There’s a theory when it comes to debut albums. For some they are the mark of an artist finding their footing and still navigating their own sound, but for others they are a fully-formed, powerful mission statement. After years of building the creative storm, a debut album sometimes unleashes the very best of an artist. The songs that first made someone sit up and take notice, their most passionate lyrics and unflinching ideas, all included in hopes of success. They call it a sophomore slump, because artists often pour so much of themselves into that initial offering, that it’s hard to duplicate a short time later.
But what if you had success, and you were able to go back and revisit those first moments before anyone else got to hear them? What if you could build a giant career, do a lot of good along the way, and then circle back to the first songs that expressed what you wanted to say? That’s kind of the novel idea behind Hey, I’m Just Like You, the new album from Tegan and Sara.
At 15-years-old, the twin sisters found their step-dad’s acoustic guitar and started playing around, using what they knew from being formally-trained on piano to write songs. “We started performing for our friends, we started performing for our family, we started recording our songs at school,” Sara remembers in the exclusive interview above. “Those demo tapes of those songs were sort of thrown into garages, and basements, and boxes and hadn’t been heard in over 20 years.”
As the duo began work on their memoir, High School, and started digging through memories to get closer to their adolescents and the origins of their band, they unearthed these forgotten tapes. “We were delighted by the songs, and we felt we could do them justice,” says Sara. “We wanted people to hear them. They were excellent. They needed some finessing and massaging but for the most part the melodies were strong.”
“A lot of our ideas as songwriters were quite sophisticated even for our young age, and the music really sparked something. When you’re a musician and you’re looking for creativity or you’re looking to spend a tremendous amount of time working on a project, or songs, or an album – you just want to feel that buzz when you hear the music, and all of those early songs really gave us that feeling.”
Their band was called Plunk, still just the sisters, with two main tapes taken from the cardboard box archives. When they found one of the demos, the excitement was only outweighed by figuring out how to play the tape in 2019. “I took it home and I ordered a cassette tape recorder off of the internet,” Tegan smiles. “Waited patiently for three days for it to arrive and was so excited. The tape was pretty warped, but we immediately started hunting down the first tape. We hadn’t kept it, our family hadn’t kept it, none of our friends had it. Through a friend of a friend I found the first tape.”
Now with all the high school songs, Tegan digitized the tunes and sent them along to her sister. “Sara didn’t listen to the songs for like two months,” Tegan adds, once again waiting of a device from the internet to advance them into this decade. “I was so thrilled as soon as I heard them. I thought that they sounded really amazing.”
WATCH MORE: Tegan and Sara Celebrate 'National Sisters Day'
Those original songs have been reworked for Hey, I’m Just Like You. Of the 12 tracks that appear on the album, the sisters pulled sections from 20 of their original high school recordings, keeping the original lyrics wherever they could. The first songs Tegan and Sara had written as artists return, armed with the experience and skills, 20 years after their debut album.