Best Bets Albums 2013, Tegan and Sara
It's just a pop song: an uptempo ditty about fun-loving lust, with a chorus that would inspire as much pogoing as singing along. But for Tegan & Sara, "Closer," the first single from their seventh studio album, "Heartthrob" (Jan. 29, Warner Bros.), is a whole new world.
"When we first played the record for people, they were like, 'Oh, my God, are you terrified?'" says Tegan Quin, half of the twin-sister duo. "They called it a total departure, but it doesn't feel that wild to me anymore."
"Closer" has a driving kick drum and a twinkling synth breakdown, like many of the electro-infused songs on the radio. But it also has the smartly specific lyrics, catchy melody and impassioned delivery for which Tegan & Sara are known. "Heartthrob" -- 10 tracks of similarly shiny folk-pop bliss with an '80s-inspired edge -- might be a conscious move to broaden their appeal beyond the act's dedicated fan base, but it's not a disavowal of their past.
"We're going to be playing festivals and big venues -- it's not 2003," Sara Quin says. "I'm not interested in people standing staring at us. I want some other connection."
So far, it's working: "Closer" is Tegan & Sara's first career entry on Billboard's Alternative chart at No. 38. It's in rotation at KROQ and KYSR in Los Angeles, and the duo performed it on the Christmas episode of CW show "90210."
"It's still confessional and personal, but I feel there's more restraint," Sara says. "We wanted to make [the new music] as broad as possible, so people from all walks of life could connect to it."
Tegan & Sara self-released their first album, "Under Feet Like Ours," in 1999, when the female singer/songwriter revolution was in full swing behind acts like Jewel and Paula Cole and such events as Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair. Elliot Roberts, Neil Young's manager, signed the duo to his Vapor Records in 2000, and the pair has stuck with the label since, weathering such changes as the dissolution of parent label Sanctuary and subsequent shift to Sire/Warner Bros. in 2007.
During their 13-year career, Tegan & Sara have been able to break from the folk pack thanks to synchs and collaborations that yielded big looks. Their 2004 album, "So Jealous," benefited from song placements on "Veronica Mars," "One Tree Hill" and "Grey's Anatomy"; a slot opening for the Killers on their North American tour; and a hit in "Walking With a Ghost," which was covered by the White Stripes in 2005. Follow-up "The Con" (2007) was co-produced by Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla and featured guest appearances by his bandmate Jason McGerr, Weezer's Matt Sharp and AFI's Hunter Burgan. Its title track appeared in videogame "Rock Band 3," helping the album move 216,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The result, says Nick Blasko of Amelia Artists -- who co-manages the duo with Piers Henwood -- has been a consistently diversifying and growing audience. "They have their base, but when you look at the makeup of the audience at their shows, you have teenagers, 20-somethings, people who bring their small children, people in their 40s who say, 'I saw them for the first time 11 years ago.'"
Since their last studio album, 2009's "Sainthood," Tegan & Sara have collaborated with artists even further outside of their lane, providing toplines and vocals for leading EDM names. "Feel It in My Bones," off Tiesto's 2009 album "Kaleidoscope" (Musical Freedom), became a regular part of the mega-DJ's pyrotechnical set. The duo sang and appeared in the video for Grammy Award-nominated DJ/producer Morgan Page's "Body Work," off his 2012 set "In the Air" (Nettwerk). And "Every Chance We Get We Run" with David Guetta was featured on "Nothing But the Beat 2.0" (Astralwerks/EMI), the 2012 deluxe edition of his 2011 disc.
In addition to introducing Tegan & Sara to new fans, "some of those collaborations paved the way for the sound of 'Heartthrob,'" Blasko says.
"The girls were focused on evolution," says Warner Bros. co-president/COO Livia Tortella, who's directly involved with the album campaign. "They were starting to break out through those very cool collaborations, and in their own way they were looking to dance music."
To roll out "Heartthrob," Tegan & Sara hit the road in September -- "way earlier than usual," Blasko says -- with headlining dates and a stint opening for the Black Keys. They're also visiting radio and even performing at ad agencies, looking for relevant synchs.
"Our job is to make sure the traditional elements of their campaign get serviced," Tortella says. "Get the music to TV and film, make sure our radio setup is good, and take advantage of the wonderful touring. It's a treat to work with artists who know themselves, their brand and their fans as well as they do."
The admiration is mutual. "I feel loyal to the Vapor and Warner family," Sara says. "I understand the argument against major labels, but that hasn't been my experience. I don't want to say it's luck. It was about making smart business decisions, evaluating what our band was worth, spending responsibly and creating a relationship with a company that respected that thinking. Our budgets have gotten bigger as we have, and we make money for our label and for ourselves. It's mutually beneficial."
(Video interview by Jason Lipshutz, N.Y.)