When It Comes to Music and Beer, Hop Along Won’t Be Easily DefinedSeptember 19, 2018
It’s going to take more than a little rain to put a damper on Hop Along’s upward trajectory. It’s a drizzling, chilly Sunday afternoon on Governor’s Island as the band soundchecks at Octfest, but everyone is in high spirits afterward when I meet up with them in their tent. And they have every reason to be–2018 has been good to the genre-melding, folk-rock outfit. The band’s third album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, was released in April to critical acclaim, they’ll soon depart on a European tour with The Decemberists, and they even collaborated with friends and fellow-Philadelphians at Love City Brewing to make the juice-bomb Hop Along IPA.
Much like the Eagles, Hop Along’s hometown team, the band's banner year serves as proof that A) patience truly is a virtue and B) we all need to start paying more attention to Philly. Although no one (to my knowledge) has yet organized a parade for the the band, Hop Along has been collecting under-the-radar accolades for more than a decade.While the band’s previous albums (2012’s Get Disowned and 2015’s Painted Shut) garnered praise and comparisons to acts like Bright Eyes and Sleater-Kinney, Bark Your Head Off, Dog makes it more difficult to draw these kinds of comparisons. This album’s greatest strength is that it sounds singularly like Hop Along.
Led by frontwoman Frances Quinlan’s gymnastic vocals, hopping along with a dizzying lilt and creating scenes as vivid as a stranger’s home movies in its wake, Hop Along’s latest release is a polished exploration of the band’s range. Running the gamut seamlessly between jangly and pugilistic, restrained and wailing, carefree and heartbreaking, each track on Bark Your Head Off, Dog is as much a collaborative effort as it is sum of its expert parts. It’s the product of four distinctly talented musicians (singer and guitarist Quinlan, her brother Mark Quinlan on drums, bassist Tyler Long, and guitarist and producer Joe Reinhart) solidifying into a whole.
Back in their tent, the band and I are more than ready to divvy up beers from the festival’s Artist Village. We all choose a can: either the crisp-yet-juicy Blue Point Citrus Plunge IPA or a clean, bready Désirée ISA Blonde from Montreal’s Microbrasserie Archibald. I choose the former, then we do a quick “cheers” and dive into a conversation about the recording of Bark Your Head Off, Dog, the origins of the Hop Along IPA, and what it felt like to be signed by their (and my) teenage dream record label, Saddle Creek.
I was super excited to interview you guys, not only because I’m a huge fan, but because you also have your own beer! How did the Love City Brewing Hop Along IPA come about?
Frances: Mostly thanks to Marky.
Mark: So Kevin Walter [co-founder of Love City with his wife Melissa Walter] is an old friend of mine from high school, and we used to skate together. I don’t remember if I was following him on Instagram or something like that, but I saw that he was opening his own brewery in this gigantic spot in a really cool part of town. I talked to him for a little bit and said, “We should get together and do a band beer.” I don’t know what I was doing really, but he said, “Yeah, that’s a great idea!” So we came up with a super-juicy, Northeast IPA. It’s awesome. It’s about 7% [ABV].
Frances: It’ll knock you on your ass.
Mark: And he incorporated our album cover. They have a very streamlined brand as far as the design of everything, so they just took their design and added the colors from Bark Your Head Off, Dog. And it tastes really good.
Joe: It is really good. Their lager is really, really good, too.
Are you guys pretty big beer drinkers in general? What do you like to drink on tour?
Tyler: I recently–I think because of Love City–have gotten really into lagers again. So I’ll have one or two of those. But, I’m also a really big Miller Lite fan.
Mark: Joe describes those kinds of beers as “whackables.” Like, something you can just whack.
Mark: Something that’s easy whackin’.
Joe: I definitely love the big, crazy imperial stouts, triple IPAs, barrel-aged this, but you really can’t...well, you really shouldn’t drink a ton of those. It wears on you. But, when the opportunity’s right…
Mark: Yeah, like maybe at a cool bar near the venue or something.
Joe: Or if someone’s like “you’ve gotta try this.” Or if it’s free.
Mark: We went to Founders in Grand Rapids and had beers that were almost 20% [ABV].
Frances: Joe actually made the first Hop Along beer.
Joe: I did! That’s right.
Frances: It was called “Young and Hoppy.”
So you’re a homebrewer?
Joe: I made like four or five-ish. It was around the time we were doing our first record [Get Disowned], and there’s a song called “Young and Happy.” It was like a [Bell’s Brewery] Two Hearted Ale vibe.
Nice! Bring it back?
Mark: We should bring it back.
Joe: I still have the recipe.
That’s the biggest challenge—just finding time to sleep.”
Bark Your Head Off Dog is awesome, and it’s obviously been receiving a lot of attention. What do you think it is about this record in particular that’s gaining so much traction with people?
