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Tegan and Sara: Rebirth and Reinvention

With two sparkling pop albums in 2014’s Heartthrob and this summer’s still-pulsing I Love You to Death—from which the neon-plated “Boyfriend” was a constant BBQ jam—Tegan and Sara have gone from the duo du jour of college radio playlists to Seacrest-worthy Top 40 phenomenon. That’s quite a feat 15 years into a long, but somewhat [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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With two sparkling pop albums in 2014’s Heartthrob and this summer’s still-pulsing I Love You to Death—from which the neon-plated “Boyfriend” was a constant BBQ jam—Tegan and Sara have gone from the duo du jour of college radio playlists to Seacrest-worthy Top 40 phenomenon. That’s quite a feat 15 years into a long, but somewhat obscurely celebrated tenure, always trying to shed the label of coffee-haus Canadian exports.

Where Heartthrob was the identical sisters cramming “150 ideas” into one song at a time, their latest pushes that pop “experiment” even further.  I Love You to Death retains the futuristic gloss, but is bigger, sleeker; if only because a less-is-more approach has left their songwriting leaner, and even more confessional and profound. I had the pleasure of discussing that sonic shift with Sara Quin from her home in Los Angeles where, among other things, we chatted about the duo as celebrated champions for the LGBTQ community and the definition of Canadian-ness.

For those people who haven’t been fans from the beginning, Heartthrob was described as your “big pop experiment,” but it was very similar to what you have been doing most of your career, just within different parameters. What exactly prompted that sonic shift?

As far back as to when we were wrapping up The Con, I remember saying to Tegan that I was really into the new Justin Timberlake record that had just come out. And I remember that it had all of these guitar parts that sounded really programmed and really straight forward. We became fascinated with that type of hip-hop and pop production and wanted to make records that sounded like that, but something that was still in our realm. For a lot of people it feels like it happened overnight, but it actually was years of moving in that direction. We both agreed that we were kind of bored with indie rock and we had the fans and the support to do what we wanted. We loved the challenge of making something that was pop. It was fun, it was exciting. It was pretty much refocusing everything in our career. After 20 years in the music business, if you don’t change, I don’t know how you survive.

Being out of the closet your entire career, 17 years, it’s never really been something that defines your music, though you’ve influenced a whole generation of artists and are celebrated by the LGBTQ community. I recently read an interview where you “feel a responsibility to really push ahead” and that there are moments when you “wish that there was more happening.” Can you expand on that?

We’ve always been honest and transparent about our identity, even at 20. I wasn’t going to spend my whole career being asked what my boyfriend thought about my music. We are personal, we aren’t going to hide our personal lives, how could we do that?  It was never a political stance. I can respect the people who want to say ‘No thank you,’ to those questions and remain mysterious, but that’s not me. We want to be active, to promote advocacy, to be good role models for our audience. I don’t want to get married, but that pisses me off that that was withheld from millions of people. We can use our identity and our visibility to do our part.

For me, I think that people think that it’s bad to have to talk about this these days, or that it’s a burden to explain that identity, but I don’t feel that anymore. I like talking about my identity. I think it’s interesting, I think it’s unique. Most people, especially straight people, spend their entire lives talking about that life without ever having to justify it—but I do? In a way, it’s made me want to be more gay. I want to be more open and never make apologies for it. I’ve never had to say I love Radiohead, but it’s a stretch for me because I’m not straight? So why does someone who is straight have to stretch to identify with what I’m singing? I’m dealing with the same type of shit everyone else is dealing with, I just happen to be a girl who love girls. I just wish more people would talk about this. I want to hear more voices. I guess I’m just impatient.

Something else that doesn’t exactly define your music is your Canadian-ness. Seeing the celebration given to the Tragically Hip and their final show in Ottawa, many lauded the band’s Canadian identity. Do you think there is anything singularly Canadian about what you do as musicians?

It’s very similar to the question about how does being gay play into our music. I don’t know? I guess growing up in Canada and having support from the Canadian government with funding and grants has a lot to do with who we are. Who we are as people was really shaped by the social fabric of Canada. I grew up never worrying about health care or worrying about my future, even if I was raised by a lower middle-class single mom. I feel like I come from a privileged country where I was encouraged to be creative and artistic. It was also annoying that people always referred to us as being polite and kind, like it was a backhanded way of telling us that we weren’t cool. But then growing up I’ve realized that we are polite and humble and many of those things, and if that’s being Canadian I’m fine with that.

Well then, I must ask the most Canadian of questions: Who is your favorite Degrassi character?

Wow! I’m an original Degrassi fan. By the time the next generation came along I was well on my way to adulthood. I always liked the characters with the stupid names. Snake? Wheels? I haven’t watched in so long, but I loved Joey cause I thought he was cute; but I also loved the twins cause they got mono—the kissing mono—and I was disgusted, and that was real. Degrassi was real.

Tegan and Sara play Express Live! on Tuesday, October 25. Visit teganandsara.com for music and more information.

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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Arts & Culture

(614) Music Club: Sarob

Julian Foglietti

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Every week (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist of what they’re listening to, and what’s inspiring them. This week’s playlist is brought to you by the R&B artist Sarob.


Photo by: Wyze

Tell me about some of the songs you’ve selected.

"The first one is Sobeautiful by Musiq Soulchild. So every week with my vocal coach, I have to learn a song. And I've been trying to figure out how to do vocal gliding. Which is not a strong point for me, and I remember hearing that song and being like, OK, this is it. The song is just beautifully written and composed, so when you add the technique to it, it’s just great. The other song was Workin On It by Dwele, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. Workin On It uses this J Dilla beat that just feels really timeless."

Have the past few months changed the direction or mood of the music you're creating. 

"So I have been making stuff here and there, and then I'll go into something creative for like two days. I'll just be making like a bunch of songs and then I'll stop for two weeks, not even want to look at a microphone or anything. I mean, it's a lot more inward, so I’m learning how to better communicate the things I'm experiencing, and set the scenes for people and talk about what is going on. Also not having my band has been a challenge. I’m more of a thinker, I play the keyboard, and I can build a song, but I’m not the most gifted musician so having to build a lot of it on my own is tricky."

Do you have any plans or releases coming up? 

"Yeah, so I had a song Pleasures U Like that was made for my last album, but it didn’t quite fit the story of the album. So I just forgot about it until recently and I finished the vocals just before the lockdown, and now I’m releasing it on Bandcamp as part of a fundraiser for The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. All of the proceeds from the song are going to go to support their Pandemic Emergency Fund, and it just felt like a good way to do something that would impact everything going on."

Sarob's Playlist

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Coronavirus

Breakaway Music Festival will not take place in 2020; to return in 2021

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Those in the music festival community have continued to rally their broken spirits behind live streams and classic archival sets in lieu of the live event industry being put on indefinite hold. 

With each passing day, though, hopes for any large concert gathering happening in 2020 seem incredibly bleak and unrealistic.

News from Midwest college market concert and music festival promoter Prime Social Group on Thursday further confirmed the modern hippie’s greatest fear: a summer void of camping out in otherworldy open fields and following their favorite musicians across the country. 

PSG operates a network of festivals under the Breakaway Music handle that take place annually in Columbus; Charlotte, North Carolina; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Washington D.C.; Nashville; and San Diego. The promotion company made the difficult decision to cancel all six of its 2020 editions of the EDM and pop-focused Breakaway Music Festival with a fully-committed plan to return in 2021. The decision was made due to health and safety concerns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Tickets to the event can be carried over for the 2021 edition of BMF. For those who choose this option, you’ll receive an extra ticket and merch bundle. PSG will also provide refunds if transferring tickets for 2021 is not an option.

Columbus has been making its claim as a music festival destination over the past few years. Breakaway, along with events like Sonic Temple, Wonderbus, and Buckeye Country Superfest, has been bringing quality acts to Columbus consistently. The festival’s presence will be greatly missed this upcoming August.

“Now more than ever, we could use that special sense of unity achieved through live events and music festivals,” said Prime Social managing partner Zach Ruben. “We cannot wait to Leave it All Behind and make memories with all of you again. Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, and be kind to one another.”

In the meantime, Breakaway plans to release exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from past editions, new digital content, and various live streams. Visit breakawaymusicfestival.com to keep up to date with what PSG has in store.

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