Interview

Hop Along Talk ICP, Ani DiFranco, & Their Awesome New Album

Siblings Frances & Mark Quinlan on the music that made them plus music they made

When she was a teenager, Frances Quinlan wanted to be as famous as Conor Oberst. She rolls her eyes as she says this, knowing how ridiculous it all sounds now.

But if Frances hasn’t quite become as well-known as someone she considers one of her songwriting heroes, she’s still done pretty great for herself. With their second full-length album, Painted Shut, her band Hop Along announced themselves as one of the most exciting artists to emerge from the indie scene, and she was praised for her literary flair and arresting, banshee-like wail. She began writing acoustic songs in high school under the name Hop Along, Queen Ansleis. After she graduated college and released a few EPs of scrappy DIY folk, her older brother Mark, a recovering metalhead joined on drums, and eventually guitarist Joe Reinhart and bassist Tyler Long signed up as well, and Hop Along coalesced into a band with a more compact moniker.

After generating some buzz and nabbing an endorsement from Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus with their full-band debut, Get Disowned, Hop Along signed with Oberst’s old label Saddle Creek. Their 2015 album Painted Shut won raves from critics, and with the follow-up Bark Your Head Off, Dog, the band has gone even deeper. Produced by Reinhart and Kyle Pulley, Dog is an inward-looking set of songs with lush, textured arrangements and new wave-inspired hooks, as well as a few searing solos, that rewards repeat listens.

It’s Monday in late February, and Mark and Frances are sitting in the New York office of a music publicity firm, in a back room outfitted with gigantic couches and framed photos of My Morning Jacket and They Might Be Giants, amongst others. In a few weeks they’ll leave for SXSW and begin promoting Dog, but for now they’re just starting to get back on the escalator. The pair were born in Manhattan but grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia (where they still reside) as voracious music fans that rarely enjoyed the same artists at the same time, but can now both sing the praises of Marilyn Manson. They talked with Stereogum about some of their formative and surprising early tastes, Frances’ songwriting beginnings, and learning to embrace restraint. Read our Q&A below.

STEREOGUM: So you painted the album cover?

FRANCES QUINLAN: I did.

STEREOGUM: How long have you been painting for?

FRANCES: Longer than I’ve been playing music. My mom started taking me to oil painting classes when I was around eight. Our neighbor across the street taught oil painting and I was the only child there, it was all, I guess, ladies from around the neighborhood, plus my mom is also an artist. My mom encouraged me at a very young age, because she has a visual arts background. No formal schooling but she’s got these amazing etchings. Actually her etchings are included in pretty much every band album we’ve ever put out.

STEREOGUM: Growing up, did you two always get along, and did you always play music together?

FRANCES: No. Our musical taste diverged greatly when we were young.

MARK QUINLAN: So much of my taste was influenced by angst and male aggression and, you know, suburban white male problems. A lot of the metal I listened to back then I’ll still listen to — I just put on a Cannibal Corpse record from back then, and since I can’t understand the lyrics, it’s just this really heavy, rhythm-driven vibe that I love. Then from there I made the transition into old screamo where it was kids that looked like me trying to play black metal and it ended up being this cool new thing. But, you know, it was all just about being a boy.

STEREOGUM: [To Frances] I take it this wasn’t your thing?

FRANCES: I was into a different kind of angst. So our mom remarried, and we have two older step-siblings, and my stepdad and my step-brother Andrew got me really into Ani DiFranco and Patty Griffin, but I would say it was still like a brand of angst that was just very different. It was lyrically raw, like bare. There were pieces of what Mark liked that, um, I feel like as he was growing out of it, I would pick it up. [To Mark] Like I got into Marilyn Manson as you were kind of putting him down.

MARK: I mean how fun was Antichrist Superstar at the time? And what was the other one, Portrait Of An American Family?

FRANCES: That one has “Lunchbox” on it. It was really not cool to like him at our school.

STEREOGUM: What year was this?

FRANCES: I mean, I was in seventh grade when Columbine happened, and he’s in Bowling For Columbine because people were really frightened of him when that occurred and blamed him, in some respects, so that just pushed me all the more into liking him because I wasn’t popular and I was never going to be. So I just, I mean, we both just kind of embraced that.

STEREOGUM: You mentioned Ani DiFranco. It’s crazy because she was huge for a few years and then people completely forgot about her, I feel.

