I don’t know how eating pizza together became the focal point of our 2014 CMJ experience, but pizza it was. And it seems to be a perfect universal connector for hungry bands on tour. TOPS and I spent some time together as Tumblr’s guests on Scott’s Pizza Tour which is the place to go for any passionate fan of ‘zza.
Guitarist David Carriere, lead singer Jane Penny, bassist Madeline Glowicki and drummer Riley Fleck were in the early days of a several week tour, full and happy. I’ve hung out with the Montreal musicians when they passed through Philly earlier this year, but carbo-loading all afternoon followed by a sit-down chat before their set at The Delancey in Manhattan worked well for solidifying our relationship.
We met up in the rooftop bar, and even though it was pouring rain while the water trickled in between the slats, we had the chance to have an ‘official’ interview. I turned on a tape deck - okay, I’m lying, it was my iPhone - to record some drips of our conversation which I’ve poorly transcribed here.
Let’s start with a bit of history: Jane and David have known each other since middle school, but didn’t hang out until she moved to Montreal after graduation from McGill University, where she met Riley. “The two of them just told me, ‘you are our friend, you’re down, so you should come play with our band.’” said Jane. “I sang the whole first record all out in one night.”
yvynyl: Had they heard you sing?
Jane: No! haha!
Jane laughs a lot. She’s got a deep, full bodied chuckle that comes out frequently and with flourish.
David: Riley and I were both playing music for a long time. We were in a series of bands back then - a math rock band once. I played in a hard core band. We were called The Girls Club, but it was really ‘no girls in the club’ and sounded like a Slayer scream, totally higher, but I lost my voice. It killed my voice.
Riley: I like dancing more than singing. I don’t sing,” adds Riley. “Dancing is like playing the drums when no drums are around. Legendary drummer Buddy Rich quit and started tap dancing instead, but eventually he went back to drumming.
yvynyl: What influenced your sound?
David: When we started the band, we had a concerted effort to make something opposing to something everyone else was making. We wanted to use the idea of restraint, but how we can let them speak for themselves without forcing anything into people’s face. People always want to put in their own ideas instead of channeling them.
Jane: I feel like if we invoke anything, it’s just that we want to show that we’re a ‘great band’. When people talk about Fleetwood Mack or Blondie it was about people coming together to make something ‘greater than themselves’. To be a band, and to be a proud of that, but not to be a generic ‘all male’ bands. It has an economic power, the visual aspect of it. There’s a tendency for ‘one person’ or a ‘group’ and it’s nice to have a ‘group’ having an individual’s power. It’s not pursued today enough.
Riley: It’s an interesting comparison to Fleetwood Mac, but David doesn’t sing like Lindsay Buckingham and Jane’s not really like Stevie Nicks.
Jane: I don’t think I’m a part of their ‘emotional’ category. I like music that’s playful. It’s nice that what we do is warm.
Just then Maddy pops into the conversation dripping wet having just pulled into NYC on the bus…
Riley: Have you ever heard “Travelin’” by the Jeremy Spencer Band? It’s like a country pop song by a former member of Fleetwood Mac. Before Stevie Nicks was on Fleetwood Mac, they were on tour, in LA or something, went to a psychic, but afterwards Jeremy disappeared and they couldn’t find him. Turns out he ditched the bands and joined the Children of God! His head was shaven and he was wearing a robe and everything and he’s been in the cult ever since. He still made good music!
David: Goes to show, being in a cult probably makes you a great musician!
Jane: Reminds me of The Source Family! There are a lot of great cult music bands!
David: I feel like a lot of great musicians are in cults. And of course the ultimate cult of all time, the Juggalos!
Jane: There’s that one band we cover now and then…
David: No, that’s not a cult. Agincourt. That which is a one-off play, not really a band. Check it out! The song “Get Together” is awesome.
yvynyl: Maddie, how are you connected to these guys?
Maddie: Me and Jane and David all met at Segal’s, the grocery where I worked. Riley used to come in and buy only 5 jars of peanut butter - were you just eating peanut butter?
Riley: No, I put it on bananas…
Maddy: So then I was drunk at a party and I was bragging to Jane about how I was jamming at my step-brother’s band, and then the truth came out that i didn’t play the bass in reality, so it was then and now that I’m continuing to learn the bass.
Jane: We had some part “Turn Your Love Around” so we’d have to teach her how we’d show the hardest melodic part to pick up. We need to make sure Maddie can play the hardest stuff, which we’d normally show to bassists, so if she can pick up this part, she can! And she did. She had a natural knack.
yvynyl: Where did you first play together?
Maddie: Our first show with me was a sold-out Longbar in Toronto opening up for King Krule. Super fun.
David: Our very first show ever as TOPS was in Halifax - super secluded literally the furthest you can drive to in North America. 14 hour drive. You have to take a feery from Boston. We played in a church with Doldrums on a round-robin set up, and audience would go from band to band. The church had four small stages in each corner.
Jane: That was in 2012?
Riley: That was in May 2011. I remember, because you guys came to pick me up the day after I graduated university.
At this point, our conversation started dwindling apart as more people came into the lovely, albeit wetter-by-the-minute rooftop space. The band had to get ready to start their set, ready for diving into a long week of performances, and digesting the rest of the pizza.