Tegan & Sara Reflect on 'Heartthrob''s Success Onboard Parahoy! Cruise: Q&A

Jatnna Nunez

We hung out with Tegan and Sara onboard of PARAHOY!

"Our music is like a selfie. It's easy to pick on because it seems so vain. But it's very revealing and a lot of people are drawn to exploring themselves."

It's a great time to be Tegan & Sara, and it's not just because they just sailed the Caribbean as guests of honor onboard Paramore's smashing debut cruise, Parahoy! In the big picture, they're riding high from the success of their 2013 album "Heartthrob" which brought them their first Hot 100 hit (the glistening Greg Kurstin-produced "Closer") and nudged them closer to superstar than cult star status for the first time. Sixteen years into their career and still growing, where do they go from here? Tegan and Sara Quin sat down with Billboard for a heart-to-heart following their third and final Parahoy! performance. The twins reflected on the success of "Heartthrob," playing before 60,000 hockey fans earlier this month, and what they think their next album might sound like.

You guys get so many gifts and odds and ends from fans. On the cruise, what has stood out?

Tegan Quin: The t-shirts! They're awesome. I actually walked by (Paramore guitarist) Taylor (York) the other day and he saw the t-shirt of Sara and I wearing captain's hats, and we have life preservers around our necks. He was like, "I want to get that; that's an awesome merch shirt!" And I was like, "No, a fan created it."

One thing that's really neat about this cruise is there seems to be a lot of people from a lot of different places. Yesterday we got stuff from fans in Hawaii, some local delicacies and treats that we've been eating in our room all day long. We got a big Australian gift bag with lots of chocolate. 

There are a couple of women in the Navy here and they wrote us a really beautiful letter about some of the difficulties they had before Don't Ask, Don't Tell. They sent us this beautiful note and some of their service pins. It's so touching. I think this kind of thing brings together the real diehards -- the people who are super invested in music, but also the culture of the people who are around these bands. We see it with Paramore; we definitely experienced it when we toured with them off the boat. But now I'm seeing it in a much more magnified, in a smaller environment.

Parahoy! Photos

ON A BOAT: Exclusive Pics
From the Cruise

Day 1: Paramore Rock the Pearl

Day 2: Tegan & Sara Showcase 'Heartthrob'

Day 3: Paramore Break Out the Deep Cuts

Day 4: Tegan & Sara, New Found Glory Wrap Cruise's Maiden Voyage

A lot of times you'll see these great festival lineups, but it's all dudes. How does it feel to be playing a festival with a lot of prominent female musicians?

Sara Quin: I think that's a testament to Paramore, especially Hayley. She's made such a huge effort to support Sara and I over the past couple years. She's been vocally supportive when we talk about gay rights and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. It doesn't surprise me that so many of the artists here are female. I think the whole cruise benefits from having so much diversity, in terms of having a DJ, having more electronic music, and having us who can do it all.

If I were in Paramore's shoes doing this sort of cruise, I'd want everything to be completely different -- I'd get some hip-hop, folk stuff, pop stuff, something dancey, a great DJ.

"Heartthrob" has been out for about a year and it's been your most successful album. How do you think you'll look back on it?

SQ: I feel like the songs are going to carry us through. The record's been out a year and it still feels really fresh. It's a grower album, and I don't mean "grower" by listening to it. It's helped build our career to the next level. People hear it and tell their friends or people are hearing it and different avenues and channels. I feel confident that it was a great next step into a "Part 2" of our career. We've been in the industry now for fifteen years and it's like, "What do we do next? How do we keep people wondering what Tegan & Sara are going to do?" It's not that easy to keep people engaged and interested with so many new bands coming out all the time. I think "Heartthrob" was a crossover or bridge record. It's like saying, "We're still the band you once knew and liked, but we're doing something different." And it's inviting a whole new group of people in. It sort of teases up for something to follow it. Right now, I don't feel any of that hesitation I felt before we put this record out. I just keep thinking, "We could do a crazy, sugary pop record, or we could do something weirder and go in a totally different direction. There are just so many opportunity now because of this record. It's a grower -- we're seeing the audience diversify, change, build. Opportunities are changing. It almost feels like we're a brand new band.

So when you you start writing a new album, do you think you'll head in an even popper direction?

SQ: We've been really motivated by what being in the pop world and being on the radio has done for our band. It's diversified our audience and allowed us to reach more people, which we're really interested in doing, because we're interested in doing things beyond music. The idea of making a record our fans would love is great, but the idea of making a record that our fans would love that would also attract new people seems really exciting. So I want to make something that can reach different kinds of people. We keep joking that because Mumford & Sons and Of Mice and Men are so popular…

TQ: Of Monsters and Men. She's really into Steinbeck.

SQ: I am really into Steinbeck. People are really into those songs again -- people like Avicii, even (with "Wake Me Up"). We're more interested in organic instrumentation. We're more interested in songs and lyrics, feeling and emotion. That really resonates with us and we were making those records when people weren't as interested in that kind of music. So we want to make sure there's lots of stories and lots of great emotion.

SQ: There's something very confessional to our band. At the very beginning of our career, that was one of the easiest ways to put our band down. In early reviews of our records and shows there was a lot of…

TQ: "It's like a page out of a diary!"

SQ: If you were to look back from 1998 to 2003, when we were still trying to figure it all out, that was the biggest criticism. There was almost something that embarrassed people about how confessional we were. If we had gone in a different direction, we would have a totally different career. Thank god we didn't listen to the people who reduced us for being too confessional because that's what's hooked people in and kept them for a long time.

Our music is like a selfie. It's easy to pick on because it seems so vain. But it's very revealing and a lot of people are drawn to exploring themselves. I don't think it has to be vapid or narcissistic; it can be self growth-oriented.

TQ: Like Malcolm Gladwell. Introspective, self-help books.

And another out-of-the-ordinary show you did recently -- performing at the Heritage Classic (outdoor hockey game) in Vancouver -- how did that come about?

SQ: I think we're a fairly recognizable band right now in Canada, on a more mainstream level. And because it was being held in Vancouver, where Tegan lives, "We were like can we get free tickets?" "If you play!"

Compared to America right now, we're much more into our singles cycle, meaning "Closer," "I Was a Fool" and "Goodbye, Goodbye" all have been singles in Canada. There's a song recognition now with a fairly broad audience. So it made sense to throw us out between the first and second intermissions, like, "Play the hits!" We also love hockey. Right now we're all about saying "yes" and broadening the demographic that knows who we are.

TQ: After we played the Winter Classic, we we went over to Vancouver Island, in these small towns, and these older couples, probably in their 50s or 60s, were running into us on the ferry and saying, "We saw you on the Winter Classic!"

SQ: It's also one of the biggest audiences we've ever played for. We played to almost 60 thousand people and then millions watched on TV.

It seems so crazy to me now. We started in 1998 and these kinds of opportunities weren't even something we could wrap our brains around. We were playing sports bars, coffee shops, and maybe we would play a 300-person club and sell it out. To be playing in front of 60 thousand people, and have them be like "Oh yeah, 'Closer,' I like this song." It's crazy. It's a real boiling point for the band.


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