Los Angeles based tandem Topanga have a knack for catchy, tight, and expressive songs that will grab hold of even the most skeptic of hearts. Derek Brambles and Eric Johnson cut their teeth creating ad spots for various companies and one listen, and you can tell just how this has helped to create their indie rock sound with pop sensibilities. They recently released their Midnight Jungle EP and we were completely hooked within moments. Both the music and the lyrics are deeper than you might expect. We had a chance to talk the new EP, their inspirations, and perhaps most importantly, how they came up with their band name (it’s not what you think).
We read that you have worked arrangements for commercials, how has that experience helped with your craft? Does it force you to become more precise or catchy?
It’s helped immensely; with commercials you have a very short window to get something back to the client. Usually you have about a day, if not just a few hours or so. So it forces you to make a lot of decisions very quickly, and its helped me to really dig into the DAW that I’m working in (i.e. Protools,Ableton). With commercials, you gotta make 30 seconds feel like its a whole song, so every 5 to 10 seconds you’re thinking about what you can do to make the track feel like its growing. It’s definitely made my writing more precise; with Topanga songs, there really isn’t any moments where you feel like, “damn that kind of felt like a tangent”. Hmm.. in terms of catchy, I think i’ve always been drawn to stuff that really grabs your hears and you leave the song humming the chorus.
We love the new EP, Midnight Jungle, what were some of the events or songs of the time that you took inspiration from? Is there a guilty pleasure musically that you’re ashamed to admit to?
First off, thanks for loving our E.P., this is a tough one. In general, the songs have this nostalgic quality to them. I was thinking a lot about all the decisions i’ve made, and what life kinda throws at you, and how my perception of these events have altered over time. I think the song “Shadows” really focuses on that, the beginning audio is from this video of my grandma telling me not to crash and burn back in 1992, and I thought to myself, “shit… really trying not to”. Hmmm.. guilty pleasure, maybe side chaining synths, not too sure.
You guys are obviously talented in creating a tight and fun track that you want to dance to. What are some of the elements you need for a catchy track? What is the “perfect” song to you?
Woah, damn another tough one. It’s hard for me to say there’s a perfect song, cuz its such a thing up to the listener. I don’t think I’ve written a “perfect” song in my opinion. When I listen back to the E.P. I still second guess certain decisions I made. A perfect song to me would be either, “Strawberry Fields” (John Lennon) or “Between the Bars” (Elliott Smith); they are both songs that whenever I play them, they feel like they came from another dimension. Especially “Strawberry Fields”, the chord changes and vocal melody changes are straight up from Saturn. For me a catchy track is really up to vocals, if the vocal melody isn’t there, then I’m probably not into it. I’d say really focus on a really tight vocal, get rid of unnecessary parts, and have them flow into each other, and then always put a few twists the verses. I hate songs with lazy verses.
What do you hope listeners take away from the new EP? What do you hope they feel?
I think I really want listeners to just ultimately enjoy it on the surface level… blast it in the car with your friends on the way to the beach or a party or something. I think my hope is that I’ve made the songs catchy enough, that when people are singing the lyrics, they have a “woah” moment, and think, “damn… that speaks to me on so many levels”.
We know you get this question a lot, but what is the backstory about your name? Big “Boy Meets World” fans?
Haha… this is hilarious. When I thought of the name, that show was furthest from my mind, and now people ask me this all the time. I wasn’t a big “Boy meets world” fan at all, obviously I had a crush on Topanga growing up. We associate Topanga with Topanga Canyon, which is this very beautiful place in Los Angeles. We wanted the band name to be a single word, that seemed like it could stand on its own, and when we looked up what Topanga supposedly meant, we were sold. It’s a Native American word that means, ” where the mountains meet the sea”… it felt like home.
What’s next for Topanga? Touring plans?
As of now, we are waiting to hear back if were playing SXSW or not. They reached out and said they really liked us and were trying to fit us on their roster. So if that comes to fruition, we’ll probably do a little mini tour down to austin and probably shoot a little mini documentary on the way down. Other than that we are in pre-production for “American Promises” music video that I’m really excited about. We are also actively recording and will probably have another single before summer. Basically our plan is to constantly be releasing new content.