Q&A: Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara on her activist voice

TORONTO — Twin sisters Tegan and Sara are putting their names behind social causes in a bigger way than ever this year.

Whether it’s championing gender diversity in the music industry or raising awareness for LGBTQ rights, the Calgary-raised duo have used their pop status as a way to push for change.

“In the early part of our band we didn’t necessarily want to mix those things,” said Sara Quin. “We didn’t want to overwhelm people with our own politics.”

With eight studio albums to their names — and nearly 20 years in the business — they’re now more confident in how they can make a difference by backing social causes.

Last December they formed the U.S.-based Tegan and Sara Foundation for LGBTQ women after Donald Trump was elected president. They’ve also taken on the Juno Awards and Canada’s music industry with a public letter decrying the lack of females in technical roles.

Quin says she grappled with when to speak out early in her career, until eventually she and her sister decided it was time to express themselves more freely.

“I just felt enraged by the indifference and apathy of so many people — not just in the music industry, but in general,” she said.

“At some point I had to dial that down because I was like, ‘OK, not everyone is apathetic. Some people … don’t know how to amplify their voice or they feel their voice isn’t necessary.’ I started to see there are many different ways we can all participate as citizens.”

Tegan and Sara will bring their music to a raft of music festivals this summer, including Ottawa’s Bluesfest on July 8 and WayHome near Barrie, Ont., on July 30. In August they’ll play Montreal’s Osheaga Music and Arts Festival and the Regina Folk Festival.

Sara Quin spoke with The Canadian Press about how attention from hits like “Boyfriend” and “Everything is Awesome!!!” helped the pair reaffirm their social responsibility.

CP: You formed the Tegan and Sara Foundation to push for “economic justice, health and representation for LGBTQ girls and women.” What was the impetus for getting that program rolling now?

Quin: I like to think of it as when everything starts to become equal … there’s this wave of nationalism happening around the world. Whether it’s “Rolling back to a simpler time” or whatever people are using. This isn’t something just happening with Donald Trump in the United States. I think we’re going to see that artists and public figures should be required to talk about these things. We are not just puppets … we are human beings and these things can have impact on us, our families and our friends.

CP: Do you feel the need to write anything deemed an activist song?

Quin: I don’t know that Tegan and I are going to release a Black Flag record — 10 political zingers for the airwaves — but I also think (we) see ourselves as smart pop songwriters. (We consider) ourselves as having a critical voice in a world that is often crowded with heterosexual perspectives.

CP: Your letter to Juno organizers over the lack of female representation among this year’s nominees — particularly in the technical categories —grabbed a lot of attention. But you’ve also stated that you don’t squarely blame the Junos or their organizer CARAS. Can you explain your perspective?

Quin: There are systemic issues. I don’t think of it as being nefarious powers-that-be who are keeping women from producing and engineering albums. I think these are issues that in 20 years of being in the music business we’ve experienced firsthand. It’s wide and far. Right now on tour we have a front-of-house sound (mixer) who’s a woman. Our monitor person, tour manager, lighting director and bass player are all women. It is incredibly challenging to find women in a lot of those technical positions. The same goes for women who are producing and engineering (albums). Our last couple albums have been mastered by this wonderful woman Emily Lazar and she’s literally one of the only women who is mastering records at the level she is.

CP: When it comes to seeing actual change in the music industry, what are you going to do about it?

Quin: There’s a bigger emotional, philosophical conversation that people in the industry need to have. For me this isn’t a campaign of making people feel bad … this is a sort of: “Hey, let’s all look at this because it’s obviously a problem.” The notion is that when we bring up gender equity the idea is “all or nothing” — and it shouldn’t be. Addressing some of these huge gaps … doesn’t have to be about hiring all women.

We’re starting a campaign that will hopefully address some of this stuff — and it’s not just going to be (directed at) the Junos. It’s everywhere. It’s at SOCAN (which manages performance rights for musicians), it’s the radio, it’s in high levels of record executives. It’s the fact that SOCAN and CARAS all have over 90 per cent men on their board of directors. CARAS has one woman of 13 (board members). SOCAN has only two women (of 18 board members). If you start to peel back the layers you’re going to see it everywhere. We should address it and it shouldn’t just be women addressing it.

Just Posted

Red Deer College waiting for feds to finalize marijuana legalization

Like businesses, Alberta and municipal governments, Red Deer College is waiting for… Continue reading

Class size only part of the problem say Central Alberta teachers

Though the Alberta auditor general’s report points out that classroom sizes continue… Continue reading

Lacombe County promoting crime prevention measures

County pushing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles

Red Deer doctor concerned about patient transfers to rural hospitals

Family physician says the move creates less incentive for expansion at Red Deer hospital

Fire permit season begins in March

Earlier springs in last few years prompted Alberta government to move up fire permit season

WATCH: Red Deer’s River Bend upgrades officially open

River Bend Golf and Recreation Area is the latest venue to be… Continue reading

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

As Olympics wrap up, still no coverage in North Korea

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — While hundreds of millions of the world’s… Continue reading

Supplier to NHL’s Calgary Flames breathes again as B.C. wine ban suspended

VICTORIA — The operators of a small British Columbia winery that landed… Continue reading

Canada’s men’s hockey team beats Czechs to win Olympic bronze

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Canada’s men’s hockey team has won the… Continue reading

Duncan apologizes for behaviour after drunken joyride in Pyeongchang

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — Canadian ski cross racer Dave Duncan is… Continue reading

In Pyeongchang, maintaining Olympic venues relies on a poor, aging workforce

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - Hockey players from Finland were circling with the… Continue reading

Trudeau’s fashion missteps highlight what not to wear on vacation

TORONTO — The traditional garb that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his… Continue reading

Stores make push in scan and go tech, hope shoppers adopt it

NEW YORK — Shoppers at self-checkout lanes scanning all their groceries after… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month