Interview TOPS: ‘We Wanted To Play Something That Was Direct And To The Point’

One of Canada’s most intriguing exports speak to Tom Walters in the midst of their recent UK tour.


wasn’t kidding when she described TOPS as “a bunch of weirdos,” and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Usually when I speak to most bands, they’ve just parked up their tour van and are bringing a flurry of instruments with them into the venue – either late or really, really late – with just about enough time to do a quick soundcheck. But TOPS aren’t most bands.

They turn up to the venue in Portsmouth six hours before they’re due on stage – guitars in hand – having jumped straight off another Megabus (the service has been chauffeuring them around the country) and head upstairs to the backstage area in order to plug their Macbooks in and munch on some Wine Gums. “They’re just not the same in Canada as they are here,” lead singer Jane Penny tells me as she offers me one of Maynards finest.

The night before they played in Brighton with Mac Demarco - who they’ve been following on tour during their time in the country - before staying at a Russian friend’s house, and the whole experience – perhaps just touring in general - has left them pretty dazed and confused. “Have you ever been offered a morning beer?” bassist Thom Gillies asks me. “We had our first this morning. Wow.”

This Canadian foursome have been touring North America and Europe solidly since early September whilst riding on the back of their recently-released (in the UK at least) debut record ‘Tender Opposites’. The album itself is a shimmering ode to the 70s and 80s with clear Fleetwood Mac sensibilities. Or at least that’s what it appears to be on the surface.

‘We wanted to make a band that was gonna be more fun to play in.’
“We were all rehearsing in the same spots and wanted to rock out,” Thom says when asked how TOPS came together. “The three of us – Tom, Jane and I played in a band that just fucked around a lot and it just collapsed. So we wanted to make a band that was gonna be more fun to play in,” explains David Carriere, the band’s guitarist. “I think that the main thing that made the record and that brought us all to play together was that a lot of music of late sounds kinda phoney and you can’t really hear any of it; it’s all super effected and weird. We wanted to play something that was direct and to the point; that was good for the purpose of being good and not good for being cool or an image thing.”

I point out the countless number of John Hughes and rat-pack soundtrack comparisons that have been made of the band on the Internet, and they unanimously laugh it off. “I think it would be weird if you didn’t like music from the 70s and 80s, just like it would be weird if you didn’t like new music,” Thom says. But David has a different opinion. “I think what happens all the time is that when they see a band that isn’t using like a sampler, or – something that isn’t just drums, guitar and keyboard – they’re like “Wait! That’s what they did in the 80s! This sounds like it was made in the 80s!” when really, it doesn’t.” It’s Jane who has the most concise statement for their writing process though. “We just go into a room and play the instruments, it’s live,” she says.

As Jane’s the frontman, I ask her how she found the Brighton crowd the night previously. “Everybody’s really attentive. In Montreal, if people aren’t into it, they’re just like “fuck off” and start drinking and not talking. Whilst people here aren’t that crazy and it’s hard to get them moving sometimes, but everyone’s really engaged. It’s the same old story that most of us here are already far too familiar with, but I ask the band if they’ve felt that way with all the shows over here anyway. “Yeah, across the whole of the UK,” Jane adds. “People are just so much more aware of culture over here.” “And Paris too,” interjects Riley Fleck, the band’s drummer.

They’re seemingly amazed at how much actually happens in the UK in terms of DIY culture and the amount of bands that are currently playing here in comparison to back home in Canada. To me, I found this astonishing – this is a band that are signed to Arbutus Records, one of Canada’s most prolific record labels this year as well as the home to Grimes, Sean Nicholas Savage, Doldrums, Majical Cloudz and more. “We sort of knew everybody there before we even started the band, and the guy who runs it Sebastian told us that he would back us right from the start so we didn’t have to do any of the ‘make a record and send it in the mail to someone we don’t know’,” said David Carriere, the band’s guitarist. “It was pretty cool, we know almost every single person on a label and hang out with them quite a bit.” “It’s based on a network of friends, which is nice,” Jane adds.

The record itself is a mix of slow jams and catchy pop hooks, and I was intrigued to how such a flurry of moods made its way onto record. “’Diamond Look’ and ‘Turn Your Love Around’ are the first songs we wrote together, and they’re the most upbeat ones,” David says. “Everything we wrote since then has been slower and sadder.”

“I broke up with my girlfriend and got fucking depressed,” Thom sighs. Everyone bursts into laughter, although it’s clearly something that has seeped through into the group’s music. “He has a new girlfriend now and our newer songs since then are happier,” Riley reassures me. “Actually we have started doing more upbeat songs,” Jane says. She even throws out a working title for a new one, ‘Feeling A Little Better Today’. If there’s one thing I came away from this conversation with, it’s that despite having toured half of the world over the past couple of months and having to endure the Megabus service for the entire duration of their visit to the UK, TOPS remain in great spirits. They’re hilarious.

TOPS’ new album ‘Tender Opposites’ is out now via Arbutus Records.

Tags: Tops, Features

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