Hop Along: Doing things differently
In 2004, Frances Quinlan started performing as Hop Along, Queen Ansleis, a solo effort that showcased her highly personal songs. Her band, rechristened Hop Along, worked with producer John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Sweet Apple) for its latest record, Painted Shut. Quinlan spoke via phone as she walking home from the coffee shop in her Philadelphia home.
Talk about how you got started in music.
In 2004, I started performing as Hop Along, Queen Ansleis. It was just me because when I was in high school, I used to perform with my oldest brother Andrew. I have two brothers. When I was going away to college, I knew I would have to play shows on my own. I started playing under that moniker and recorded Freshman Year in my parent’s basement with the help of some friends. [My other brother] Mark was in a hardcore band that was breaking up. We decided to start jamming together. It was the summer before I left for college.
The band started some ten years ago. Talk about the initial impulse to form the group.
I loved making music. So much of my life was changing because I was going away. It didn’t make sense to start a band. I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Baltimore. I love writing songs and it’s really fun to write on my own. Still, I envied bands because they seem to have so much fun. We have a lot of fun now so it’s been great. I started the group out of necessity.
But did you keep playing when you were in college?
My freshman year I was active writing songs which is when I got the worst grades. I was bummed about that. After I put Freshman Year out, I toured on winter break. But after that first CD, I didn’t really record anything. I gave myself to school when I was there.
The band signed to Saddle Creek in 2014. How did the label hear about the group?
[Owner] Robb Nansel was familiar with our booking agent. He was checking out the roster and listened to our work and was really into it. Our booking agent put him in touch with us. He flew out to see us play. I felt like we all understood with each other quickly. I understand where they come from as a grassroots label. I don’t think they tried to capitalize on anything and I really respect that. They put out music they like and can stand behind. That’s what we wanted to do. Saddle Creek was the first label whose story was compelling and inspiring. People were recording albums themselves and putting them out because they believed in each other.
Do you identify with freak folk?
I’m not sure what I identify with as this point. I used to love acts like Kimya Dawson and Devendra Banhart. When I made Freshman Year, I was super into all of that.
I think you recorded Painted Shut in Philly and Brooklyn. What was the recording experience like?Our guitarist Joe shares a space called Head Room. He’s a great producer and engineer. We recorded with John Agnello and he mixed it in Brooklyn. John Agnello is a punk. He stayed at my house on a blowup mattress. It was great to work with him. He wanted to help the songs be as much as they could. He genuinely cared about what we were doing. Those are the things that matter more than a signature sound. We weren’t looking for that.
Were you trying to do anything different?
We knew we couldn’t do it the way we did it before. It was recorded over the course of two years because of scheduling. We all had jobs. We had to record in spurts. We knew we wouldn’t have all the time in the world when we got in the studio so we demoed everything quite a bit. Some songs we demoed three times. We wanted to have as much time to be creative in the studio as possible. Even still, I’m a perfectionist with my vocals. We didn’t have enough time to go really crazy creatively which ended up being an asset to the record. It’s not busy but there’s some adornment. It’s pretty sparing.
“Happy to See Me” is one of the quieter songs on the album.
We had thrown that song around a little as a band and it didn’t seem to be happening and it didn’t seem need anything so John set the mics up and I played and sang it live. I love doing that. It’s very daunting. I’m glad it managed to come across. John is very easy to work with and he doesn’t let you agonize. He did a great job of navigating me while I was doing that because I was very nervous and I didn’t know how we would get it in one take. I’ll be totally honest, it was two live takes. Still, that’s pretty good for me.
“Powerful Man” has a narrative to it. What’s the story there?
I was living in Baltimore and walking with a girlfriend of mine and we saw this man who I can only assume was a father striking this little boy. The child must have been eight years old. The man was hitting him about the head. He saw the two of us and didn’t even stop for a second. The man said, “Don’t look at her. She’s not going to help you.” He had no concern about our presence at all. He didn’t consider us a threat in any way. I had never seen anything like that. I was frozen in my tracks. We kept walking and my friend wanted to us to go back. We told a teacher at the school and she was infuriated with us for bringing it up. It’s a memory that will stay with me. I don’t think most young women are taught how to deal with conflict like that. Young girls from the ’90s aren’t taught how to engage with violent people. I was really scared. I wish I could have yelled, “Help.” I have strong regrets about that. But how do you deal with someone who isn’t concerned about your presence and isn’t even affected? It was a hard one to sing and write because I was ashamed. But that made it feel all the more important to put it down and get it out there.
What’s up for the rest of the year?
We’re playing some festivals and we’ll have something going on for the fall, but I can’t talk about it just yet.