Pittsburgh trio T-Tops have been playing their adrenaline fuelled brand of noise-rock/garage punk for approximately a decade. Having reviewed their recently released and long-awaited sophomore album Staring At A Static Screen, I can confirm it sure was a hell of a lot of fun to listen to, in fact I put it in said review that they ‘play with so much exuberance and goofy charm that it only serves to enhance the listening experience’. If you’re nostalgic like me and yearn for the halcyon days of Amphetamine Reptile but with a contemporary twist, then look no further! I was kindly spared some time by guitarist and vocalist Patrick Waters to ask a few questions…
Hey guys, welcome to The Sleeping Shaman. For the benefit of the readers please could you introduce yourselves?
Hi Reza/The Sleeping Shaman! I’m Patrick Waters. I play guitar & do vocals. Mike Koch Plays drums. Matt Schor plays bass.
In my review I noted that T-Tops is a reference to the removable panel car roof popularised in America in the 1970s. Patrick, what was behind the decision to choose this as a name when forming the band?
Are you an avid car enthusiast for example? I grew up in a small town that was stuck in that part of the 70s/80s when driving a Trans-Am or Camaro with T-Tops were the absolute peak of bad-ass, mullet wearing-cool. So, the band name is sort of making fun of that whole thing. I can respect and admire a fast and cool looking old muscle car with a big engine, but I’m not a ‘car guy’ by any means.
T-Tops were the absolute peak of bad-ass, mullet wearing-cool…
Staring At A Static Screen marks your full-length debut release with Magnetic Eye, how did your association with them start?
I sent them some songs a few years ago when we were looking for a label to release our next record. Mike Vitali called me and we discussed working together. At first, they helped us out with distribution & promotion of our 7” EP, Disease. Luckily, they stuck with us long enough to release this LP.
Speaking of Magnetic Eye, were you surprised when the label showed an interest seeing as you’re a little different to their predominantly doom/stoner/psych orientated output?
I wouldn’t say surprised, just happy that they heard something they felt would fit in with their roster of bands. I don’t feel like we really fit in on Big Neck Records either, other than the obvious major heading of ‘rock band’. I’ve never really tried to pigeonhole us any more than that. We’re just a rock band. It’s an absolute pleasure to be even listed among the bands that those two labels have put records out for.
the gritty, loud, bang it out, noisy aesthetic of some of those Am-Rep bands is definitely an influence…
As a big fan of Amphetamine Reptile Records, I noted a lot of influences from the artists featured on that label with your sound. Would you agree with this and if so, who are some of your favourite Am-Rep artists?
Yeah, the gritty, loud, bang it out, noisy aesthetic of some of those Am-Rep bands is definitely an influence. Obviously we love Melvins, Cows, Hammerhead, Halo of Flies, some of that early Helmet stuff, Tar, God Bullies, Guzzard, Unsane, the list goes on…
Staring At A Static Screen was the band’s first full-length for over six years, what was the reason for the long gap between albums?
We released a split 10” and two 7” EPs between the first LP and this one. We’ve had a few line-up changes, injuries. We’ve just been doing what we can with what we have at the time. Luckily, we’ve been able to release that much.
What was the motivation for re-recording both Drugstore (originally on the S/T debut) and Face Of Depression (originally on 7”). Was there a degree of dissatisfaction with the originals or did you feel they fit in nicely with the album’s overall vibe?
No dissatisfaction with the originals. Those two songs are somewhat significant in that I think Drugstore is the only song we’ve played at every single show we’ve ever played, no matter what the line-up is and we play it slightly differently than we used to. Face Of Depression is the song that Mike heard the original recording of on the radio that led to him joining the band. We re-recorded a few other older songs too, but I didn’t want to load up this record with too much stuff we’ve already released. It just seemed appropriate to put those two on this album.
Drugstore is the only song we’ve played at every single show we’ve ever played…
WMYTYTO is one of the deeper cuts by Fleetwood Mac and the Tusk album certainly marked a flirtation with new-wave/punk. Lyrically WMYTYTO is a lot more attitude laden and cynical than you’d expect from them, is this what appealed when deciding to cover it and did the track resonate with you on a personal level?
Its hard to say what exactly pulls you toward a song to make you want to cover it. Sometimes you hear a song for what it could be, rather than what it is. I mean, a song has to have something to it in the first place that clicks with you and draws you toward it. We’re not trying to ‘improve’ the song, just create our own version of it. For WMYTYTO, it’s those four snare hits in the intro that made me think it would sound cool with bigger, louder drums and kick in with heavy distorted guitars. Also, it stood out to me because it’s not your typical pop-rock structure. Snare intro, three squeezed together verse/choruses and that long outro. The cynicism of the lyrics definitely helped too.
Our/my choices for cover songs haven’t really been typical for the kind of loud, noisy rock that we play. We covered a Frankie Miller song a few years ago. There’s an Elton John Song I’d love to cover. We play an Elvis Costello song. We’ve done a Cars song. There are a few Springsteen songs I’d like to do at some point. Don’t even get me started on Meatloaf Bat Out Of Hell. I’ve wanted to cover that entire album for twenty years, but usually people just laugh at me when I bring it up… We attempted a Conway Twitty song in the studio a few years ago, but we just couldn’t get it right.
On the album’s credits you thank former bassist Jason Jouver who played with math-rock legends Don Caballero who also hail from your hometown of Pittsburgh. Did you ever get the opportunity to witness them live (I’m jealous if you did)?
Jouver and I started T-Tops in 2012. He posted a thread on a Pittsburgh message board looking to play drums in a rock band. I hadn’t met him before that, but I did witness Don Caballero once in the basement of a building at CMU in Pittsburgh. I just remember standing there, right up front, slack-jawed. Damon Che kept angrily demanding that someone bring him bags of ice from the gas station down the street during the set. That became a running joke for years between myself and the friends I was there with. ‘I NEED ICE!!!’…
I sent Jouver some songs from my old band The Fitt and some new jams and he was into it. We got together and hit it off. He beat the drums like a mad gorilla, which is exactly what I was looking for. We played together for five years, put out three records (that he also recorded), played a bunch of shows and rarely had a bad time together. Jouver will forever be one of my favorite people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with.
We just recently started practicing again after a year+ off due to Covid and we’re focusing right now on writing new songs…
I mentioned possible older influences in my review but are there any bands currently doing the rounds that you think The Shaman readers should be aware of and that you wish to plug?
Yikes! How can I answer this without missing someone or just listing Pittsburgh bands? Here goes: TRVSS, Microwaves, Lady Beast, Horehound, Urns, Century III, Salvation, We The Creature, Dana, Glazer, Bwak Dwagon, Hoaries, Moon Pussy, Multicult, Nopes…
Finally what does the future hold for T-Tops? Have you been able to tour the album at all or are live events as precarious in the US as they are here in the UK? Any new recordings in the offing?
We just recently started practicing again after a year+ off due to Covid and we’re focusing right now on writing new songs. I wrote a bunch of stuff during the year when we couldn’t get together. Right now we’re trying to take those crude ideas and figure out how to play them as a three-piece live or for recording. We can’t wait to get back to playing live shows! A lot of shows are being booked again and announced for the summer and fall. We’re going to book some shows soon. We’d love to get over to the UK and Europe as soon as it’s possible.
Interviewed by: Reza Mills