Tegan and Sara on Revisiting 'The Con' 10 Years Later: 'It's Not a Feel-Good Record'

Tegan and Sara
Tegan and Sara are going on tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of “The Con.” Imagine reliving the most emotionally devastating experiences of your 20s in front of 3,000 people every night. Pamela Littky

Imagine reliving the most emotionally devastating experiences of your 20s in front of 3,000 people every night.

Tegan and Sara's fall tour is a bit like that. The beloved Canadian twins were 26 when they released their fifth album, The Con (2007), a dark, musically knotty exorcism of grief and failed relationships. "It's not a feel-good record," Tegan Quin says, which makes it all the more compelling to revisit it a decade later with her bandmate sister, Sara.

The duo is celebrating the angsty classic's milestone birthday this fall with an intimate tour—they'll play the entire album in new arrangements—as well as a covers record, featuring interpretations of Con songs by artists like Ryan Adams (a ragged take on "Back in Your Head") and Mykki Bianco (a trippy version of "Knife Going In"). The release will benefit the duo's newly launched foundation in support of LGBTQ girls and women.

How are the rehearsals for your Con tour going?

Good! I'm, like, blowing the dust off my brain and trying to remember what I used to play 10 years ago, so I've been watching a lot of YouTube videos, and I'm like, "Wow! I used to sing and play shaker at the same time. That sounds terrible!"

Related: The curious rise of the album anniversary tour

You've been watching old videos of yourself?

It's the easiest way to recall what I used to do. The Con was such a dense record. I listened to the stems, and, for whatever reason, seeing my hands moving, I'm like, "Oh yeah! That's what I used to do." The last five years we've been in such a different space—the pop production world—and everything is a lot cleaner.

Is there anything from 10 years ago that makes you cringe?

I look back and I cringe because it sounds so raw. There are times when I'm literally playing two different keyboards and shaker and singing and I'm on stage monitor [instead of in-ear monitors], so I'm yelling, and I'm not always in key. But it feels really real and emotional, so it's hard to be embarrassed by it.

You've made eight records at this point. What about The Con makes you want to revisit it?​

Emotionally, it's a really intense and delicate record. So Jealous [2004] and The Con were the point of no return: We were either going to make it, or we were gonna have to just stop. We really struggled up to that point to feel like what we were doing was working.

It's also a record about anxiety and death. We had both [ended] really long relationships. We'd lost a friend and also our first really close family member. There was a candidness to the record and an intimacy that people really attach to it. It's not a feel-good record, which is probably why we needed to make [the poppier albums] Heartthrob [in 2013] and Love You to Death [in 2016]. Even though the content is still kind of dark, there's a feel-good element to pop music. We needed to come out of the forest, and The Con is the deepest part of the forest that we'd ventured into. It felt like our first record that was worthy of a [retrospective] tour.

Was it as emotionally turbulent to revisit the material?​

It's a funny thing, now being in my mid-30s—Sara calls it late 30s, but I refuse to call it late 30s for one more day. Tomorrow's my birthday, and I'll be mid–late 30s, but today I'm still mid-30s. [Laughs.] I don't know if everyone agrees with this, but I think your 20s are very self-indulgent. And The Con is very dramatic and self-indulgent record in that perfect 20s way. Going back, it causes anxiety, and it makes me feel emotional. It's good, though, and makes me want to do a really intimate and dark record. It could be the current political situation.

You wrote The Con in 2007, during a tense political climate. Now you're revisiting it during an even scarier period​.

It is weird. It does make me feel anxious. We're lucky because we have an outlet. It's very cathartic to play music. And we've been really motivated to do these projects because the proceeds are all going to the [Tegan and Sara] Foundation. I don't want to just tweet out, "The world's a disaster! I hope an asteroid hits us!" because that's not helpful, even though I think it. All the time. Instead I'm like, "Wow, the world's a disaster! Here are some ways you can actually give back."

How did you decide who would contribute to the covers record?

It was a necessity that whoever we asked had to be an outspoken LGBT ally. We had a dream list. We knew that probably most of the people on it would not even respond. But the first people we reached out to were Hayley [Williams] from Paramore and Lauren [Mayberry] from Chvrches, and they both said yes. Sara and I were like, "Oh my God, we're fucking geniuses! Look at us, we're killing it. We're executive-producing the shit out of this already!" The only thing we felt disappointed about was that we didn't land a huge pop star.

Tegan and Sara
Tegan and Sara perform at New York City Pride 2017 at Pier 26 on June 24. Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

What was Cyndi Lauper's response?

We thought it would be amazing to have Cyndi do an additional cover to "Back in Your Head" [as a bonus track]. She actually messaged and said, "I'm gonna turn this into a fucking pop song." And it is! It's fucking baller. And Ryan Adams's version is so incredible, too. And I really like PVRIS. They have this crazy underground following. When I heard "Are You Ten Tears Ago" the first time, I was in an airport and almost had a panic attack. It's so good and dark. It pulled me into a trance or something.

Do you feel like the music industry has become more welcoming to LGBTQ artists since you began making music.

I do believe the world in general is changing and the position of LGBTQ people is changing. It's still not where it should be. There's still no openly queer or lesbian female artist on pop radio. A few people recently said, "Well, Halsey's bisexual," and it's like, true. That's probably the closest a woman has gotten in a really long time. There's definitely more men, and it's great to see queer artists in the hip hop community coming out.

But it's complicated! It's still really different. I can feel it as a queer woman. As an alternative woman. As a woman who does not focus on selling any part of my body, who doesn't sell sexuality—I'm gay, but that's not sexuality, and I'm not sexual in my presentation—I feel the wall. I feel the ceiling. I feel that there's limitation. I never dreamed we'd get to the places we have. But I can't have the rose-colored glasses on because it's still pretty tough.

Tegan and Sara
Tegan and Sara’s most recent album is “Love You to Death” (2016), which continues the band’s pop-inspired direction. Lindsey Byrnes

The flip side is that you and Sara have been a huge inspiration for fans and other artists.

Absolutely. Even on my worst days, I'm still like, the world has changed a lot, and it's so cool to see other artists citing us as influences. It's very different than 20 years ago, when we started. I love that. As women who are queer-identified, we laugh and say that we've gone through different phases over the last 20 years. There was a time when I hated talking about my gender and my sexuality. Then there was this phase where I wanted to talk about the music so badly, and nobody wanted to talk about it. As we became a bigger band, we wanted to talk about our gender and sexuality because it feels like it's so important to the music. We've come full circle.

Is there anything you'd say to new fans who are coming to this tour and may never have heard The Con before?

A lot of people know [The Con songs] "Nineteen," "Call It Off," "Back in Your Head"—but that's it. Recently we opened the show with "Back in Your Head," and it felt like a lot of people hadn't heard it. Which is so cool! I think it's fascinating that 10 years have passed and there's this whole new audience. I really hope that a lot of people coming to the shows don't know the record.

We had this debate over email last week, about whether we should have The Con album for sale [at the shows]. That broke into a debate about whether people can even play CDs anymore! I can't.