Press "Play" on Painted Shut (Saddle Creek), the sophomore release from Hop Along, and the first thing you’ll be struck with is lead singer Frances Quinlan’s voice. It’s guttural, voluminous, and delicate all at the same time—the sort of voice that no matter who you paired the band up with on tour would still stand on its own. And that’s exactly the Philadelphia-based band’s musical philosophy.
“The biggest mistake that can be made is putting two bands together that sound almost exactly the same—I don’t think anybody wants to hear that, because you can’t appreciate something unique that isn’t,” explains Frances. “I don’t want to have a genre; my biggest nightmare would be to be put on tour with bands that sound like us for the rest of our lives.”
That shouldn’t be a problem for Hop Along; the sounds produced by Frances (who started as a solo freak-folk act in 2004) along with her brother Mark Quinlan on drums, Joe Reinhart on guitar, and Tyler Long on bass, are wholly original—not to mention instantly memorable.
The band braved the springtime wind to meet us at Philly's Race Street Pier to talk sibling rivalry, fear of losing your mind, and upping their studio game for Painted Shut.
The sophomore album is always a big step forward—and yours came with the new backing of Saddle Creek. How have you evolved as a band?
Joe Reinhart: I feel like Get Disowned—at least half of it—was more like a recording project; everybody had their roles and everybody did their best and we all had a lot of fun. This was the first record, as a band, where we wrote songs and all really worked together. It was the four people going in there as a band, having 99-percent of it worked out, and then making a record.
Frances Quinlan: We had to be present the whole way through. Not that we weren't on other projects, but to have to do that for a month straight is very intense and I feel like you fall into this space. I'm honestly used to having months and months—or years—to do something, because there just isn't anybody, you know...
...Lighting a fire under your ass?
Mark Quinlan: Preparation was key for this album, although lots of stuff happened to be spontaneous once we got in there.
FQ: It was really the first time we couldn't take any of the studio time for granted. That was new for me!
JR: Frances and I were in the studio at four, five in the morning doing something, being like, "I guess that's good enough, we’ve got to go. Shut everything down!"
The buzz building up to Painted Shut’s release has been almost deafening, based off of the singles alone. Did you know you had something that would resonate with listeners after you finished recording?
MQ: We poured our heart and soul into every single...there's no snoozer filler track. Every second of this record was everything we had to offer.
FQ: It's fortunate, I think, that I don't feel like there is any single on the record. Rather than saying, “There are no singles on the record,” the label was more like, “We have so many opportunities here, it's great!”
Storytelling seems like such an important part of your music, including recurring characters you thread through songs; what is it that you’re trying to relay to listeners?
FQ: To me, old age and the idea of just the mind growing old is what I focus on. I think about my mind and I think about what's going to happen to it that's out of my hands; that idea of my identity changing out of my control if I develop dementia or something where I can't express myself. I met one person in my life that affected me and he had schizophrenia, he seems like that notion of being a ward of the state but the state not looking out for you. I don't know if a lot of people know how to have empathy for people whose minds are dying ahead of their bodies. I'm probably being too literal, but that is what has come up a lot in the characters I occasionally slip in there.
The seagulls on the album's front cover were done by your mother—so the band is almost like this big family project.
FQ: She would print while we were little kids playing in the house. She told me when I was four that I was an artist—she was the first person in the world to ever tell me that. I just think it made me take art more seriously just hearing that from her especially. She was the first artist to inspire me.
MQ: It was a massive part of our childhood. There were just easels and drafting tables and drawing desks and a studio downstairs. It was something that we understood as life; we thought everything was like that until we got older and lots of people did things differently.
I love it when brothers and sisters are in bands. What’s one thing that you two can never agree on?
FQ: So many things.
MQ: I don't know if you will ever appreciate metal.
FQ: That's not true, I appreciate [Black] Sabbath.
MQ: Yeah, OK. One of the keys to being in a successful sister/brother band is being really sensitive to the other person and being as diplomatic as possible, because you have such a personal relationship. I feel that she hears me out on everything and I hope I do that.
FQ: I don't like mushrooms.
MQ: And I love mushrooms, so there you go [laughs]!