Tegan and Sara's unusually intense relationship with their fans was forged in the duo's early days the old fashioned way: "We'd hang out all night talking to people," Tegan Quin explains. "By the time we actually had real fans, that was how we thought you did a show." So much of their own performances involved confessional storytelling (about each other, for the most part) that it opened the door for fans to share back: "We created relationships with these people and they told us their stories."
How does a bond that tight evolve over time — and what happens when a band's aspirations start to outpace their fans' expectations? We dove deep into the topic with the 34-year-old Canadian twins for Dear Tegan and Sara, the fourth documentary in our "Mastering the Craft" series by Rolling Stone Films presented by Patrón.
Stocked with rare footage and photographs from the band's earliest performances, the film also includes the voices of some of their biggest fans, who attest to the group's profound influence on their lives. "As much as we have felt like we never shut up about being gay, we've represented hope for a lot of these people because we do get embraced," Tegan says.
But a key part of the band's DNA is changing course and pushing ahead into uncharted waters. "We take risks," Tegan explains. And when things are going well, they aren't complacent: "It's time to go try something really different."
Two years ago, that meant Heartthrob, the band's seventh album, which took them further into pop than ever before and earned them opportunities like sharing a stage with Taylor Swift. But not all their fans were on board. When they posted a photo of Katy Perry on their Facebook to announce a new tour, "It was like, you represent a different kind of artist," Sara says. But appearing onstage with Perry and being themselves — queer, different from what Perry's audience had seen before — "felt like a win," Tegan explains.
"Our mainstream success created a vast valley between us and them," she adds, referring to the band's fans. "As much as it might have made it seem like we were selling out, what we were really doing was stepping up and we were pushing our way in to a world that did not have anything representing us."
Still, the band never stopped listening to their fans — and they've found new ways to have personal, non-digital relationships with them today. "As we have less one-on-one interactions with people, it's harder to get through to us the way people used to," Sara says. So they introduced a mailbox at shows where fans can leave the band notes and letters and reconnect. And the fans we spoke to wanted to be sure their message to the band always gets through: "Thank you."