How Tegan and Sara learned to love their younger selves
The Canadian sister duo transform shame and self-hatred into acceptance on their latest projects
"The book is a farce."
Tegan and Sara Quin are arguing about what age they were when they first got their eyebrows pierced. Sara thinks it was in the 12th grade, but Tegan is adamant that the event took place "a year and a half before that." Of course, the Canadian musical duo's latest project, a memoir titled High School, isn't a farce, as Tegan's knee-jerk response in light of this disagreement indicates. Sure, the timelines the twin sisters organized during the six-month writing process of their new book sometimes conflicted, but at the end of the day Sara concludes, "Who cares when we got our eyebrows pierced?"
She's right, but that doesn't mean High School is littered with lies. On the contrary, Tegan explains that she "really wanted to get it right," to the point where she unearthed years of journals, notes and photos, in addition to conducting roughly 28 hours of interviews with friends and family. "We were very lucky because we have so much documentation," Tegan continues. "One of the biggest pieces of feedback is how visual the book is. People say, 'Your memories are so incredible,' but we had hundreds of photos and our friends were so gracious with their time, helping us figure out small details that would uncover another detail."
The truth in High School, and perhaps life in general, is never in the hyper-specific accuracy of events, even though they do dig into everything from drug use to coming out to discovering their love of music, but it's in the vivid emotions attached to those memories. Those emotions have always formed the core appeal of Tegan and Sara's music, the reason fans deeply relate to their personal songwriting, and now it has taken the form of a book.
Both the book and its accompanying album, Hey, I'm Just Like You, not only explore Tegan and Sara's pasts but honour the singers' younger selves in many ways. By mining their memories and, on the album, re-purposing the actual lyrics they wrote when they were teenagers, the Quin sisters confronted a lot of embarrassment and self-hatred and transformed much of that into acceptance and love. It's a process that, even just a few years ago, Tegan says they were not ready to reflect on.
"You're not ready to look back until you're ready to look back," she elaborates. "I think that we are capable of looking back now."
But for Sara, looking back brought out feelings — and oftentimes tears — that she didn't fully realize were hiding in the crevices of her history. "One of the first chapters I wrote, I wanted to describe what I looked like," she recalls. "I remember reading it out loud to my girlfriend and I read the description and, to me, it was funny — my pants were huge, my chain was heavy and long — but as I was reading it out loud, I started crying because I couldn't believe how much self-hatred was even in my description of myself.
"At first, it starts out as details, but by the end of the paragraph I described myself as looking rotten and that people would stare at us with disgust. To just write the words felt powerful to me, but to read them, I couldn't believe the grief that came up for me in remembering what it felt like to be disgusting to people. Whether that was true or not doesn't matter. From the time I was probably 13 to, I don't know, 20, I walked around thinking that people thought I was disgusting and some of that was internalized homophobia and shame about my body, but to put that down on paper made me think, geez, I need to go back and learn how to love that version of me because I think I'm still carrying all that pain around."
Sara has noticed that almost every person she has spoken to about their latest releases seems to resent their high-school selves. "It feels like this is a really big issue in our culture," she points out. It's her and Tegan's hope that their emotional labour will teach readers and listeners to develop compassion for their younger selves, however gawky, angsty, awkward and flawed they once were.
"I try to talk to with empathy about that younger version of myself because I haven't ever," Sara adds. "Now I constantly try to be like, 'I was brave and I got up everyday and I didn't change the way I dressed even though people spat at us and laughed at us, and adults kicked us out of restaurants."
Tegan takes the idea of self-love one step further by proclaiming, in many interviews over the past few weeks, that they were visionaries back then. "We definitely were," Tegan states defiantly. "Men, they're geniuses, but we're visionaries. I think most women are."
But it's not just the songs they unearthed and re-recorded that inspired this statement — it's also the drive she observed when revisiting old tapes and footage. "We just spent hours and hours and hours, day after day, applying so much energy and focus," she remembers. "That's all we cared about. All we cared about was music. We advanced so quickly because it's all we cared about and I think that's so rad. I want to reward young us for that."
For Tegan and Sara, and their fans, High School and Hey, I'm Just Like You are those rewards.