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.”
The lyrics are often dotted with literary references, if you know where to spot them—everything from Watership Down to