Tegan and Sara loved their visit to Maitland in 2010.
In fact, the Canadian pop twins had such a great time that they signed up for Groovin The Moo again this year.
“Oh my god, we had such a blast, we really enjoyed it,” co-songwriter and co-vocalist Sara Quin says.
“I’d hate to say [Groovin The Moo] is our favourite, because I don’t want to insult any of the many, many other [Australian] festivals we’ve played.
“But I think it was one of my favourite festivals.
“It’s partly geographical – we played in places where even though people didn’t necessarily know who we were, they treated us like we were a band they were very familiar with.
“There was just a general enthusiasm for music.
“They made us feel like rock stars and we really enjoyed the festival a lot.”
Between their own headline shows, festival appearances, previous Groovin The Moo slots and support tours,
Tegan and Sara Quin have seen more of Australia than most Australians.
And they’re no strangers to the sights of the Hunter.
Before their 2010 Groovin appearances, the duo were here to play the Bar on the Hill as the opening act for Little Birdy.
“There’s someone in our band right now that is from Australia, and he finds it totally hilarious that we have seen more of Australia than most Australians will ever see,” Sara says.
“I feel like we’ve played everywhere you can play in Australia!”
When they return to Maitland Tegan and Sara will perform songs from their seventh record, Heartthrob.
The album contains the sweetly synchronised harmonies that have endeared them to fans around the globe.
But their indie-rock guitar sound has been replaced with buzzing synths, reminiscent of ‘80s pop groups.
For the 32-year-old sisters from Calgary, the change of direction reignited their creative fire.
“Artistically, I feel like we’d grown,” Sara says.
“What was influencing us in the mid and early-2000s was very much indie rock bands and what was happening in the left-of-centre music genres.
“Even though we weren’t necessarily emulating those bands, we were inspired by that scene and that world.
“As you get older there’s an expansion on what interests you and the way you filter those inspirations into your music.
“I just don’t think anybody needed another obvious record from us.
“Especially with our last three records [So Jealous, The Con and Sainthood], we’ve managed to do something really great.
“I think we’re great songwriters – but I kept asking myself ‘Do we need Sainthood Part Two or The Con 2.0?
“I think it would have been the safe bet.
“There was certainly a risk involved, but on the other hand making a record that everyone expected from us would have been a risk too.
“We feel [Heartthrob] falls in the trajectory of our natural progression.”
Before Heartthrob, the Quin sisters had mostly written individually.
Among Sara’s songs are their hits Walking With The Ghost and Back in Your Head.
But their new synth-laden direction called for a new approach, and the two collaborated more extensively on each track.
“I was still very stubborn and content in my insular, solitary writing world,” Sara admits.
“It was really Tegan who started opening up herself more to this idea that I could weigh in on [her] songs when they were in their development.
“She let me have a crack at a couple of bridges and she was really open to her choruses, including additional ideas.”
Tegan made suggestions on Sara’s tracks, which opened up a dialogue on each of their songs.
“Tegan was much more willing to say, ‘I think [your] song is really fantastic and everybody’s really liking it, but what if we take another couple of attempts at writing choruses that are even poppier?’” she says.
“That allowed a creative dynamic between us that maybe we haven’t had in the past.
“It yielded great results – Closer ended up where it was because of some of that collaboration we were doing in the studio.
“In I Couldn’t Be Your Friend we re-opened that chorus and decided we could do better.
“It was really fun for us.”
Even though their approach to songwriting varies, the sisters’ symbiotic partnership garners endless pop anthems.
They have worked out the secret to consistency and longevity.
“Part of being in the band is the compromise of aesthetic and interests and influence,” Sara says.
“For me, I stray further left and Tegan is more interested in conventional [songwriting] – and I don’t mean that word in a negative way, I think she just has a more straightforward approach.
“There are times when I’ve wanted to go down the rabbit hole of being weird – following the whims of my idiosyncrasies – and Tegan tends to pull me back in.
“With Tegan I tend to take some of her more straightforward music and say ‘is there space in here for something quirky or unexpected?’
“In the early stages [of an album] our natural abilities tend to have the songs quite far apart and by the time we have a finished record we’ve steered ourselves closer to the middle.”
As the title suggests, Heartthrob has themes of lust, heartbreak and romance.
The sisters convey their emotions in a more mature and direct way than previous work, but Sara admits that she’s not always comfortable with the words she writes.
“I’m so humiliated by some of the things that I wrote when I was younger,” the songwriter says.
“I try not to beat up on myself because I know that that music was so significant for so many people and I don’t think it’s fair to be reductive about your earlier work to make your ego feel better.
“But because of that embarrassment I tended to spend a lot of time purposefully being more artful and creative and clever about what I was saying.
“What I realised with [Heartthrob] was that if I was really going to write a pop record then I needed to start writing like a pop lyricist.
“What I take away from most pop lyricists is that they say the things that if you just wrote down on a piece of paper they would make you cringe.
“Sometimes the most amazing moments in music, where a whole room of people who are so totally different from each other can really connect, is where you say the most simple thing.
“I really tried hard with this record to not let the snobby part of me, who is embarrassed by my emotions, lead.
“Even as I was writing the lyrics down, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I hate what I’m saying.’
“But we’ve been performing these new songs and some of the stuff that made me cringe is the stuff I feel deeply connected to when we’re playing it in front of people.
“Because it’s so emotional and so raw – you can’t hide behind poetry.
“On How Come You Don’t Want Me, when I was writing the lyrics I was like, ‘These are humiliating, this is so embarrassing – they’re so childish and insecure.’
“But every night when I sing that song I feel so on the edge
of truly having a complete breakdown.
“It’s so bare – I really do feel connected to it.”
Tegan and Sara perform at Groovin The Moo on Saturday, April 27 at Maitland Showgrounds.
Alive has five copies of their record Heartthrob to giveaway.
For your chance to win simply fill in the coupon in today's Maitland Mercury and return it to the Mercury’s office by noon next Wednesday.