Frances Quinlan Of Hop Along On Perfectionism And Taking Inspiration From A Forgotten Jazz Legend

February 12, 2016
Photo: Hop Along
Hop Along

Hop Along is a rising indie rock band fronted by singer and guitarist Frances Quinlan. The Philadelphia band released its second album, “Painted Shut,” last year to critical acclaim.

“Painted Shut” features Quinlan’s brazen, throat-shredding vocals, which provide a jagged edge to her energetic pop-influenced songs.

Quinlan took inspiration from the lives of two outsider musicians: early 20th century jazz artist Buddy Bolden and folk singer Jackson C. Frank, whose now-revered careers were marred by obscurity, poverty and mental illness.

OpenAir spoke with Quinlan prior to Hop Along's performance at Denver's Larimer Lounge on Feb. 11. Read the interview and hear highlights below.

OpenAir: I read a lot about how when you work on a new record, it’s a very arduous and stressful experience for you. Musically, how do you find relief from that process?

Frances Quinlan: "Well, musically I don’t find any relief from that process! I think when the day is over I probably would rather not listen to music."

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What about playing the songs live? Is that a way to come to terms with what’s on the record?

"I came to terms with the record probably three weeks after it was mastered. Once you know it’s done it’s been sent off to the plant, what are you gonna do? I hope I don’t torture myself to that degree!"

There are two musicians that are referenced on this album, Buddy Bolden and Jackson C. Frank. Can you explain what drove you to write about these characters and why you found them particularly fascinating?

"I found out about Buddy Bolden when I was about 20. I was taking a Memento Mori class in school, which is all about consciousness of our mortality. I don't remember what my project was on but I was looking into Holt Cemetery in New Orleans, which was at one time a cemetery for impoverished people. 

"[Bolden's] life was pretty tragic by the end. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He spent the end of his life in an asylum. When he was first buried, his sister couldn’t keep up with the payments for the grave. Eventually she fell so far behind with the payments that they dug him up, dug the hole deeper, put him back and buried someone on top of him.

"They did that so many times and moved him around that they lost track. They forgot where a lot of people were. So now there’s a plaque that says: 'Somewhere here lies Buddy Bolden.'

"Which is crazy! He’s reported by some to be the father of jazz. It’s absolutely insane that there’s no recordings of his music."

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You worked with producer John Agnello on “Painted Shut,” and you've said he was a sort of extra member in the band. Elaborate on the influence he had on this record.

"When we met John at the bar of the Bowery Ballroom the night of one of our shows, he literally said: “Your record will be better if I work on it than if I don’t work on it.” So we said 'OK!' 

"He was really in it and personally, emotionally invested in the songs. I think you can’t be more present than that. 

"My favorite Sonic Youth record is 'Rather Ripped' and John did that one. I think the Kurt Vile records sound great. The Thermals, all of Dinosaur Jr’s catalog almost."

This is your first release on the Saddle Creek label, which you've said is the first label you ever cared about. What impact did the Saddle Creek catalog have on your life?

"I lived in the suburbs and I didn't go to house shows until I was already in college. I only knew about ska shows down the street (in Boyertown, Pa.).

"My brother Mark, our drummer, gave me an EP by Bright Eyes when I was just turning 17. I heard it and I was blown away. I had never heard music like that before.

"That summer I went to an art program and I met all these kids who were like: "Everybody knows about Bright Eyes, but have you heard all these other Saddle Creek bands?" I became familiar with the whole catalog really quickly.

"The Saddle Creek story rang true with me. They were from this town (Omaha, Neb.) where supposedly nothing was happening and they had to make it themselves. I was really drawn into that idea." 

Hop Along performs at The Black Sheep in Colorado Springs tonight and the Boulder Theater on Saturday.

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