A talk with Jane Penny, TOPS’s vocalist, at her home back in Montreal
Interview by Herlinde Raeman
Photos shot by Nina Strebelle in Landen, Belgium
The word ‘psychedelic’ notes a mental state of intensified sensory perception. Ever experienced that before?
I once smoked Salvia and lost my ego completely. I didn’t know who I was anymore nor if I ever existed anyway. I was in a black vortex and couldn’t get out. It was hot that day, 1 May 2004, and I had to play my first gig as Ignatz. Nautical Almanac, Dolphins Into the Future and Floris Vanhoof were playing as well. After the show I went home with a friend and we decided to smoke the Salvia. Normally you get into a very short, 15-minute trip, but I fell on the floor and started yelling. I woke up only when my girlfriend came upstairs to see what was happening. It was the last time I ever did something like that, so maybe I can give a less drug-related answer as well (laughs). I have weird dreams, they call it sleep paralysis. Do you know these 19th century paintings in which people are sleeping with a little devil sitting on them? That’s what I mean: you cannot wake up, even when you want to; it doesn’t work. I have that when I take a nap during the day.
Does the ultimate psychedelic feeling influence your music?
Yeah of course. You drop connections, start thinking on a different level, and see things from another angle. Taking that distance is important in my music. The problem is that trying to copy the psychedelic whirl afterwards never works out, so you’re always condemned to fail. Next to that you can’t achieve the same effect by only listening to psychedelic music and although I have made music under the influence of drugs, it never came out well. After a while you get tired of being stoned. The first trip is always the best because you really believe your life has changed. Then it turns into a photoshop filter and you start thinking about calling your mom and stuff. It still has the same effect but it doesn’t feel so relevant anymore.
You claim to create only 3 different songs: esoteric, non-structured ones, ballads, and psychedelic Velvet Underground kind of songs. That band was into combining art and pop, is that what you try to do as well?
Yes, my opinion of making music differs from most musicians, so I believe I’m more of an artist than a musician. I can’t start from a musical idea, I start more abstract and try to transform those ideas into music by playing guitar and turning the buttons of my gear. That’s very vague, I know, but it’s so difficult to make it more concrete. Maybe laying in the grass on a sunny day can be a start?
I never really understood your lyrics.
That’s because I don’t write lyrics down. For some songs I recall lyrics better than others. I have to remember the melodies and that’s difficult enough. The way I sing is how I listen to English lyrics in music. I don’t listen too close, except when they’re very clear, because when you pay more attention, you begin to translate and that always turns out different from how you first understood. Singing in Dutch sounds very stupid I think. I tried, but it doesn’t work. The references become totally different and you get compared with other Belgian musicians. It’s all less abstract with Dutch lyrics.
In the past you selected album songs together with label people. Do you prefer to work with other people? Is that why you have a band now?
De Stervende Honden was an idea of Stief (Marreyt, from Kraak) to play as a power trio for Naast De Kwestie, but it also developed out of touring with Sylvester Anfang and Clay Ruby. He asked me if I ever played with a band and we just tried one day – we had all the gear with us anyway – and it worked. After that I started my own band, The Beautiful Band. We recorded some songs, but we never thought it was good enough. It was hard to find time to develop the music and to make appointments with 4 different people. In the end El-g and Paul left and it became worse; the songs didn’t sound as solid anymore. De Stervende Honden are more of a backing band, there’s no artistic input from them (laughs).
Do you look out for people who take your music to a higher level?
We have to be on the same level music-wise, definitely, but I don’t even know what my style is. My dream all-star band would be The Doors; all of them, but without Jim Morrison because he draws too much attention. Or maybe I would only take John Densmore, the drummer. Takashi Mizutani from Les Rallizes Dénudés can play in my band as well.
Ignatz & De Stervende Honden play Wastelands Festival on 10 August at the Grindbakken in Ghent. The festival is free for Subbacultcha! members.