interview: Hop Along
On April 6, 2018, Hop Along released the incredible Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Before the band brings their incredible live performance to Pittsburgh for a show on June 6 at Spirit Hall we chatted with Frances Quinlan about the new album, recording and more.
The Grey Estates: Going into Bark Your Head Off, Dog... what had you learned or heard on your previous releases that you wanted to do differently for this one? Or what you had really liked about your previous material that you wanted to incorporate on this new one?
Frances Quinlan (Hop Along): I think experience in general was our greatest aid. It wasn't so much that we went in saying, "let's not do that again" about any particular thing or practice - just that we as a collective have learned the ways in which we work best. One being that time is a great aid to us. While I'm floored by the records I love that were recorded in 2 weeks or less, I know now that that is just not in me, and not the move for our group. We are thorough in editing and arrangement almost up to the very end at times, so the room for possibility is essential--especially since we knew we wanted instrument outside of what we usually play to be added (strings, keys, etc; which was the case for this record). But also you don't want to have too much time---it's a tricky balance. Most importantly, once we went into the studio, we were all in agreement of what the feel should be, and that was enough to see it all through, especially with Kyle Pulley engineering. He is a true soldier; it's essential to work with people like that.
Your sound is really unique and vast when recorded... How do you translate that same magic into live shows? And you're frequently touring, so is there a particular track that you really love performing live or that you feel takes on a different life when performed?
Thank you! I'm sure if we didn't love to perform it would be very difficult to translate the record live and have it seem as rewarding as its source---and I can't say for sure if people find it as rewarding, but I hope they do! We added a 5th member to our touring group, Chrissy Tashjian. She is a phenomenal guitarist and singer and songwriter of the band Thin Lips. Having her sing and play with us I think adds to the depth of what we are able to do live---plus having Steve Poponi as our FOH is huge, he makes everything sound great on the floor. We're lucky to have them both on our team.
I know it's kind of a cop-out but I honestly love playing them all. It's tough because we want to play some older songs live for fans too, and I have a hard time every night deciding which songs off the new album we can't play, just because there isn't enough room on the set list.
What were some of the inspirations, be it food, music, weather, etc. that influenced you on this second album?
Books were a big thing for me. Certainly for the lyrics. I'd include A Time for Everything and A Boat in the Evening among inspiration, there's more but my memory is not so hot. Always Joni Mitchell, she's always in the back of my head I think. I was thinking about film soundtracks a little bit when it came to the the strings; I think in general we as a band referenced the Beatles a fair amount for the strings too. Also ELO, I really love them. Sarah Larsen did a beautiful job arranging the strings.
Hmm food? There was a wonderful lady around the corner who sold what I suppose were kind of like kebabs, or ponchos, a few of us were getting those almost daily while we made the record--- they were delicious. It's tough to cite many specific examples as it always takes a long time to form these songs, a few years really.
How does it feel being able to perform with your sibling? I think it would be the coolest thing in the world to start a band with my sister (but we have no musical talent). Growing up, did you two gravitate towards the same music or have common interests?
It is wonderful and I'm grateful to be making music with my brother. As far as growing up though we didn't share too many common musical interests. I think we both liked Michael Jackson for a little while when we were very small. Once we hit grade school though we diverged fairly quickly. You have to make your own world for yourself. For some reason I did, anyway. I was very much in my own head as a little kid, maybe even into high school. As I got a little older I did pick up a few of Mark's musical tastes. I got into Marylin Manson after him, and a couple emo and hardcore bands as well. I think I was just trying to glom onto his identity a little bit though, I was more interested in his interest in that music, when I think of it now. We share a lot more similar interests now; he's usually the person playing the latest great releases for me. I'm very lucky to have a person like him in my life, let alone in the same band.
How do you think you've grown as a band from when you started back in high school until now? Did you ever have any hopes or dreams for the project when you started or did you ever imagine what the band would become?
Well it's very different from my solo project, which is how this began when I was finishing high school. I have no idea how I'd sound now if I'd just continued to play on my own. I know the challenges of being in a band, the challenges of collaborating, they've helped me grow and improve as an artist, and probably as a human being too.
When I was finishing high school I wanted to be famous by the time I was 22. At the time it was probably good that I was so consumed by that delusion, as a simple motivator, but I'm lucky it didn't somehow happen. I didn't really have any idea of what I meant by wishing for something like that. Years of touring and meeting artists and people doing big projects on their own has been a series of wonderful experiences. I don't feel like any of that time was wasted. I needed all that time to get better.
As far as the band, I watched other bands play when I went on my first couple of solo tours, and it just seemed like so much more fun to me. There's a lot less of a dynamic when it's just you, less opportunity for change and adventure. I knew I wanted a bigger sound than myself and an acoustic guitar. So when Mark's band broke up and I graduated college, in 2008, it just seemed like the right move to start playing together. Tyler joined the following year, and Joe officially around 2013. We're such different people, it was sort of impossible to picture our sound in the beginning, or where we'd end up going, it was something that would just need to develop on its own over the years, and I'm really happy with the way it's taken shape.
What is the overall theme of Bark Your Head Off, Dog or what did you want to convey with the release? I know the blurb on the album mentions your intent to (addresses disappointment, particularly in man's misuse of power). Was that particularly tied to this current political time or why do you think it was necessary for you to speak up regarding that?
It's just something that's gradually dawned on me over the last few years, how I've attempted to steer clear of considering the fact that being born a woman has certainly affected my experience. I didn't even want to consider how that might affect my access to power, or my fear of power itself. I'm a pretty meek person. As you get older though, it creates problems, it becomes a shirking of responsibility. I suppose I was thinking about that, how my fears have inhibited me from being better. Then an anger followed, because part of that came from a belief that others, mainly men, somehow inherently had more power than I did. With the climate being what it is perhaps that initially dull sensation pushed its way to the forefront. It wasn't a conscious move to make the album specifically about that. I wouldn't say that it's completely about power. It tends to get me into trouble as a writer, trying to force a subject upon a song. I think I was just spending a lot of time with those thoughts, so they found their way into a number of songs.
Have you found any of that personal power that you were seeking or do you think this album helped you and challenged you to use your voice?
To the first question, that remains a lifelong search, I'm not sure that I'll ever access it completely, it's pretty frightening stuff. I hope I do, I think it would make me more useful. I suppose that's up to me. To the second, yes, absolutely. It was tough to make, but I'm very proud of this album.
And for a fun question: what would the dream hop along merch item be?
Hmm, embroidered jean jackets would be cool. Dana Falconberry of Ft Lonesome stitched a jacket for me of one of my mother's birds (my mom used to make etchings of waterfowl), and it's the coolest article of clothing I've ever received. I hope I have that all my life. Something like that on the merch table would be pretty neat.