FRANCES: I think it kind of became uncool to like her for a long time but once I heard Tune-Yards cite her as a major influence I was like, “You know what? I should buck up.” And you know, I listened to a lot of Ani DiFranco, and I listened to her first and then Bright Eyes, and both of them in turn shaped me. I had such a confused sound for a long time. I was transitioning from listening to her and Neutral Milk Hotel to Kimya Dawson and “freak folk,” I guess you’d call it. But before that I do have a fond memory of my mom, I think Mark asked for a Green Jellÿ CD and my mom was like “OK!” She bought it and I remember us all listening to that “Three Little Pigs” song —

MARK: I remember that too!

FRANCES: And laughing together! We all thought it was really funny.

STEREOGUM: It’s weird that Maynard Keenan from Tool sings on that.

FRANCES: What?

STEREOGUM: Yeah, it’s true! Maynard sings the “Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin!” part.

FRANCES and MARK: That’s him?!

STEREOGUM: That’s him. I wouldn’t lie to you, not about Maynard.

FRANCES: Whoa! I’m so happy I learned that.

MARK: I mean, the whole record was pretty rad.

FRANCES: [To Mark] There was a period of time where I would go through these things to try to kind of relate to what you liked. I mean, I was into Slipknot for like 10 minutes.

STEREOGUM: Amazing.

FRANCES: I knew I wasn’t going to be popular so I wanted to be interesting. I remember being on the bus like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could play like those two drummers combined?”

STEREOGUM: I respect the fact that you guys are owning up to this.

FRANCES: I listened to ICP on tape.

STEREOGUM: No, you didn’t.

MARK: We both did! We both had The Amazing Jeckel Brothers and uh ….

FRANCES: I didn’t want to throw you under the bus.

STEREOGUM: What was your favorite Insane Clown Posse song?

FRANCES: I had Great Milenko. That had “Chicken Huntin’” on it I think. I don’t wanna — they have some really messed-up songs.

STEREOGUM:  You don’t say.

FRANCES: They have a song featuring ODB that’s really effed up.

STEREOGUM: Oh yeah, I think I remember reading about that once. It’s rather misogynistic — even by Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s standards.

MARK: Michael, the gravity of the message so wasn’t something I was paying attention to at the time.

FRANCES: Me either. I also just ignored my sex completely with a lot of stuff I was listening to. I mean like Mark made me a mixtape — or mix CD, excuse me — and it had some Saves the Day songs and I really enjoyed them, but they are very — what’s that Hard Times article? “Man Has Nothing But Respect for Women Except The Ones He Writes The Songs About“?

STEREOGUM: Were Saves The Day that bad?

FRANCES: Oh yeah. He’s got a song where he’s just murdering his girlfriend,  he sings about eating her eyeballs because she was mean to him. I mean, there were so many artists I was listening to where I just had to … I just kind of spaced … and books I was reading, too. I mean plenty of authors. I mean, I love Hemingway’s style but he’s terrible at writing women. So many of the authors I liked were amazing at writing men and very bad at writing women.

STEREOGUM: That’s, I think, a lot of authors in general. So Hop Along actually started as your solo project when you were in high school?

FRANCES: I was just graduating high school. Well, initially when I was in junior high our step-brother Andrew and I were playing together, we were like an acoustic duo — again like in the thick of my Ani Difranco, Patti Griffin, Fiona Apple years. We have two CDs that we made together that are very interesting, I was definitely figuring myself out. But that was really fun and he was the first person to ever record me. I was already learning guitar, like I was playing covers like White Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba,” and I think the first song I ever learned on the guitar was “Every Little Bit” by Patti Griffin, and Andrew taught me that. He went with me to get my first guitar, and then my freshman year of school I just started writing all of these songs, and it was like the worst grades I got in college were because I was more focused that year on writing songs than a lot of my foundation courses.

STEREOGUM: Mark, were you around for any of this or had you already left?

MARK: So I was trying desperately to merge the Faint and the Blood Brothers in a band with my friend for a long time. But we couldn’t make it work, and we couldn’t make our friendship work either. So that sort of fell apart and it just happened to be good timing. Her and I — I can’t believe we did this — set up drums and amps and played super loud on my mom’s back porch and she has neighbors, but nobody said anything. It was hard for me at first but it started to make sense.

FRANCES: Someone did say something, when we set up in the driveway.

MARK: Well that’s when we played in the driveway! I can’t believe we did that. I had very little understanding of drum dynamic because, I just liked heavy drums all the time.

FRANCES: Well it was also super confusing, because these were all songs I wrote in college so they were written as these bare-bones, acoustic songs. I remember borrowing my friend’s electric guitar the following summer when we went on tour with P.S. Eliot and I had no, I mean I did not know anything about tone. I mean I had the electric guitar and I had no idea of the settings. It sounded like hell, I’m sure. And then I had a big muff because I wanted to sound like Neutral Milk Hotel.

STEREOGUM: As siblings, what’s it like working together?

FRANCES: As opposed to not being siblings?

STEREOGUM: Yeah, because you can say things to your brother and sister that you wouldn’t say to even another band member.

FRANCES: We’re less like that than we were. I think initially it must have been intense for anyone else in the band because, you know, when you’re young and you’re siblings it’s so much easier to regress to your former selves.

STEREOGUM: Rock has a long history of siblings who can’t get along and yell at each other all the time. Like the Black Crowes, Oasis, the Kinks ….

FRANCES: But a lot of those bands got really big at a really young age, and we didn’t really have to deal with that.

STEREOGUM: At what point did you realize this wasn’t just something you were doing in the basement, and that you wanted to try to make this work?

FRANCES: Oh, immediately. As soon as I started. I mean I sent my first demo to Saddle Creek, which they rightfully rejected. Not good. I mean I remember I was in the car — God, this is honestly something very embarrassing.

STEREOGUM: You’ve already owned up to ICP, why not keep going?

FRANCES: I’m not going to pretend. I think I’ll only sink lower if I try to act cool at this point. I remember being in the car with my cousins and actually saying one of the most delusional things I’ve ever said:  “How old do you think I’ll be when I’m as famous as Conor Oberst?” And I was like, “I’m gonna say 23.” I was 18, I was so full of myself.

MARK: I was the same way!

FRANCES: My cousin Pam said, “I’m gonna say 27.” I was aghast, I was very upset with her. Turns out she was being very generous.

STEREOGUM: And when you were 23, what would you say your “fame level” was?

FRANCES: Uh, not that. I was just writing the songs for Get Disowned.

STEREOGUM: You can’t compare yourself to people.

FRANCES: I do. I was at a museum with someone, like an art museum, and I remember pointing to a painting and being like, “Agh, he was 21 when he painted that! Agh, he was 35 when he painted that!” And at one point, the person I was with just grabbed me and said, “Stop comparing yourself!” Like it was driving him insane cause I get obsessed about the ages. But at this point I can’t be that way anymore, because obviously it hasn’t worked out that way.

STEREOGUM: [Points to a picture of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy that’s hanging on the wall.] You know what? He didn’t even start until he was well into his 30s.

FRANCES: But it is funny though, those are exceptions, right? Like Leonard Cohen.

STEREOGUM: Yeah, he didn’t write his first song until he was 30.

FRANCES: Right! But still in the music business, age is very much a commodity that we are gradually losing.

STEREOGUM: What was going on during that time period before you got on Saddle Creek?

MARK: I was an on-air host at a jazz radio station in Philly during the graveyard shift from like midnight to 6AM or from 11 until 6AM for about almost 10 years, from when I was like 20 to 30. So I was doing that and I was very lucky to have a boss that was extremely supportive of me being a musician.

FRANCES: I had lots of odd jobs from 2008 onwards. I worked for a holiday season at Lush, which was I think the quickest I’d ever been hired and let go. Was not good at it. And then I was a dog walker, and I quit that job to be in my friend’s movie one night, but I wasn’t good for that job either.

STEREOGUM: So if Painted Shut didn’t make you as famous as Conor Oberst, it was definitely well-received.

FRANCES: Oh yeah, I’m grateful, I don’t mean to sound … you have to be completely delusional when you’re young to do anything, in my opinion. I had to be. If I came back to 18-year-old me and said, “Hey it’s all gonna happen, just wait like 12 years,” I don’t know that I would have put in the time. What a bozo, 18-year-old me.

STEREOGUM: So what was the experience like? You’re on a bigger label and getting national attention … Did it feel validating or was it a little disorienting to finally be on that level?

FRANCES: Well again, because the process has been so gradual, there are times when I have to remind myself things are really good now. Because we’re still ourselves, it’s not as though our lifestyles have been night and day, it’s been a gradual shift. I only just a couple years ago stopped living with two or more other people.

STEREOGUM: I remember when I first heard Painted Shut that I thought you seemed like a short-story writer that happens to be making music instead of publishing collections. Like, these songs aren’t necessarily about you, the person, but you’re creating narrative, using analogies and metaphors for things in our society based on your own life.

