It’s common for thirtysomethings to reminisce about high school -- by flipping through yearbooks, maybe, or looking up old friends. Indie pop stalwarts Tegan and Sara have gone many steps further: they’ve written a memoir about their teen years and recorded an album of songs they wrote during that period.
Their book “High School,” and its companion record, “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” are both revealing about their creators and touchingly familiar to those who struggled through -- and fondly recall -- adolescence. The duo plays a sold-out show at the Wilbur Theatre Friday.
Tegan and Sara Quin, 39, are twins who grew up in Calgary. Their memoir, which alternates between chapters written by each sister, details adolescences filled with love, tough relationships, and an increasing awareness of sexual identity (both sisters are gay).
In a phone interview, Tegan says that the idea to write a memoir came from suggestions to write about their early career.
“Technically, the early part of our career started in high school,” she says. “That’s when we figured out how to play music, that’s when we started our band, that’s when we got signed, that’s when we got our first taste of music. But it’s also when we came out, and we tell stories about taking acid, and our friends, and the rave scene, and how we were punk rockers.”
The memoir begins at their birth in 1980 and ends when the sisters are 18, as their debut CD arrives in a cardboard box on their mom’s doorstep. It is strikingly detailed about the joy and stress of adolescence, and each moment of bonding and conflict -- between Tegan and Sara, with their mom’s long-term boyfriend, with friends and girlfriends -- is vividly told.
Reaching this point, says Tegan, was the result of painstaking research and recollection. Both sisters found that revisiting their teenage years through diaries, notes, and video footage was revelatory.
“I was surprised to watch the video footage of us as teenagers,” says Sara, reached via email. “There was an intimacy, a physical closeness, and a goofy slapstick that as adults we still have. In the recordings I could see where our storytelling and performing originated.”
The book includes a transcript and description of an interview the sisters did with friends for a school project about homosexuality. Tegan says she was shocked by her simultaneous candor and self-protection.
“It’s so crazy, I’m talking [in the video] about sexuality and homosexuality as if I don’t know that I’m gay,” she says. “I think it’s equal parts being a confused adolescent who’s just really pressured by their social circle, just pure adolescent peer pressure -- which is weird too, because that pressure was somewhat self-imposed. I think it’s also that era, because there was no language around identity yet. There was very little representation, especially in our age group.”
Ideas about identity and self-awareness also come up on “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” the pair’s new album that reworks some of the earliest songs in the duo’s musical lives. These too were the result of digging up the past -- in this case, cassette tapes -- and both Quins say that they were pleasantly surprised about what they heard.
“I just remember thinking,” says Tegan, “that [the songs] were going to be so bad, because my memory of that time had been clouded with 20 years of narrative -- nobody writes anything worthwhile when they’re that age. Part of that narrative was ours, some of it was society and music journalists. [But] almost immediately, I was like, this is proof that there was a reason. That’s why we got signed. That’s why people were so excited. That is why overnight we went from nothing to something.” (Sara agrees, calling the recordings “joyful, raw, and more coherent than I’d remembered. The melodies were impressive, immediate . . . We sounded brave.”)
Updating the songs for 2019 required new recordings but very little rewriting. To help them, Tegan and Sara enlisted Alex Hope, a 25-year-old producer and songwriter.
“Part of the reason we wanted her involved is that she’s such an incredible writer, and we were going to need to do a lot of writing,” says Tegan, adding that due to the songs’ surprising quality, the writing wasn’t as important as getting input from an outside source. The fact that she’s a young woman, says Tegan, meant that she was “someone who could emotionally get what we were going through.”
Hope says that the decision to come aboard was easy.
“I think they’re incredible songwriters and humans,” she says. “I also thought the concept for this record was genius. I just love how unfiltered teenagers are. The songs they had were so solid, so I really wanted to keep as much of the original material in as we could, and I think we achieved that."
That unique blend of versatility and nostalgia makes the album a perfect companion to the memoir, which is itself firmly planted in both the ’90s and 2019, in adolescence and adulthood.
“I thought that as adults,” says Tegan, “we learned how to sing in harmony, that as adults we learned to weave different vocal melodies through each other’s songs, how to write lyrics that cut straight to the truth, that were beautiful but also really truthful. We were doing it then. I thought we started doing it now.”