How TOPS Are Coping with Isolation: 'Star Trek,' Spy Movies and Eating Like Kids

"Whatever it is I have to do to stay sane and stay home is the right thing for me to do"
How TOPS Are Coping with Isolation: 'Star Trek,' Spy Movies and Eating Like Kids
Montreal quartet TOPS may have had to cut their European tour short due to the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, but they're still set to release their fourth album, I Feel Alive, on April 3 via their own Musique TOPS label. As members remain in quarantine, we spoke with vocalist Jane Penny about the band's abrupt return to Montreal and how isolation has changed her diet (of food and pop culture).

What's your self-isolation setup?

When all this happened we were on a tour in Germany and I had already sublet my apartment until June. I've been really lucky, when my boyfriend Adam and I got to Montreal my friend was out of town and she offered me her place, and when she got back to town she decided to quarantine at her partner's house so we've been able to stay here until next month. It's very cozy and full of books and artifacts and lamps, we're very lucky to stay here. Sebastian [Cowan], our manager and close friend (he runs Arbutus Records) has been our lifeline, delivering groceries to us and also [bandmates] Marta [Cikojevic] and David [Carriere], who have been quarantining as well. I feel really lucky to have Adam by my side and close friends supporting us. 

Are you working on any music while on lockdown?

Yeah, Seb brought by a midi keyboard and David lent me one of his guitars, so we've been able to tinker around on things. It's nice to have the time alone to make music on my computer, I've been doing a lot of that and I see it is a real gift, it's not something that I'm able to do when I'm touring. Also getting ready to put out our fourth record on April 3! 

What are you watching and listening to? 

At the beginning of the quarantine we were actually quite sick. We obviously thought that it was the coronavirus because of course our minds went there, but I think it was actually just a really bad flu. Anyway, we just watched a lot of Mission: Impossible and James Bond movies, lots of silly stuff, but we also watched Paris, Texas and that was a really great call. I set up a Criterion membership, so I'll try to mix some more good quality flicks in with rewatching The Office. I also just finished Star Trek: The Next Generation for the second time, so it's time to get into Deep Space Nine

As far as music goes it's actually kind of convenient because we have all these playlist requests and interviews where they ask about our influences so I've been spending time listening back through records that inspired our new album and finding new songs, making mixes. We always have music playing and we're always on the search for something we haven't heard yet. There's been lots of great new music coming out in these past weeks. 

How do you feel about the response to coronavirus?

I mean, I think it's pretty clear which countries have leaders who are responding really poorly. The weaknesses in the Western world in terms of our inability to manufacture medical supplies, the lack of a safety net for people — there are so many issues in the way our societies function that are now painfully obvious. It's a historic, world changing time, but I'm not an expert so I don't want to say too much, it's important to avoid trying to speak on the situation as a lay person. People need to do their own research and look for real expert advice. On the other hand, I know I've dealt with a lot of anxiety after reading news article after news article about what's happening, trying to stay informed and ending up an emotional wreck. The thing is, whether or not I'm informed isn't nearly as important as whether or not I stay home. The advice I've been giving myself is: whatever it is I have to do to stay sane and stay home is the right thing for me to do. 

Have you picked up any new hobbies or routines in isolation? 

No new hobbies, I should get one! The main thing that I've noticed has changed a lot is that because we aren't able to shop for groceries and we're cooking every single meal at home I streamlined my cooking a lot and make the ingredients pretty simple. I feel like the result of this is that we've been eating like kids, we make a lot of cereal and sandwiches and just really quick easy things with basic ingredients. I've been getting into peanut butter and jam. It's also a great time to eat egg or tuna sandwiches, there's no one around to offend with the awful smell! But yeah, my cooking has definitely taken a turn for the lazier, with more "fun food" than usual. 

Find out what other Canadian musicians have been up to under self-quarantine with our Isolation Nation questionnaire.