photos / Kristy Benjamin
story / Koko Ntuen
TOPS took the indie music world by surprise when they released their 2012 debut album, Tender Opposites. The record became a sleeper hit and made them stand-out stars on their label, Arbutus. Their follow up album, 2014’s Picture You Staring, solidified their shoe-gazey, enchanting melodies on record players and festivals everywhere. Through it all Jane Penny, the band’s lead vocalist, has made her unique lullaby-like voice resonate to the masses,with engaging tunes that have left us pressing repeat, repeat, repeat. We get to know the indie songstress a little more.
Were you aspiring to be in a band when you were younger?
I was really into music when I was younger but being in a band didn’t feel like an option to me at that time. Maybe if I had a friend with a basement where we could be loud it would’ve been different. David, who plays guitar in TOPS, was making beats when he was like, twelve and played in bands in high school, and Riley, our drummer, got into it pretty early too.
When did you first feel like you could record and play music in front of people?
David was making songs with a friend of ours, Sean Nicholas Savage, and they recruited me to sing the songs that they wrote for “girls.” They knew I had no experience singing but they also knew I was really into music and understood the basics, plus David’s always been partial to weird, unique voices.
What has the experience been since releasing your debut?
I’m super grateful for everyone that’s responded to the music. We started touring before we really had an audience, just to take any opportunity to play shows and go to different places, so we’d like, drive all over the country playing DIY shows. At that point it was pretty challenging, but it was so fun and exciting that we were all down. Since then we’ve gotten to a point where we have our own shows and people come out. It’s such a rewarding thing. Otherwise we’re just doing the same thing basically — playing together a lot, making recordings and videos ourselves.
What do you normally think about when performing “Way To Be Loved”?
I try to deliver the lyrics in a sincere way, as if it’s something I’m telling a friend, so most of my concentration is on that. Usually we play that song later in the set and people are dancing and celebrating by then, so I’m often a little emotional at that point. I’m just super happy that we can all have a good time together.
How do you stay sane while touring?
I get my introverted time in the van usually. Sleep masks and earplugs are pretty important, [as are] headphones and a notebook.
What do you love most about your life now?
Right now we have a garage that we’re jamming in, plus another studio room in the house for recording. We have a piano and we found an organ for free on craigslist last week. That’s pretty much a dream come true for me. It’s like living in a recording studio.