I was watching your old videos, and I kind of get this 90’s VHS, documentary-type vibe from them. And your new video for “Petals” seems kind of different. What specific references are you inspired by? Any certain decades?
I’ve always thought that making film was really fun, but we're not always trying to reference to a decade as much as within the budget that we have. We did so much VHS before, and there's something very freeing about making a video on VHS. You can film anything you want. We bought an old GB camera for our “Change of Heart” video and just filmed while on tour, which is nice because we could just shoot hours of footage. But then, for the “Petals” video, we got the opportunity to use two hours of 35mm film that my friend Evan Prosofsky, who is a film advocate, collected from somebody else's garage, which is what he's done for years.
So we were able to use that. For filming a video in California, I was really inspired by the California beach, 70s vibe. A lot of the lifestyle and general aesthetic of living there kind of presents this nice faded quality. I really love this film called 3 Women by Robert Altman, so that helped form the idea. And I just like the idea that the house we shot it in was the house that we recorded the album and lived in for a year. It was kind of surreal. We would have parties and stuff, but aside from that, I felt like the house had this fantasy quality to it and so making a video there to document it but also uncover this whole other world that exists there really interested me.
Was utilizing the celebrity impersonators connected to the meaning of the song in any way, or was it just more about the LA vibe? It's very Hollywood Boulevard.
Well, the idea actually came up as a joke. We were actually talking about having five Michael Jacksons, but eventually decided not to. But it was just an interesting visual that was in my head. The song is definitely about being in LA and the perspective that people have and what people are trying to do. There’s a line in the song about somebody that's trying to become a star, and I feel like the celebrity impersonators as a concept only really make sense in LA. It’s kind of a part of this whole fame machine thing, so it’s of cool to play with that. But ultimately, the song is just about enjoying life and pleasure, so the concept also worked well for that. It’s just really fun and light.
I get the vibe of this early 2000s, kind of Anna Nicole Smith-inspired idea. Is there anything that you miss from the early 2000s?
Well, it's hard to miss the early 2000s for me because that's when I was a young teen. I felt very confronted by pop culture, but I never felt that comfortable with it. I guess that was sort of the like Paris Hilton reality TV, The OC-esque beginning of the end.
The Hills, yeah.
I feel like I was definitely aware, though. I engaged in that culture a lot being that I was 13 or whatever, but it’s hard to get nostalgic. I do still really like shoes from that era—the chunky platforms and the oversized white sneakers are interesting. I don't even think I really wore those when I was that age, but...
But now it's coming back.
Yeah, I do like that. The sort of party girl that used to rampage is a funny thing to think about. But yeah, I guess that's what I think about when I think back to the early 2000s. I was kind of a little bit scared of it all.
I do miss that. How is your new album Sugar At The Gate different from your previous releases? Inspirations behind it?
With this album, the biggest departure for us was just touring so much. We played around 100 shows in 2015. The second record has like a vintage studio pop thing, and it was made when we were still in Montreal, pretty isolated in terms of the little community that we were in. It was kind of soft. I don't know if it was really reaching that far beyond TOPS, whereas I feel like with this new record, we really knew what we wanted to do as a live band and also were really excited to get back into more production work to kind of challenge the idea of what TOPS' sound is, because I felt like it was time to push it in a new direction.
I feel like we've actually created something that is a good expansion on the TOPS sound, but also on the previous album, we had a sort of creative leaning towards this soft textural sound with rock elements like drums and guitars, whereas with this album, I feel like there are moments that are really synth-oriented. It’s totally about that mood.
I feel like now more than ever in music, aesthetic is increasingly important. I recently saw that Petra Collins is doing all the visuals for Selena Gomez's new stuff, which was super funny to me. Is it sometimes difficult to stick with an aesthetic? What do you think about the importance of this in general?
I've always had a pretty strong sense of my own style. I love to look unique, but I also don't usually dress up a lot for attention. When I wear clothes it's about myself and not about a sort of fantasy. I'm not sure that I'm the most experimental person in terms of style, but I think that I've always been very true to who I am and I think that people generally view TOPS as artists who express themselves creatively. I think people respond to that.
I do think that there's a lot of pop culture crossover happening. I mean, this speaks more to mainstream culture's inability to create something new, which is why they are reaching out to the cultural icons being created by audiences that are interested in what they're actually doing. For me, I've always kind of felt myself to be more of an artist than specifically a musician.
If you were to describe your new album in three words, what would they be?
Melancholic. Strength. Atmosphere.
Sugar at the Gate is out now via Arbutus Records.