Tegan Quin’s Dog Is Behind Some of Her Deepest Feelings in Her New Music
The songwriter has her pup, Georgia, to thank for her new depths of vulnerability on Crybaby, Tegan and Sara’s new album.
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“I Can’t Grow Up” is, tellingly, the track that opens Tegan and Sara Quin’s latest (and tenth) album Crybaby, which one reviewer anointed as the “unwavering account of unsteady emotional times.” To be fair, the Canadian twins are all right, but it took them navigating a pandemic’s worth of feelings to get there. For Tegan Quin, the older half (by eight minutes) of this indie-pop twin-duo, this included the emotional agony-and-ecstasy of adopting her Border Collie / German Shepherd rescue, Georgia, as a puppy. For her, it marked the trepidatious start of a new life’s chapter.
“I wouldn’t give her up for anything in the world now,” Quin says. “But I’m also kind of a grim reaper when l see friends online saying, ‘I’m gonna get a puppy. I like, call, them and am like, “Don’t do it! Get an adult dog. Think hard about it!” We spoke with the expert multitasker — Quin has also produced the Amazon Studios TV series High School, a queer, coming-of-age show, and is about to embark on a tour promoting Crybaby — about surrendering to responsibility, embarking on pet-parent therapy, and putting it all out there for the world to judge.
I’m guessing you didn’t know what you were getting into when you adopted a puppy.
She was so small and didn’t make a noise. We were like, “I guess this is our dog now.” And I was like, “I can’t believe we’re getting a puppy. This is the dumbest thing we’ve ever done.” I spent every single day training her with my partner because Georgia’s definitely a double-working dog. She’s very sweet. But she is hyped! Like, she is a 12. She is always, always, always herding. We kept getting told by everybody, “You know, Border Collies are really intense dogs and probably not great for a first-time dog.” I can see why we got warned because it’s a lot. I will say we definitely, as a family, went to counseling to talk about the fact that we now had a third in our relationship.
Like, actual therapy?
Yes, we had to go because my partner wanted the dog so badly, and I didn’t want a dog. When we got the dog, two things happened: I never wanted to complain about the dog because I didn’t want my partner to feel bad, and my partner never complained about the dog because she didn’t want me to go, “See? I told you we shouldn’t have gotten a dog!”
So, we were super-stressed out and keeping it from each other. Finally, we were like, “We need to go talk to someone.” And it’s so funny because within like 30 minutes, I’m not even talking about the dog anymore. It was more about the fact that we avoid conflict with one another. But the dog, it is like inviting another person into your relationship. Your whole dynamic changes. All of a sudden, all this autonomy and independence and freedom I had was gone.
Is that why you didn’t initially want a dog?
Oh my god, I’m such an independent person. I’m such a free spirit! I also feel tremendous guilt about my touring schedule. And so I was like, “I don’t want to load up my partner with that responsibility.”
What does Georgia’s day look like?
My partner and I walk her a lot, but it’s very, very structured. Like, she gets to sniff for maybe half the walk, and then the other half she’s in a tight heel. We do lots of training, like, [we] put her on a bench and walk away and really test that part of her brain. By the end, her tongue is hanging out of her mouth.
We taught her the name of probably a dozen toys, and we hide them all over the house. She has to search for them and bring them to us and put them away. We live on the ocean, so we put her in swimming lessons. And she’s big on retrieval and ball games. She just loves to work. If we don’t tell her to do something, she just stares at us like, “Mom, tell me what to do!”
How do you chill with her?
I get up every morning at 5:30 a.m. and go downstairs and let her out of the crate. She runs up two flights of stairs and crawls into bed with me and my partner. She’s a total cuddle-bug. She has her late-night snack, you know, after dinner, and a walk. Then she gets to come and sit up on the couch with us. But she loves her crate. She runs to her crate when it’s time to go in, but there’s always this moment at the end of the night where she looks at us from the couch and puts her ears down like she doesn’t want us to leave. It’s super sweet. She gets a lot of treats. She’s very spoiled. She gets to go to the ocean every single day. We do a lot of off-leash with her. She’s a very happy dog. Maybe manically happy.
Your latest album is Crybaby, which navigates what you and your sister were grappling with during the early days of COVID. I’m hoping the next album will be a total upper, like life through the lens of a dog.
You know what’s funny is that this was probably one of the more upbeat-sounding albums we’ve ever made. I think that juxtaposition with really intense themes is sort of what makes pop music so special. I do love, like, the prospect of funneling the love and experiences that I’ve had [with] Georgia into other projects. I definitely have a couple projects that I’m working on right now that are related to dog ownership and what’s happened to my life because of Georgia. I do think it’s been a well of inspiration for sure.
Could you tell me a little bit about those projects?
Well, obviously we [Quin and her twin, Sara] write a lot these days. And we owe a book currently. It’s a book about twins — more of a science-y, research-y book.
And you’ve got High School, the streaming series out now, which is based on an autobiography you and your sister wrote.
When we came off the road in 2018, we pitched our book agent this idea of writing a memoir about our high school years because that was sort of the origin of our band. That’s when we started to play music, and it’s also when we figured out we were gay. It’s a time of our life that wasn’t well documented in the public. When we pitched it to a publisher, there were just so few books and TV shows about queer women, especially queer women who make music.
When we do see that represented, it’s often really rounded-off and sort of neutered, if you will. We wanted a more raw exploration. We developed the TV show with our friend Clea DuVall, who’s an actor, writer, and director. It’s clearly a show about the ’90s and about us, yet it feels extremely universal.
Does Georgia behave when you’re writing and recording music at home?
I have an office that I work out of in the backyard, and she came to work with me three days a week when I was writing Crybaby. It took a lot of work to get her to calm down when I would play guitar. At first, she would come running over very distressed. I mean, crying and singing are so close together in terms of emotion. She would look very concerned, come between me and the guitar, and put her paws up on my lap. She’s definitely made it into every single one of my demos. She would disturb my recording frequently. One time, she tried to jump through a window when a bird flew by. This is all when she was a puppy. She’s more chill now.
Have you written songs about her?
Yes, actually! When we were writing Crybaby, Sara was writing about her partner trying to have a baby and their big life changes and all these big questions. Her side of the record was getting real, real deep. So, a few of my songs that I wrote, she was like, “You know, look, I like these. The melodies are strong, but I just feel like you’re not really digging deep. Why don’t you write about Georgia? You talk about her all the time and how it’s affected your relationship and your life.”
All these things funnel into music. You know, for me, the album’s title is about the fact that I’m extremely vulnerable and vocal about how hard sometimes things can be and how tough this time has been. So yeah, I think Georgia has definitely made her way into it. There was a song I did write about Georgia, but it didn’t make the record. It was called “I Didn’t Know What I Was Missing.” The song is tough; it’s also it is about that loss of independence. You know, you think you want something. Then you get it and are like, “Did I want this?”
You and your sister do a lot to give back to the LGBTQ+ community. Why is it so important to have a little creature around for unconditional love while you do that work?
There’s so much to be said for that kind of love. There is something about the way that our dog loves us and is attached to us. It’s really amazing. It’s funny, because I recently read the book And a Dog Called Fig. It’s so beautiful. Helen Humphreys is the author, and it’s about her experience owning dogs. It talks so much about the connection you have with your pet, especially when you’re a writer and you're isolated. I think that’s been one of the more beautiful things about having a dog: As much as I would like to be consumed with my own problems, a lot of the time I’m like, “Just, there’s no time.”
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Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.