves a little bit of a break from touring.”
So, happy birthday to The Con. The album celebrating its landmark is a delight, and the money raised from this release will go on to fund a legacy that grows far beyond the music. It's an impossible science to judge how albums will evolve over the years, but it's fair to say that ten years on, Tegan and Sara created something truly special.
Tegan and Sara's album 'The Con X' is out Friday 20th October. Learn more about the Tegan and Sara Foundation here.