Pop activism: Tegan and Sara’s Sara Quin on raising awareness ahead of arts award

TORONTO — Tegan and Sara are accustomed to dividing their professional responsibilities as musicians, but sharing an acceptance speech for one of Canada’s most prestigious arts awards is something new.

The twin sisters will give it their best shot on Friday when they receive the National Arts Centre Award at Ottawa’s Rideau Hall. They will also be recognized on Saturday at the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards gala for the honourees.

Sara Quin, one half of pop duo, is still running through her mind what she’ll say in her half of the speech.

“You have 300 words — so that’s 150 for each of us,” she calculated in a recent interview.

“It’s very scary. I’m not really sure what we’re supposed to say.”

Quin is being modest.

While she might still be drafting ideas for exactly how to humbly acknowledge her pulsing activist heart, the singer and songwriter rarely lacks perspective on social issues.

Tegan and Sara’s activism surrounding LGBTQ rights, and the lack of female representation in the music industry, are key reasons they’re being honoured for standing at the crossroads of a successful music career and advocacy work for progressive social change.

Quin supposes her urge to speak out was borne from her “extremely political” mother’s activism in Western Canada.

“We grew up going to marches,” she said. ”We grew up with that language… But I also feel like we came in and out of being activated.”

After high school, the twins shifted their priorities to focus on forging an independent music career that led to successful songs like “Walking with a Ghost” and “Back in Your Head” in the mid-2000s.

It wasn’t until years later, after the election of former U.S. president Barack Obama, that Quin believes she was “re-invigorated around queer politics.” She saw awareness of LGBTQ rights in the mainstream dominated almost entirely by the conversation over marriage equality in the United States.

“I worried that once that was secured no one would pay attention to all the other issues — and that’s exactly what happened,” she said.

Producing a mainstream pop album offered the sisters an opportunity to use the platform as a bullhorn for queer issues and LGBTQ causes that didn’t have as flashy of a narrative as marriage.

While their identities didn’t play an overt role in lush pop hits like 2013’s ”Closer” and “I Was a Fool,” suddenly they were thrust into the conversation about queer identity — an opportunity they took on wholeheartedly.

“We can’t judge everyone else for letting go of the fight, we have to keep promoting the fight,” Quin said.

“It’s not a phase, it’s just part of my life.”

After U.S. President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, they created the Tegan and Sara Foundation to raise money for various LGBTQ issues and organizations. Right now, they’re focused on gathering donations to help send 100 kids to LGBTQ summer camps in the U.S. and Canada.

But despite the duo’s activism, they’ve yet to write any songs with an overt political bent — whether it’s about Trump or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I’m not envious of people putting out albums right now because there is such a desire to be political,” Quin said.

“I don’t feel like writing political music because my life is so political. Music is where I go to retreat, not to go deeper into the hell hole I see around me all the time.”

While Tegan and Sara have plenty of opinions about Trump, some which they shared when they launched the LGBTQ foundation, Quin said she believes too much attention is being dedicated to blaming the president for bigger social problems.

“To me it’s not really about him — it’s about humanity and what he brings out,” she said.

These days, Quin and her sister are feeling nostalgic for another time. They’re working on a memoir that will reflect on memories of growing up in the 1990s, before they embarked on serious music careers.

“Our childhood wasn’t always easy,” Quin said, “but there was something extremely cool about the time we came up in — the music, culture and specifically the group of people we were involved with.”

They hope to pair the book with a podcast that incorporates music — though it won’t be new songs from Tegan and Sara, Quin promises.

The sisters are on a songwriting break, at least for now, she added.

The hope is that’ll give them both enough time to focus on charity work as they plow into uncharted territory for LGBTQ musicians.

“I love our career,” she said. “We are in our own lane.”

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