2 Dec 2023

The Topp Twins: 'When we come back out raging, you better watch out'

From Music 101, 1:45 pm on 2 December 2023

Although the twins' two guitars have now been "sitting in the corner" for a couple of years due to the pandemic and cancer treatment, Jools and Lynda Topp tell Music 101 they have three gigs pencilled in for 2024.

"Maybe we're supposed to have a break because when we come back out raging again, man, you better watch out because the Topp Twins are going to hit the town."

On music and politics:

"You can choose what kind of musician you want to be. If you've got just a beautiful, sweet voice and you want to just make gorgeous music, then that is amazing. But you also have the ability to use that voice in a political way.

"Music is really political … you can't get away from it. And the more political we are, the more alive we are because we're capable of standing up and saying what we believe in, even if we're prepared to get arrested for it. Then you feel like you've really achieved something. And if you don't, then you're not living your life to the fullest.

"Even if we didn't change people's minds, we made them think about a few things along the way. And that's the basis of what politics is about - to give people all the options so they make a good decision for themselves.

"When you stand in someone else's shoes you suddenly have empathy. We've tried to live our lives with the concept of having empathy for other people. Everything that we ever protested about wasn't for us. It was for someone else.

"We're Labour, we're left-wing, there's no surprise on that whatsoever. We strongly are going to stand up and always be political about our lives."

On 'Ngā Iwi E' - 'this incredible song that spread out':

Written in 1984 by The Topp Twins and Māori composer Hirini Melbourne, this waiata is a tribute to the people of the South Pacific.

"We had been invited to a big South Pacific Arts Festival, along with four other contemporary musicians, in the early '80s ... The idea was when everybody got to this big festival, basically, we would all come together as all the nations of the Pacific and sing a song all together. 

"Our job really was to learn [the song] and play guitar on it, and then we got to teach 120 other people who were all going to that specific South Pacific Arts Festival.

"When [the festival] was eventually postponed to a different place, we all agreed that we would sing 'Ngā Iwi E' for the rest of our lives, to honour the (indigenous) Kanaks and French Caledonia.

"The most beautiful moment that Jools and I had with 'Ngā Iwi E' was probably about a year later ... two young Māori women had come up from Hamilton and they needed somewhere to stay and we were living in this big lesbian house in Grey Lynn ... We walked in and these two young Māori women were singing 'Ngā Iwi E'.

"We said 'Wow, that's amazing. Where'd you hear that song from? And they go 'Oh, this is a really old, traditional song… it's been around for a long time'.

"And we just said 'yeah, it has' and then we carried on. We never said a word because 'Ngā Iwi E' had now taken on a life of its own."


On the emotional power of music:

"Sometimes I can put a song on and then I'm just bawling my eyes out. Because I have this idea in my head that suddenly things mean something more, I can read something more into it. You're a little bit emotional anyway, you're a bit sort of vulnerable when you're sick.

"People say 'What am I going to play at my funeral?' ... [but] music doesn't need to be something that you say goodbye to. You should love it, be in the moment. If it makes you cry that's okay, that's just crying. It's just another emotion. It's like laughing.

"Now when I listen to music, I just feel like it's… a new breath of fresh air. Somehow I read more into it than I used to. I think it can lift you up and it can make you sad, you know, and that's the beauty of music, that's the power of music that it can portray a message to you about how you're thinking.

"It either lifts you up… you want to dance or you want to play or you just think 'this is an amazing song' or it takes you inwards and you think 'Oh, my God, that's got so much meaning to me and when that writer wrote that story, they don't know that that's going to affect that person later on when they hear it. You just have to trust the process when you're writing a song."

On the 2022 tribute concert Topp Class:

"It was such an amazing night for us because we'd been through quite a lot and we were both still sick from chemo. Jools was having an injection in the buttocks every three weeks. So we were both a bit sick. And then all of those performers came together to sing our songs. What an absolute treat it was. They did us so proud, those people and it was amazing to hear people sing our songs.

"When you've been a performer in New Zealand for such a long time as we have, and you've written a lot of songs, and then the new generation of performers out there, come and sing your songs as a tribute to you, it's the most amazing feeling in the world. We were so lucky."

The Topp Twins on RNZ: