Back in 2017, Tegan and Sara Quin embarked on a 10th anniversary tour of their indie classic The Con. They'd spent much of the decade since its release performing their supersized synth-pop on the global festival circuit, so for that victory lap, they opted for a stripped-down acoustic presentation that harkened back to the twin sisters' coffeehouse roots. That trip down memory lane led them down a wormhole through their past.
They took a break from writing new music and contemplated starting a podcast to chronicle their offstage lives, but ended up instead writing a memoir, High School, about their early days as teenage folkies breaking into the music industry and embracing their queer identity. While doing research for that project, Tegan and Sara rediscovered the demo cassettes that contained the first songs they ever wrote—essentially, the musical equivalent of an old yearbook photo. But when they listened to them, they were taken aback by their own lack of embarrassment.
“Just like everybody, when you think back to the things you did 20 years ago, you imagined you'd cringe and you'd listen once and be like, ‘Yeah, cool, bye’—put it back in the box and be done with it,” Tegan tells Apple Music. “But the more I listened to the songs, the less I cringed and the more I thought, these melodies are great! It's like: Why write a bunch of new songs when there's this pile of amazing songs that we can work on?”
Those demos would become the raw material for Tegan and Sara’s ninth album, Hey, I’m Just Like You, which marks a return not just to the sisters’ earliest songwriting efforts, but to the more guitar-centric alt-rock sound of their mid-2000s albums—the driving lead single “I’ll Be Back Someday” stakes the middle ground between Warped Tour-worthy pop-punk and the New Wave melodies of fellow Vancouverites the New Pornographers. According to Tegan, some of the tracks, like the soaring opener “Hold My Breath Until I Die,” essentially retain the structural integrity of their original versions in refurbished form. But the seemingly simple acoustic ballad “Please Help Me” was actually pieced together from multiple songs through what Tegan calls strategic “cutting and sewing.” And then there are the ones that required more intensive surgery.
“There were some songs that we had to rewrite because we couldn't make out what what we were saying [on the cassette],” Tegan says. “We probably argued for two hours about the lyric in ‘Hello, I’m Right Here’ where Sara says, ‘Right now, I wish I was older/Right now, I wish I had closure’—because there is no fucking way we would’ve said ‘closure’ when we were teenagers! But that lyric—‘Right now, I wish I was older'—has so much maturity in it. She’s acknowledging that she can't handle what's going on and that she wished could be older so that she could understand it better. And that is really, deeply mature, I think, for a 17-year-old. And so when we finished the line—‘Right now, I wish I had closure’—I think it’s us having a conversation with our younger selves, and speaking from the point of view that she wished she could’ve had back then. It's really dark, actually—it’s us saying, ‘You don’t get closure! You’re 39 years old and you’re still thinking about your first girlfriend!’”
But while the process of reanimating their past was not without its complications, for Tegan, Hey, I’m Just Like You’s greatest virtue is its simplicity. “I realized, ‘Wow, we really overthink things now,’” Tegan says. “Like with the song ‘We Don't Have Fun When We're Together Anymore’—that is just something that I would never say as an adult, but as a young person I felt it so deeply. It’s just so heavy, whereas now, we would try to say that in such a complicated and artistic way. What's beautiful about a song like that is that we're not trying to say or do more than this exact thing. In a time where things have become very complicated, there's something really powerful in putting a straightforward message out there.”