Calgary-born indie pop duo Tegan and Sara have had a transformative 20-year music career, opening for superstars such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, taking the stage at major festivals like Coachella and Bonaroo and performing at the 2015 Academy Awards.
As the latest recipients of the prestigious Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, the identical twins, 37, say the past decades have offered a “front-row seat” to something even more powerful than being part of the music industry alone.
“When we started out in the late ’90s, there was still rampant sexism and homophobia in the press that covered us,” Tegan Quin, 37, told CBC host Rosemary Barton during an interview in Ottawa airing Sunday evening on The National.
The openly gay musicians, who began recording in high school but wouldn’t gain mainstream success until years later with songs like Walking with a Ghost (2004) and Closer (2013), point to a positive evolution when it comes to how their sexual orientation has been perceived.
All through junior high, Sara and I are wearing ‘No means no’ shirts.– Tegan Quin, on the duo’s early activism
“Before, it was sort of defensive,” said Sara Quin. “We were explaining ourselves to people. Now we feel like we are expressing something about our identity that we’re really proud of. And the social recognition and acceptance, it feels much more broad now.”
The Juno-winning sisters credit a supportive family, including an open-minded and politically active mother. Their own ideas were shaped, they say, when they joined her for women’s marches as teens and became aware of her work at a sexual assault centre.
“I was looking for pictures of us, and all through junior high, Sara and I are wearing ‘No means no’ shirts,” said Tegan.
“I think we saw that you should be heard. You should stand up for people. Stand up for yourself,” said Sara.
The Calgary-born twins have since created a namesake foundation to help raise awareness and money for non-profit organizations working with LGBT communities, particularly girls and women. They say the current political climate in the U.S. has given them greater purpose.
“In the time that’s passed since (the election), we’re definitely motivated and hyper vigilant to make sure that we’re giving back and doing as much as we possibly can to support the communities that are under attack,” said Tegan. “Specifically, obviously, women and LGBTQ people. Those are communities that we’ve really focused on.”
“We know that we have access and a platform,” said Sara.
Catch Rosemary Barton’s full interview with Tegan and Sara on The National, Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. on CBC Television.