Frances: We’ve only been this formation since 2013. Which, I guess is awhile, but when we were making Painted Shut, I think we were still getting our bearings as a group–like, communicating, and getting ideas across, and seeing them through. Even while writing Painted Shut, Joe was still in the midst of joining. Like, “Sister Cities” was written in late 2012, early 2013. When we started working on Bark Your Head Off, we’d already been touring together and playing all of Painted Shut, so we were certainly tighter amongst ourselves, and we knew better what each other likes. We also just became so much more efficient at communicating creatively, and that really enabled us to move beyond our own instruments, actually. Like, early on working on these songs, you know, really just feeling “this song needs strings,” and talking about that. Or “maybe we can hold back more on this one so there’s room for that.” So we wanted to leave room for creativity in the studio, because we really wanted to make a studio record. We didn’t want to worry about touring on it, or how we would do that. And also we knew we needed time, so we gave ourselves that. I think it definitely benefited from those factors.
I think one of my favorite things about your music is that’s really dynamic. It hits really hard one minute, then it’s really beautiful and soft the next. Is that something that you think about consciously—that range of emotion?
Mark: I personally think that, in the songs and on my instrument, I want to be as dynamic and fulfilled as I can be. It’s fun to kind of cruise through songs, but it’s really nice to test your ability to speak to nuance and dynamic within the song. I think it’s nice to test all our skills and abilities on an academic level, but also emotionally.
Frances: For these songs initially, I was kind of thinking a lot about subtlety and allowing the moods of the songs to speak for themselves. We talk about that a lot. What does this song need for its mood to come across? And I think that really informed a lot of our decision-making as far as what to play and how hard to play it. You know, how much energy does this part need to be played with, or does the energy need to come in some other fashion?
Right—like the sort of restraint you need to show in some parts over other parts?
Frances: As a singer, I’m used to singing sort of bombastically, because it’s certainly an easy way to convey the most severe emotions, right? And I really didn’t want to resort to that on this album, so that was a big test for me–to find other ways to communicate what I was hoping to emote.
Speaking of your voice, it’s obviously very distinctive and a huge element people mention when they talk about your music. How do you take care of it while on tour?
Frances: Sleep and water. Really, the two most boring things. It’s funny, even just sitting in the car kind of does things to it. Especially in the summer when it’s 100 degrees and you have to have the AC blasting. But we’re all pretty good about racing to the hotels. And Tyler’s usually driving, so I usually snatch some Z’s in the van. That’s the biggest challenge—just finding time to sleep. Especially if you’re chasing a bus or something.
It looks like this is your last show for a bit.
Mark: Yeah, we have a month off, then we’re going to Europe. We’re doing a couple of our own shows and then meeting up with The Decemberists.
Were you guys fans growing up?
Frances: I was really into Her Majesty. I remember listening to that my first year of college and being really into it. It’s very theatrical and strange.
Tyler: Plus, we’ve heard they’re really great people, which is exciting.
So you guys have been on Saddle Creek for awhile, and that was a hugely influential label for me growing up. What was getting signed by them like?
Tyler: It was surreal. Like, from 14 on, it was the only label that was legit to me.
Frances: It was also very surreal the first time we played with Conor [Oberst], with Desaparecidos in Canada. We slept in the van that night.
Mark: I slept in the trailer!
Tyler: There was a film festival going on, and we didn’t know. So all the hotels were booked up. It was funny.
Frances: We can laugh about it now.
Joe: We signed the contract while we were all getting Chinese food together. Somebody just had it.
Frances: I think I had it.
Joe: And we were like, “Oh, we’re all together, we should sign this thing.”
Mark: To be a part of that discography, that library, and that culture of Saddle Creek is very rewarding.
Frances: Yeah, that still hits me, too. The albums, and they way they were made, and the community they were made in is just so special. The people that created it...you know it [Omaha] wasn’t a “cool” town to make music in. I shouldn’t word it that way.
Tyler: Well, they made it a cool town. Which is awesome.
You’re all from Philadelphia. What’s your favorite place to drink in Philly?
Frances: Fiume’s pretty great.
Joe: It’s may be my favorite bar in Philly. I don’t want to use this term, but it’s got a “speakeasy”-type vibe, and it’s above an Ethiopian restaurant in West Philly. The bartenders are excellent, and there’s a really well-curated fridge of fun, rare beers. And the cocktails are great.
Frances: The cocktails are really good. Also, I worked at Johnny Brenda’s for like five years, and that’s a really good space. They have awesome shows, and the staff is really friendly.
Tyler: Fountain Porter in South Philly is a great spot.
Mark: I think Love City is my favorite to go to. Number one, because they have a great selection of beers, but number two, my daughter has so much room in that place to run around.
OK, last question: What’s the best thing to do after a few beers: writing, recording or performing?
Frances: None of those things!
Mark: I would say writing.
Joe: Yeah, writing.
Frances: Not for me. I’m useless.
Mark: Well, the three of us could figure out a really cool part!
Tyler: Or at least think we did.
Artist portrait by Matt Allen.