Hop Along Discuss Role Models & Vocal Limits Before Tonight’s Show At The Camel

by | May 14, 2015 | MUSIC

Philadelphia’s Hop Along is the talk of the music world the past few weeks since the release of their third studio album, the wonderfully intricate Painted Shut. Backed by some strong instrumentation and gritty but stunning vocal work, the songs and the stories they contain are a clear step above the quartet’s past material and it’s easy to see just why the band is starting to see larger turnouts and a stronger reception from city to city.

Philadelphia’s Hop Along is the talk of the music world the past few weeks since the release of their third studio album, the wonderfully intricate Painted Shut. Backed by some strong instrumentation and gritty but stunning vocal work, the songs and the stories they contain are a clear step above the quartet’s past material and it’s easy to see just why the band is starting to see larger turnouts and a stronger reception from city to city.

Singer Frances Quinlan started the band over a decade ago and to see the growth from 2005’s Freshmen Year to now is just startling. The maturity with which she writes each song and the importance her voice carries especially when cracking at just the right moment – those are the type of qualities that makes her stand out in a sea of strong female figures in rock music.

In talking with Quinlan ahead of Hop Along’s return to Richmond Thursday night at The Camel, she gushed about those strong female figures like Ani DiFranco and Joni Mitchell, all the while not realizing that with her conviction both in and out of music, she’s destined to be the same role model to young female musicians coming up.

It seems like a lot of things are snowballing for you guys right now. What has it been like the past few months?

The past couple of days have been pretty normal day-to-day. New York was the busiest thing though. We had a radio thing scheduled with WNYC with a lot of interviews and other things. That was pretty out of the norm for us. Other than that, the shows have just had a little more people coming. The craziest thing has been seeing people already know all the words to the new records. It’s just insane like in Portland, Maine. It’s the fourth or fifth time we’ve been there, but we’ve never got that kind of reception there before so we are seeing the shift in that regard. We don’t have a manager so our booking agent has been getting offers here and there. More interviews and radio things are coming up, but outside of New York, it’s all been steady. Ever since we signed to the label, there’s been steady offers for things here and there.

You mentioned signing with the label, Saddle Creek Records. Was it joining a label an easy decision to come to?

We just got to a point where we figured there was a lot of things they could do better than we could. It just seemed like a good time for us. We’d been in this band since 2004 and it honestly seemed like the best timing to sign. Obviously, we were nervous about it, but once we talked to Battle Creek a good number of times, we just felt pretty trusting of them. I think they always had a good track record and ethic of taking care of artists.

Was recording this album easier because of the label?

I don’t know if recording is ever easier except in the fact that we’re getting better as musicians. We had the opportunity to work with John Agnello, which was incredible and we couldn’t have done that without the label. That was really great to be able to work with him. Otherwise, making an album is always a challenge and this one definitely was too.

Now, a lot of people have been talking about the stories on this new record. What story would you say resonates the most with you?

I guess right now, “Texas Funeral” – well, that’s not true. “Powerful Man” because that happened to me. The other ones, I’m an outsider looking in and talking about people, but “Powerful Man” is extremely immediate and very personal. It’s a bit different now though. Once a song has been recorded and people have heard it, it feels a little different to play. The vulnerability isn’t there as much. You can just enjoy playing it which I appreciate it a lot.

Nervous to present such a personal song?

I was very nervous about it. Very scared to present to people, but that made it feel all the more necessary to present it.

What kind of time frame do you have for these songs and stories?

It’s really hard to say. “Texas Funeral” was very immediate. That was the newest song that ended up on the record and it came out really fast. “Powerful Man” took a long time. It was a different song when we started. It was slow and it wasn’t working so we had to change it. For “Waitress,” a third of it changed, but the rest of it stayed true to form from when we wrote it a year and a half ago. There’s really no average. Sometimes a song will come out in two days and sometimes it takes four months. It just depends.

So who are some of your favorite storytellers in music?

I love Bill Callahan and his stuff under Smog. He wrote a song about a prison guard that I thought was pretty amazing. I love Joanna Newsome too. Also, Leonard Cohen is a very subtle and great storyteller. I love all the stories although they’re more like weird poems than stories. Of course, I have to say Highway 61 Revisited by Dylan too. I’m blanking on some more, but those are a few.

The way your voice sounds on this record when you’re putting such strain on it – was it really hard to get that right in the studio?

Recording is very daunting to me. The idea that it’s one documentation of your life’s work – there’s something very daunting about that to me. I generally don’t tend to trust the first couple of takes – I have to do a lot. It’s not about being a perfectionist though. I’m more of a perfectionist about sounding in key than anything else. There’s definitely happy accidents and I’d say I embrace those to a fair extent. For other things, if I know something is going to annoy me for the rest of my life, I got to get rid of it. Maybe the band will want to keep it, but I just know it will torture me.

Because of the way you record, do you find yourself getting frustrated on stage if you don’t crack your voice in just the right way?

You can’t. It’s nothing like recording. The stage is the stage. It should be different. If every night was exactly the same, that would be a tragedy. If I mess up, I’m not happy about it, but last night, the audience was amazing. Any screw up that occurred, it just didn’t matter – the audience was there with us and enjoying with us and singing with us. There’s so much more around you that you can absorb unlike the studio. In the studio, it’s all on you, but at a show, there’s all kinds of moments that could bring life to a song.

You do have such a unique voice. Do you have any influence for the way you sing?

My voice is my voice. My favorite singers sound nothing like me because I really love mellow singers. I love Belle And Sebastian, Neko Case, Nick Drake, and Bill Callahan. Growing up, I definitely listened to a lot of artists like Fiona Apple and Natalie Merchant. Ani DiFranco as well. She definitely influenced me to take risks because she was this huge risk-taking female artist that opened up my eyes for sure when I was about 14. Since then, I’ve listened to all kinds of things. Joni Mitchell too – she just does whatever she wants. I think that’s it. The thing I love most is artists who use what they have unapologetically. Joni’s voice is her voice. That’s her that you’re hearing. You’re not hearing her trying to be anyone else. That definitely influenced me a lot so I’m just taking the voice that I have and doing what I think it’s capable of doing. There’s certain things that I wish I could do, but I’m just not suited for them.

Are you still trying to do those certain things or new things at all with your voice?

I’m always trying to edit myself. Anytime you get comfortable, I would say that’s a bad sign. I used to get depressed about the things that my voice was never going to be. There’s some voices that are very quiet and relaxed and have so much character to them and I envy that so much, but I’m still learning the limitations of my voice by pushing it to do things. That definitely happened with this record. I was trying to reign it in a bit more and do the best things for parts of these songs. I’m always going to have to work on that because I’m first and foremost a songwriter, then a performer. I love to write so I always have to adapt to what I write because I’m not really thinking of my voice when I’m starting a song. I just want to write a song.

You guys have been in Richmond a lot over the years so any fond memories?

We were just in Richmond opening up for The War On Drugs at The National a little while ago. That was incredible. In Richmond though, we always go to Lamplighter. That’s kind of a tradition and something to really look forward to it. Last time we were there, we went to that – I keep forgetting the name of it, but it’s that park that’s also a zoo.


Yeah, that’s it. We went to Maymont and it was gorgeous. I sat and drew for a while and everybody walked deep into the park. It was really, really lovely.

Anything you’re going to try and do in town if you get any time?

I guess it all depends on how responsible we are. If we can, I would absolutely love to go to Maymont again. It’s going to be such a beautiful time to be there for a walk. Joe [Reinhart] and I went for a run last time we were there and that was really nice too. I always love walking around the town and stopping at Lamplighter of course. It’s always really pretty in Richmond because there’s room for trees unlike other cities. Can’t wait to be back.

Hop Along performs tonight at The Camel alongside Field Mouse and Richmond artists Go & Tell and Lucy Dacus. For more information on the show and where to buy tickets, click here.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me

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