The first time I saw a picture of TOPS, I thought, “what a cute grungy band”. It was of course, before taking the time to listen to their songs and realise how wrong I was. The only thing cute about this formation might be the soft voice of their lead singer, and that’s pretty much it.

The members consist of Jane Penny on vocals, David Carriere on guitar, Riley Fleck playing drums and newcomer Madeline Glowicki on bass. Their music has a strong punk vibe and a raw aspect that takes you on a journey through fine pop melodies. On their last tour in Montreal, they performed for a crowd ready to dance like never before to the bands extraterrestrial sounds. A few minutes after the show, Oumayma sneaked backstage to snap some pictures that capture the band’s true spirit. The ambiance was very relaxed, with some of TOPS’ friends already there. Later that week, I had a chance to ask Jane Penny some questions and learn about what might be the most fascinating band we’ve had in Montreal.

tops_oumayma_2

“I met David in middle school, he was already making music back then. I met Riley at McGill, we both volunteerd at this free lunch thing called midnight kitchen. I had been singing and playing flute and keyboards in some other bands but I didn’t start writing music until we started the band. At that time there were a lot of musicians living in Montreal that were very inspiring to me – Sean Nicholas Savage and the White Brothers who play in Tonstartssbandht – they’re all very fearless towards making music. I realized that I want to make music and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Why the name TOPS?

“We all agreed on it. I like that there are four letters and four instruments, four members. It’s timeless, powerful and simple and it doesn’t have to mean anything.”

While I was listening to their album Picture You Staring for the first time, I was immediately attracted to the song “Outside”. It sounds like an 80’s ballad that would have been a perfect fit for the soundtrack of Drive. With haunting lyrics like, Thoughts of you/Running through my mind/Open door but it doesn’t feel right/You look at me as if you know what it’s like/In the shadows of the streetlight, I was curious to learn more about the band’s songwriting process.

“David and I write the songs wherever and then eventually bring them to Riley. We figure out the arrangement at night, then we record Riley playing drums and David and I make the recording on top of that.”

Is it sometimes hard to work in a collective effort to create an album when you all might have different creative opinions?

“We definitely all have different taste in music, but it all seems to work when we make music. I think we try to make the parts so they are better together rather than on their own.”

What was the inspiration for your new record Picture You Staring?

Our lives 🙂

What is your favourite live performance so far?

“I’ve played literally hundreds of shows at this point, it would be like having one day that’s the ‘best day of your life’ and I don’t really look at life that way. The Montreal show, which is where you took the pictures, was really nice because a lot of our friends were there and it felt good to be home.”

With Montreal being such a great source of creativity for local bands, it’s safe to say they ended up influencing each other. After all, TOPS belongs to the same record label – Arbutus Record- that launched the career of Grimes back in 2010. When she was asked her about her main musical influences, the answer is pretty straight forward.

“I try not to limit the things that inspire me to a list but I get asked this a lot. I think there are great artists, like Joni Mitchell or Lou Reed, and then there’s great music which doesn’t require an ego necessarily. There are also visual things that I see or ideas that I find appealing. I aspire to have an oeuvre that people understand as a whole later on, and to empower myself in the process.”

tops_oumayma_3

How much of a musician’s identity do you think is linked to visual things like music videos and fashion?

“The net has made everything we understand visual first, it’s a pictorial reference for a new reality. I don’t think that music benefits from this, people should listen to the music to decide if they like it. Often a refined visual sense just means that there’s a lot of money behind the artist and that doesn’t have anything to do with how good the music is. I like making videos and posters for our tours, but I prefer to think of the visual side as art more than fashion. As for my style, I like looking good but it’s always inexpensive, and depends on how I feel in my body on a certain day. Often it’s a mix of elegance and scum bag, haha…the night that you took those pictures I was going for a run lola run/lee lo kinda vibe.”

In the coming months, TOPS will be on the road to perform in the US and across Europe before coming back to Toronto in June. You can buy your tickets here.

tops_oumayma_4

All the pictures are the work of Oumayma B. Tanfous, a based Montreal photographer. Through her unique vision, she delivers intimist portrait of musical artists for Dress To Kill. You can explore her work here.

Comments