Interview: TOPS

June 17, 2015

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TOPS is a Montreal-based four-piece indie rock group that mixes a fuzzy 70s sound with soft indie pop. Singer Jane Penney’s voice is resonant of a 50s starlet, and guitarist David Carriere’s simple and subtle guitar lines add the perfect touch to the chilled-out tunes. The band is rounded out by drummer Riley Fleck and touring bassist Madeline Glowicki . The Cut sat down with Penney and Carriere before their set at Cattivo to chat about touring and recording their most recent album titled Picture You Staring.

The Cut: Where does the name TOPS come from?

Jane Penney: We wrote down a bunch of names, and a bunch of them were really, really bad. I remember that I once wanted to call the band “hula.”

TC: Like, hoop?

JP: Like hula hoop, yeah. I’m glad we didn’t call it that. I don’t know; TOPS is good because it doesn’t really mean anything. I like the idea that people would have to listen to the music to understand what’s going on with it, but it also sucks because you can’t search it online.

TC:  Your last album was totally self-produced. Can you walk me through your songwriting and recording process?

David Carriere: Yeah, so we wrote it and recorded it in the same place. Our label gave us a room to work in for as long as we wanted, so we didn’t really have to worry about time shit. It was wicked.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.06.47 AMJP: We could start recording stuff like as soon as we wrote it if we wanted to.

DC: We were able to record songs and then realize that they were kind of wack, and then make them better. I mean, we probably recorded quite a few songs over the course of a year before it was done. But yeah, usually Jane and I would write tunes and then Riley would show up and he would get the feel really good. The main thing was just working on everything so it feels kind of chill and like it’s not even happening. That was the goal.

JP: We like to play instruments but not be really showy about it. The skill is in the way that the songs come through. Not that we’re, like, constantly doing crazy solos or something.

TC: Are you going to do that for your next album? Same self-everything? Or try something new?

DC: Maybe. I don’t know what we’re doing yet. We’re going to start doing it, though, when we get off touring. We definitely want- We have songs that we’re playing live where it feels like nothing’s happening at all. Like, the most basic, repeating part forever. Trying to do something hypnotic or something. But we’ll see what happens when we start recording. Because we might be like, ‘This is so boring.’

TC: Do you write when you’re on the road?

DC: Today we were in some town in New York to have lunch and were in a secondhand store and I bought like a stack of like 12 burned CDs that all had the same handwriting on them. And they were all, like, circa 2004 and I definitely think it might have been a girl’s collection of her favorite songs.

JP: It was pretty girly.

DC: So we listened to a bunch of her music today.

JP: I’ll write stuff, but it’s rare for David and I to actually be in a room and have private time to work on things. There’s been a couple of times where we’re staying in somebody’s house and will be out on the porch singing songs that we have- that kind of thing. But it’s more about inspiration, I feel like.

DC: That or we’re going out partying all the time and we’ll write songs that way.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.06.31 AMJP: I feel like I’ve gained a lot more experiences touring as much as we have. Things that I’d never get insight on from Montreal. Like, it will help the lyrics definitely.

TC: So you spent a good part of February in Japan. Do you have a pretty big fan base there?

DC: It was pretty good. We played 14 shows in 13 cities, so we played Tokyo twice.

JP: Our show in Tokyo would be like when we were in New York. It was a major city kind of vibe.

DC: There were some kids that came to multiple shows on the train.

JP: Yeah, there’s this whole community of kids that play music in bands and stuff that were opening for us, and they have friends, so we ended up hanging out with a lot of people multiple nights. It’s actually really similar to the states where you have your Rhianna or Miley Cyrus’s, but they have their equivalent there. And then there’s a lot of kids who are like, ‘That’s not really my thing. I want to do something else.’ So they have that concept of an indie scene. They’re really passionate about doing that kind of thing, so that was really cool. I felt like we related a lot on that level.

TC: Does touring and playing live affect your music greatly?

DC: Yeah. Well, it makes it so you want to write songs that are more fun to play live. Because if you write songs that are just fun for you to play, it can really bore the hell out of people.

JP: It’s a balance.

DC: Yeah. I like what I like and I’ll do what I want, but I definitely enjoy when you see people respond to the way you do things.

JP: We also get to listen to a lot of music in the car. We get to listen to a lot of different recordings, and I like that.

TC: If you could describe the band in three words, what would it be?

DC: How about: ‘Wait, there’s more?’

JP: Maybe like, ‘chill new perspective’

TC: What’s coming up next?

DC: We’re playing around the states until the 18th. Then we’re going to Europe for a month and a half. We’re doing a bunch of shows in France, which is fun.

JP: And after that’s done we’re going to go back to Montreal and recording for a month, and then maybe go record somewhere else.


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