The official release of T-Tops' self-titled debut record has been a long time coming. Long enough that, bassist Jason Orr says, "We already have another one ready to go."
That, singer/guitarist Patrick Waters interjects, is an exaggeration, but — with six new songs already recorded — not by much.
T-Tops started jamming in 2011. Previously, Waters fronted the well-regarded spastic-rock group The Fitt. When that dissolved, he struggled to form something else that he was happy with. "I'm constantly looking for more people to play with," Waters says. While he'd played with Orr in other bands (including, most notably, the far-out, semi-experimental Wormrigg), "I've always had trouble finding drummers. I kind of gave up. I thought, forget it, I'm not going to play for awhile. And I tried not to, for a while."
Then he saw a post on a local message board by Jason Jouver, saying he was looking for an opportunity to play drums. "I had heard his name floating around," Waters says — Jouver is a recording engineer at +/- Studios in the South Side and has played other instruments in bands including Don Caballero, Teddy Duchamp's Army and German Shepherd. "I didn't know he was a drummer —and he doesn't even really call himself a drummer. He was maybe the five-millionth person I'd contacted, so we set up a practice."
When asked what, exactly, they were looking for in a drummer, Waters responds "someone who hits hard" while Orr simultaneously says, "a friend."
Waters shakes off Orr's answer with a touch of exasperation. "No, not a friend. I couldn't care less if we hate each other," he says. Fortunately, Waters, Jouver and Orr hit it off immediately.
By early 2013, the record was basically finished. The band approached the folks at Virginia-based label Big Neck Records to see if they had any interest in releasing the record (and, more importantly, to see if they would pay to put it out). "[They] ended up being interested, but it just took forever," Waters says. The band is extremely grateful for the label help but, Waters admits, "It sucks to have to wait. I'm anxious to move on. We have a bunch of new ideas."
Despite the long lag time, there's nothing stale about T-Tops. From start to finish, the record is pure sludgy, hooky heaviness. Attach as many sub-genres as you'd like, but in the end you'll probably throw up your hands and call it rock 'n' roll. Waters does most of the songwriting, and the influence of his favorite band, the Melvins, is obvious. Nirvana, beloved by Waters as a teen, also comes into play. (As Orr puts it, "if you don't hear THAT on the album, you're just thick, right?")
Not that the band is going for anything in particular. "There's not really a theme," Waters says. "It's just what comes out. We're just trying to write catchy, loud, heavy songs."
Orr waxes more philosophical on the topic: "It's music from people from isolated worlds. Rock music as an area of musical artistic expression is just, you know, disgusting people [teasing] their imaginations to the public a little bit.
"If we didn't get together and be grumpy most of the time and happy a couple of times, it just wouldn't work," he continues, adding with a chuckle, "If you love life, I just don't see where your place is in rock music."
T-Tops will share its release show with Night Vapor, which is also celebrating the release of its first full-length. The combined show was born somewhat out of convenience —T-Tops had planned its release for earlier this spring, but couldn't find a time or lineup that felt right —but it's also an appropriate pairing of two bands with similar sensibilities. "There's some shared sonic territory there," says Night Vapor drummer John Roman, who, for a time, played with Jouver in the band Microwaves. "They're both punk bands, but not in the obvious way that people would think of a punk band."
Night Vapor, with its dark, angular grooves and Albert C. Hall's guttural, Birthday Party-esque vocals, sounds a little like a lounge band in a nightmare. But what members are really aiming for is something closer to old-fashioned rock 'n' roll. "We wanted to do something that had heavy elements but wasn't completely bludgeoning," Roman says. Coming from the harsher, noisier Brown Angel, Roman and bassist Mike Rensland wanted to make music that incorporated classic rock roots, like Zeppelin, "without being totally obvious about it."
(Roman later polled fellow members for their take on the sound: Rensland called it "music for the mentally ill"; guitarist Aaron Brooks simply described it as "gross.")
Waters agrees that the bands have a similar vibe, though, he says, "[Night Vapor] has a little bit more of a noisy edge. I would try to go in that direction, if I knew how." But, it seems the real common ground lies more in general attitude. While it would be a mistake (or at least an overstatement) to categorize these as "dark" bands, they share a pervasive, though not unpleasant, sense of cynicism and gloom.
"Pat is a pessimistic fuck sometimes," Orr says, as he laughingly gets up from his chair to give Waters a conciliatory hug. "But he has the most optimistic outcomes."