By Rachel Narvey
Jane Penny, keyboardist and vocalist of TOPS, joins me over the phone from Montreal. She lets me know that guitarist David Carriere will be joining us for the interview. He begins to talk about what they’ve been up to since they got home, recording their newest album at Arbutus studios, but he trails off with a laugh. “Jane,” he says. “You’re doing it better.”TOPS is one of those rare bands that combines the finesse of a polished aesthetic with the off kilter experimental fun of a DIY project. This balance is perfectly encapsulated in the video for their track, “Anything,” which features Penny coolly crooning to the camera through a grainy, nighttime atmosphere. Spliced throughout is footage of a burning mannequin, abandoned on the ground or standing upright in a trash can.
“One of my first bands I ever played in,” Penny says, “we had a window display at a record store called Phonopolis in Montreal, and I borrowed it from a girl then. When I tried to return it she told me not to because she found it terrifying. It stayed in the back of my apartment for years, so we thought, you know, let’s just burn this thing. It actually exploded! I didn’t realize that gasoline, when it pools, it explodes. I was standing in front of it, just lip-syncing, and then it went up! We had a fire extinguisher,” she laughs. “It wasn’t the best idea, but it looks good.”
For TOPS’ sophomore album, Picture You Staring, the band chose cover art created by LA artist Jessica Dean Harrison. Penny plans to feature another artist for their upcoming album as well.
“I have a pretty strong sense of what kind of aesthetics appeal to me,” she says. “I feel that stuff like that kind of transcends the boundaries between music and art. For me, taking an approach to the visual aspect of music keeps it more in the realm of art than promotion. It’s easier to be enthusiastic and get into it in a way that I feel like it wasn’t just about getting a sexy pic, you know?”
In November of last year, Penny made a “Capricorn Females” playlist and shared it to Facebook. While Penny admits that she’s a bit of a different Capricorn, having a Gemini Moon and Gemini rising, she connects to these women who project both a strength and a sensitivity.
“I’ve gotten really into astrology recently,” Penny says. “I’ve been doing my friends natal charts. I think it’s an interesting way of understanding people… When I started looking into fellow Capricorn women, I started realizing that there were a couple people that I really felt like I resonated with what they were doing personally. It felt like a good way of being inspired by them and maybe feeling like there’s some kind of cosmic kinship with Patti Smith or something.”
For Penny, that same like-mindedness could be said of her bandmates.
“We’re all independently musicians, but for us all to work together, it’s kind of like an acknowledgement that the sum is better than the parts.”
Catch TOPS at Real Love Summer Fest from June 24 – 26 in Gimli, Manitoba.