Earlier this month, dreamy Montreal four-piece TOPS released their excellent new album, Sugar At The Gate. Premiering today on The FADER is the music video for their dulcet and lovelorn album highlight, "Further." Lead singer Jane Penny described in an email to The FADER as "a non-traditional love story between three people — a fleeting, impermanent affair."
The video's star and muse is Ellise, a fellow Montreal musician who releases work under the name Jef Ellise Barbara. According to Penny, Ellise is "a fierce talent; a musician, producer, artist and actor with an excellent catalog of videos and albums." When Penny, who directed the video, was beginning to brainstorm visuals for "Further," she ran into Ellise in Montreal; Ellise's poise and charisma evoked an idea for a music video.
According to Penny, the rest of the video treatment came together as if by fate. "A three-card tarot reading I did while working on the video was the inspiration for the three characters. Riley, the Page Of Cups, is young and boyish, a new possibility. Jackson, the Knight Of Pentacles, is the protective and secure provider. And Ellise is the World, which I drew in the centre, between the other two cards. The World card depicts a woman rejoicing in the completion of a journey, the end of a successful cycle and the beginning of a new phase. Ellise's essence and performance embody a similar power for me, commanding everything around her."
Watch the finished product above, and then read a conversation with Ellise about her starring role, and what the project's romantic narrative means to her.
How do you know TOPS?
ELLISE: I know TOPS from — woah! — back in the day when they had a different name. Our first official meeting was when we played the same show and they were on right after me, but I was taking too long to take my things off the stage. Jane said something totally rude to me, but then apologized after the set. That was, I’d say, six or seven years ago.
How did you get involved with the video?
Jane just approached me about doing this project, which told a love story between three people. I haven’t been productive on the music front, because I’ve been transitioning for the last two years, and that’s sort of been in the way of everything in my life, including music. I thought it would be cool to be out there.
Of course there’s this understanding that everybody wants to include a trans narrative into what they do; it’s very popular now. But I know Jane, Dave, Riley, and Jackson (who used to play with me) very well. I saw the treatment and thought it was written with a lot of respect. I didn’t feel used at all.
It reads like a little love story, not a trans narrative.
Exactly. I feel if anything a trans narrative should not be to dramatize but to normalize trans lives. And I think that’s what Jane did in her treatment for the video. It normalizes my character to a point where it doesn’t really matter if I’m trans or not.
What was your experience like in front of the camera?
Transitioning is never easy. It’s going through a second puberty. And with that comes a set of insecurities, which is normal when your body changes — and not only that, but when you’re perceived differently in the world. It’s something that you have to get used to gradually. Being part of the video was kind of weird in the beginning. There’s a set of insecurities stemming from before you transition that still arise when you see yourself. But it was a nice challenge, to see myself in the final cut and be like, Hey, that’s what it is. And to go to the people who follow my music and say, “Hey, this is my new look!”
Ultimately, what does this project mean to you?
It’s political. It sends a message: trans narratives don’t have to be violent. They don’t have to be dramatic. I don’t know if people even would clock — which is a word to say that people “notice” or “realize” that you’re trans upon seeing you — when watching the video. I think it’s cool that it’s just, like, a regular love story.
TOPS tour dates
7/8 - New York, NY @ Full Moon Festival
8/19 - North Gower, ON @ Rideau Pines Farm (Arboretum Festival)
9/6 - Santa Ana, CA @ Constellation Room
9/7 - San Diego, CA @ Casbah
9/8 - Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
9/9 - San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
9/11 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir
9/12 - Vancouver, BC @ Imperial
9/13 - Seattle, WA @ Barboza
9/15 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
9/16 - Denver, CO @ Larimer
9/18 - Kansas City, MO @ The Record Bar
9/19 - Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
9/20 - Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
9/21 - Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop
9/22 - Detroit, MI @ Marble Bar
9/23 - Columbus, OH @ Ace Of Cups
9/25 - Washington, DC @ DC9
9/26 - Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery
9/27 - Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda's
9/29 - New York, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
9/30 - Boston, MA @ Great Scott
10/2 - Toronto, ON @ Mod Club
10/13 - Montreal, QC @ Le National
10/26 - Paris, FR @ Badaboum
10/28 - Bilbao, ES @ Bilbao Exhibition Center
11/1 - Madrid, ES @ Moby Dick
11/3 - Porto, PT @ Maus Hábitos
11/4 - Lisbon, PT @ Lux Fragil
11/7 - Vevey, CH @ Rocking Chair
11/8 - Basel, CH @ Kaserne
11/9 - Vienna, AT @ RHIZ
11/11 - Berlin, DE @ Urban Spress
11/14 - Rotterdam, NL @ Rotown
11/16 - Ramsgate, GB @ Ramsgate Music Hall
11/17 - London, GB @ The Garage
11/18 - Manchester, GB @ The Deaf Institute
11/19 - Glasgow, GB @ Broadcast
11/21 - Dublin, IL @ Whelans
11/23 - Amiens, FR @ La Lune des Pirates
11/24 - Lyon, FR @ Le Sonic
11/27 - Cologne, DE @ King Georg
11/28 - Heidelberg, DE @ Karlstorbahnhof
11/30 - Copenhagen, DK @ Huset Kbh
12/1 - Stockholm, SE @ Brooklyn Bar Debaser