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Before they start recording new material, TOPS is playing here as part of their European tour. I interviewed the band’s front woman, Jane Penny.
Let’s start with a bit of history: when was the band formed and how did you meet one another?
“David is the guitar player, we met in middle school in Edmonton. We lost touch over high school, but when I moved to Montreal, David came as well. We were all playing in bands, hanging out and going to shows. Our drummer was around David doing the same thing and we decided to form the band four years ago. We wanted a single electronic production of recordings and Riley is a really good drummer so we asked him right away.”
How did Montreal influence your sound?
“The lifestyle of the city’s very good for making music; cheap to live and there are a lot of inspiring artists and around. I feel like our sound is more inspired by our taste. We make refined pop music, it’s definitely inspired by Sean Nicolas Savage. There are a lot of musicians in Montreal, but a lot of stuff is either very electronic or very ‘record to tape rock kind of music’. I guess we’re more in the middle.”
Our sound is pretty unique in terms of the whole context of Montreal, I guess there’s a poppy-ness we fit in with.
Was it easy to find your place between other bands and musicians there?
“Yeah, maybe we never sought to belong to a scene based on the sound. We pushed to do our own thing, but in Montreal people really allow you to do whatever you want and they’re very supportive of people that are trying to create something.”
How would you describe TOPS’ sound and how did it evolve over the four years you’ve been together as a band?
“It’s like Steely Dan meets Blondie. I’m really influenced by people that put themselves out there, especially girls and front women. We started out a little bit ‘jammy’, with longer arrangements. Our last record (Picture You Staring) is quite poppy and because we’ve been touring non-stop since September, I now feel like I’m starting to think a little bit different so it’s changing. Also, playing live influences the sound, like David playing more longer passages. The next record will be focused on a different style vocally and more instrumentation. Maybe a little bit darker, but still with a pop-thing.”
What was the best complement you received for Picture You Staring?
“To be honest, the best complement for me is talking to people who said it’s been a good companion to them. They listen to it when they have a hard time, when they’re very far away from home or something happened in their life, and they listen to it because it makes them feel better and the songs mean a lot to them. That means the most to me, as much as I appreciate when people think it’s a good record.”
Who would be your ideal opening act and why?
“It’s difficult to choose because I feel like I look up to them. But I really wanna play with Sean Nicholas Savage, because he’s a friend and it’s very inspiring to watch him. We’ll see if we can do that, but it’s difficult with schedules and things. And there’s a band called Our Girl, they’re new and I don’t think they have released any recordings. They’re from Brighton – it’s a girl that writes the songs, another girl on drums and a guy that plays bass. I think the singer’s voice is really beautiful and she also plays all the lead guitar lines, which makes the balance between her voice and the guitar really good.”
Your tour schedule looks exhausting, do you have any time to explore the cities you’re playing in?
“A little bit, you have to balance it though. I don’t really do touristy things as much as I’d like, to go see art galleries or something like that. But when we were booked to play some festivals that where in smaller areas we stayed in villages or near a lake. We walked around in a small town two hours from Berlin and stayed in this nice old place, it’s good to see nature and chill out like that. Most of the times we get a good sense of the vibe of the city though.”
I like to hijack those opportunities to showcase art that I really love.
You studied art history, does this contribute in any way to the visual side of the band?
“Definitely. I’m always thinking about how to undermine the commercial purpose of the visual component that music has, by the way it’s made to sell it. I’m really happy to have Jessica Dean Harrison do the paintings for our covers. Especially with reviews and criticism, it’s always a magazine or a website showing advertising space. Then somebody else is telling you their opinion and sometimes it seems like you’re just an unwilling participant in all this stuff and for me to showcase at least some art that I like is a way to capitalize on that.”
If you could organize a festival, what would be happening, where does it take place and who would be playing?
“It would definitely be outside in a remote location, starting around sunset or maybe even during the day or around dinner time. We’d have a slow progression focusing on rock and pop bands, slowly working towards more heavy electronic music and it would go on all night. We did do something like this in Montreal, but it was illegal. It was very funny, everyone was on drugs and then we realized that at a festival there are all these people making sure everyone is fine and then we thought: oh man this is a big job….”
You’re playing in OT301 on Wednesday, what can the audience expect? Any teasers you can give away?
“We have some new songs, some old songs. Hopefully everyone can dance and have a great time!”
TOPS + Moon King at OT301
When: June 3, doors open 20:30
Where: OT301, Overtoom 301
Tickets: €8,- & free for Subbacultcha members
More info: Facebook event
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