FRANCES: I get very nervous writing about myself. I’ve certainly read great memoirs in my time, and obviously I’m not saying a song is akin to a memoir — but, first of all, I just don’t think I’m very interesting.

MARK: Despite all of the people around her who think she’s very interesting, including myself.

FRANCES: I’ve quoted this author a bunch of times, I think Annie Dillard said that someone said that a lot of authors never stop writing about childhood, like Faulkner, because it’s the last first-hand experience they had as a person and you go off into a room and you’re writing, and then your experience becomes that much more limited as opposed to when you were a child out in the world. I think she said something akin to that.

STEREOGUM: Was this new album more or less personal, would you say, than the last one?

FRANCES: That’s a hard thing. My experience is like a mire of thoughts. I cannot compartmentalize at all. Everything is bleeding into each other, it’s a mess. There’s very few songs that are written in one, or not even one, three sittings, let’s say. I think “How You Got Your Limp” was the fastest, musically and lyrically, that came to me, and it pretty much stayed the same. The very title of our record is a line I pulled from 2013 from a song that never came to be, but I liked the line a lot. And I have journals that I’ve kept since I was, I mean, I’ll say 18. I’ve had journals before that, but I’m not gonna go through my high school, junior high journal. [Laughs] I’m pulling from lines over the last five years still, because I’ll find a moment of clarity somewhere in that experience. I mean I get nervous about isolating myself. I love how people interpret the songs. As much as I’m telling you what, “Look Of Love” is about, someone’s gonna come to me and say, “Oh, I thought it was about this,” and they’re not gonna be wrong.

STEREOGUM: Death Of The Author and all that.

FRANCES: I listened to a great interview this morning. It’s between author Karl Ove Knausgård and Zadie Smith, and at one point he talks about how he stopped writing and it felt like a death for a while. And I was thinking about how every time I finish anything, it feels like a death. I feel completely lost and powerless because now this record will come out and people will feel however they feel. It’s theirs now, it’s not mine or ours. It’s out in the world and people will feel however they do about the lyrics. Half the time people think it’s something a lot smarter than what I thought.

STEREOGUM: There’s a recurring refrain on the album: “Strange to be shaped by such strange men.” Was that inspired by the #MeToo movement?

FRANCES: That’s just my whole life. I mean, I’ve deferred to men my whole life. And the fury — I don’t wanna say bitterness, that word scares me — but, yeah there’s an anger at realizing the language that I lacked, again, the tools that I lacked to express myself and see value and power in my expression rather than deferring to men for my value and worth.

STEREOGUM: You were involved in that New York Times article from last year, weren’t you? About how all the exciting bands are led by women these days?

FRANCES: I mean, it’s funny that it’s “these days.” There have always been exciting bands led by women, they’re just getting noticed. Finally, you know, it’s great. But I was very lucky to be exposed to incredible women and songwriters most of my life. I mean, my mom showed me Joni Mitchell when I was a child, and I was listening to Aretha Franklin — I guess she’s more of a performer, but still a powerful, powerful woman. Also Tina Turner. I mean, they’ve been around. She Shreds, it’s an amazing publication, they keep showcasing black women from the ‘20s and ‘30s that were playing incredible guitar.

STEREOGUM: Rosetta Tharpe.

FRANCES: Yeah, I mean I didn’t know their names till a year ago, but they’ve been around. We’re just finally saying something about it, which is good.

STEREOGUM: Do you still wanna be as famous as Conor Oberst?

FRANCES: I don’t know what that is anymore. There’s days where I have to step back and realize how good things are. I overthink everything and I’m trying to scale back on that and enjoy all the kind things people have to say about our record. I mean, I went crazy, as I do pretty much every record we do. I lose it. And I certainly did for this one, so it’s wonderful to see the overall positive reception. I’m grateful. I mean, nobody has to listen to our music, we didn’t have to make a record at all, the world would turn, you know? I just wanna say, also, that I’m very, very lucky to have been embraced by a very welcoming community when I was as young as I was. I was 19 and I was playing these DIY house shows and being treated so kindly by women and men. I think it’s, sadly, still not that way for a lot of people and I hope it gets better. I’m really glad to see that people of color and the trans community are finally receiving some attention and being included in the dialogue as everybody should be, but we’re certainly still far from that and I’m only now beginning to realize how privileged I was to be included at such a young age.

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Bark Your Head Off, Dog is out 4/6 via Saddle Creek.