A few weeks ago, Frances Quinlan put in her last shift at Johnny Brenda’s, where she’s waited tables for the past five years. “At least for the time being,” she says, adding, “I’m still going to be a frequent customer.” Seven days later, she and her indie folk-rock band, Hop Along, were upstairs celebrating the release of their fourth record, Bark Your Head Off, Dog.
They’ve played JB’s before, of course, every band in Philly does, but this show signaled the start of something special. Perhaps from this point forward, Quinlan & Co. can make a go of it as full-time musicians. There’s no betting on the music industry, but things certainly seem to be falling into place for Hop Along. They’ve got a respected record label behind them (Saddle Creek, home to Conor Oberst, the Faint et al.) and loads of favorable reviews. As you read this, Hop Along is in the middle of a countrywide tour to spread the word.
As always, Quinlan’s lyrics are delightfully obfuscating, jumping topics but tied together by emotional threads. The lines leap out at you. “Sunset on a cart pulled home by a white horse,” from the wonderfully complicated song “Not Abel,” sounds like the title of a painting by an Old Dutch master. On “How Simple,” she self-deprecatingly catches herself in a moment of vanity: “Pale as a banshee sun / Think I should stop checking myself out in the windows of cars.”
“I don’t read enough,” says Quinlan. “I think in general, to write, you should read. If I’m not reading I’m generally kind of stuck in my head.” Reading in the tour van used to make her car sick, but she found a solution. “If I lay on my back on the bench and read looking up, so that I can’t see motion, then I’m pretty safe.” At the moment she’s on an Elena Ferrante kick, so maybe look for some dreamy Italian villas on the next Hop Along record.
Quinlan’s fine-sandpaper voice remains the band’s most striking attribute, but it’s never been so melodic as it is on the new record. She credits a renewed commitment to restraint and vocal exercises taught to her by voice coach Deb Chamberlin. “I did them every day while we were recording, and it just made me feel more limber and able to be powerful without having to use so much force.”
Hop Along play Union Transfer May 19 at 8:30pm.
Check out these other Philly indie acts that are blowing up right now.
Known for their ’90s alt-rock sensibilities, Swearin’, featuring Allison Crutchfield, is off hiatus and signed to Merge Records.
This indie-punk trio delivers strong riffs, crashing cymbals and bright, blazing melodies. Get yourself to Everybody Hits on May 25 for the release show for their new self-titled cassette—yes, cassette.