Canadian indie-pop duo Tegan & Sara stopped by Melissa’s Basement to speak with Melissa Etheridge about their musical influences, the hardships women face in the music industry, and what it was like transitioning from being indie rockers to pop stars.

The identical twin sisters, who originally started their career in the indie world, found a place in pop music after never quite fitting in with the “white hetero men” with whom they’d share festival bills.

“In the indie rock world, we were the only women most of the time, and we were definitely the only lesbians,” Tegan told Etheridge. “It was alienating. It was hard sometimes. It was very difficult to be on a festival bill with all white hetero men, ya know. I didn’t feel embraced, and so when we kind of veered over into pop, and we were embraced there, and everyone was like, ‘Well, why are you abandoning the indie world.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not entirely sure we belonged in the indie world.’ So it’s been an interesting journey, but like Sara said, we never really had a choice. We were just out.”

The singer-songwriters went on to talk about the role female-fronted acts played in their musical upbringing.

“I was going through my stepdad’s vinyl collection, which is all ’70s and ’80s music…and there was a much higher percentage of female content in it than I expected,” Sara said. “There was just so many female artists we grew up listening to. I mean besides Bruce Springsteen, we pretty much only exclusively listened to female fronted bands or singer-songwriters or rock artists.”

The questions then turned to Melissa, with the twins asking “who do you write for?”

“I write for me,” she said. “You have to write for you because I trust that my audience, the ones that grab my records and go home – buy it the first week that it’s out – and listen to it, they are looking for something. They’re looking for that soul in me that they connect with. They’re looking for some, oh my gosh they said it the way I want to – they only way we can do that is to find it in ourselves.”

She went on to joke that the one time she betrayed her writing she ended up heartbroken and being diagnosed with cancer.

“It was the late ’90s. I went through a horrible breakup, a public thing, and it was nuts,” she said. “And then I went to make my next album and it was called Lucky. So I went in, and I did my best and wrote the stuff that I loved, and I turned my album in, and they said, ‘Okay great, we don’t hear a hit, how about doing this song that was written by someone else.’ And I’d never done a song by anybody else, right. And I remember crying. So I said, ‘Okay, this song is all right. It’s fine.’ The song was called Breathe. They put it on the radio. It got some play. It sounded like all the other songs on the radio. My heart was broken, and I got diagnosed with cancer.”

The duo chimed in, “Thanks a lot, Year-2000-Radio!”

Elsewhere in the interview, they performed Where Does the Good Go? off their 2004 LP So Jealous.

Hear the full episode of Melissa’s Basement featuring Tegan & Sara when it premieres 3/14 at 7 p.m. ET on VOLUME (Ch. 106). The episode will be available On Demand for a limited time. 

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