As difficult as it is for a musical act to find success in a given genre, imagine how hard it must be to do it twice.
Yet that was the goal that the Canadian duo Tegan and Sara – performing Friday night at the North Carolina Museum of Art – undertook when they decided a few years ago to redirect their successful indie rock act in a more polished pop direction.
Success is what they found, as their first record to be released after their reinvention – 2013’s “Heartthrob” – gave them their highest album debut on the Billboard charts, coming in at No. 3 under the Pop album banner. Currently touring on the strength of their followup, 2016’s “Love You to Death,” the duo have moved from tiny rock clubs to large venues across North America.
While some were apprehensive about the duo’s decision to go pop, Sara Quin – who shares vocal, guitar and keyboard duties with twin Tegan Quin – says there was little hesitation on their part. If anything, the naysayers have given them more resolve.
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“We’ve always been really disciplined about not letting too many cooks into the kitchen, as they say,” Sara explains over the phone, during a break in the act’s summer tour. “We’re usually very stubborn, and know instinctively that whatever we’re doing makes the most sense for us.
“Weirdly, back around the time we were making [2004’s] ‘So Jealous,’ that was when I remembered people being the most weird about [our music],” she says. “We had mainly been known up until that point as this acoustic, singer-songwriter kind of band, and even though that never made a whole lot of sense to us – and always felt a little limiting – to suddenly have a record where we incorporated keyboards and synthesizers caused people to begin asking us, ‘Are you sure that your fans are going to like something that sounds this different?’ I think because we gained confidence from changing our sound at that time and succeeding, when we approached making pop music, we were sure that people would like these songs.”
Perhaps even more surprising than the duo’s newfound commercial success has been the reception from critics. While Tegan and Sara’s early work featured influences that usually work as catnip to entertainment writers – elements of ’80s new wave and bombastic power-pop lyrics that belie dark observations on relationships – Sara says they had often felt dismissed by critics in the past.
It appears that going pop has proved popular on all fronts.
“I never felt that we had that kind of critical [approval] of being one of those bands that was pushed as the next big thing,” Sara says. “In a way we always felt like we were operating outside of that, and in a way it felt like that gave us a lot of freedom. If you’re not worried about what Pitchfork thinks, or if something you release happens to get a bad review, we know that the audience that we’ve built over time isn’t here because of one review. I will say that, since we’ve crossed over to pop, there has been a tremendous amount of support from music journalists. That has been really rewarding to us, because more than a good review after 17 years, is just acknowledgment and respect.”
Who: Tegan and Sara, with Vagabond
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: N.C. Museum of Art, 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh