Interview: Hop Along's Frances Quinlan on Expanding Their DIY Rock Vision

Philadelphia-based Hop Along's 2015 release Painted Shut found a wide audience with indie rock fans. Frances Quinlan's lyrics stretched and walloped over sometimes melodic, sometimes angular riffs reminiscent of both turn-of-the-millennium emo and Built To Spill-style rock. The album arrived through Saddle Creek and was produced by John Agnello—whose work has helped bring out the propulsive jams of indie stalwarts like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth as well as new acts like Waxahatchee and Jessica Lea Mayfield.

For their latest LP, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, the band took all they'd learned from making and touring behind their breakthrough release. But instead of going back to the studio with another outside producer, they made the album themselves at Philadelphia's The Headroom—a recording studio co-owned and -run by Hop Along guitarist Joe Reinhart.

Though one may assume the resulting album would be a return-to-basics affair, the setup allowed Hop Along to use their long-standing DIY impulses to craft a record with an expanded sonic palette that includes strings, danceable rhythms, and orchestral-pop arrangements—all while maintaining the power and frankness of their earlier work.

We recently sat down with singer-songwriter, guitarist, and co-producer Frances Quinlan to learn how they approached Bark Your Head Off, Dog. For more info on the band and to see their upcoming tour schedule, visit their website here.

How did the production process on the new record differ from Painted Shut?

We produced this one ourselves, with Kyle Pulley and Joe [Reinhart] engineering. Kyle also assisted with Painted Shut—he is fantastic. Of course with this record we had the benefit of all we'd learned and experienced making and touring on Painted Shut, so that's an immediate difference. We, and I, had a much stronger vision when it came to these new songs, and we were a much better band from having toured a fair amount over the last couple years.

But all in all the greatest difference I would think is that experience and playing has made us better, and made this next record come more immediately to us in our approach to the arrangement and production. I suppose that's an easy thing to say.

Hop Along - "How Simple"

Were there any new tools or techniques you used in the studio this time around that you feel helped define the record's sound?

We have the great benefit of having an amazing producer/engineer in our band. Joe's worked on a lot of records since we put out Painted Shut (which I should mention we did with the great John Agnello as producer and mixer). In general, for this record I think we all had become a little more self-sufficient.

Kyle and I would be in one room working, mostly on my vocals and backups, and Joe would be in the other, hashing out guitar and keys. Tyler and Mark are incredible at how quickly they get their parts down just right—and in some cases they'd be off in a room playing with ideas as well. Time only seems to get more precious in the studio, especially since our ideas had become grander as well.

There are some rather intricate instrumental passages on the new record. Do you envision those sorts of arrangements as part of the writing process or do they develop more in rehearsal or recording sessions?

We edit throughout the entire process, from our initial jam sessions all the way through to recording. As soon as I bring a song to the band, as soon as they start playing in a major way, it's already different.

Some songs stayed mostly what they were to begin with, maybe with a tempo change or with a part taken out. And then other songs changed dramatically at differing times. It's important to keep the process as free of rules as possible. It's a challenge to be free about change, but it's only made the songs better, in my opinion.

Hop Along

I've seen you play a Gibson ES-330 live a lot—what about that particular guitar appeals to you? (And how do you contend with feedback?)

My amp volume is generally low enough for feedback to not be such an issue. It took me years to figure out my sound with that guitar. I bought it used—I didn't know anything about guitars when I got it, and honestly I still don't know a whole lot. I just grew to love mine in having to learn how to make it sound good with the strange way I sometimes play.

I'm basically a rhythm guitarist at the end of the day, but I play odd forms of chords, and only in the last three years started using a pick. I wanted something kind of thick but somehow still angular and capable of dimension. I'm still figuring it out, but as I get better it gets more fun.

There have been a lot of excellent bands to come out of Philly in the past years and gain national attention. What are some bands you know or have played with you think more people should know about?

So many great artists are still coming out!! I feel very lucky to live here. Sheer Mag is excellent—we never played with them but their songs rip. My roommate, Dominic Angelella—I went on my very first tour with him when I was 19—he just put out a great single called "Red State."

Then there's Hound, Eight, Purling Hiss, Long Hots, and of course Thin Lips (their new record is incredible, should be out later this summer!)—so many more, can't possibly name them all.

What are some records or artists you were listening to when writing for this album?

The writing process is such a long one—it's hard for me to think. I will say, in the last couple years I really got into Fleetwood Mac. Ten years ago I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me that was going to happen.

Hop Along - "One That Suits Me" (Live at the World Cafe)
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