In Conversation with Frances Quinlan: The Voice Behind Hop Along
January is a great month for Bay Area California residents to check out one of the hottest up-and-coming alternative rock musicians -- Frances Quinlan and her band, Hop Along. Last week, Quinlan played a solo set with Barry Johnson from the band Joyce Manor at The Chapel SF. Catch her band opening for Dr. Dog at the end of the month at the Fox Theater Oakland, and check here for more Hop Along tour dates in a city near you.
For me, the band's record label choice (Saddle Creek Records) was enough to draw me in. For those not similarly obsessed with the Omaha, Nebraska label formed by such musicians as Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Tim Kasher (The Good Life, Cursive); just go ahead & listen to the Hop Along song "Some Grace". You'll likely become so enthralled that you'll stop reading this article momentarily. Good. The band deserves all the high praise it has been receiving. Both of their albums--Painted Shut and Get Disowned--are incredibly rich and complex, both musically and lyrically. Reviewers note how each listen of their new album gives the listener something fresh to take away. I love voices with controlled chaos--Quinlan's punk growl tears you apart just as much as the soft and melodic side of her singing does. I'm even more excited to see her with a full band, after she nailed all the Hop Along songs she played solo opening for Barry Johnson. Check out another great interview with her for the backstories on some of the amazing stories she tells in the songs on Painted Shut. Quinlan gives remarkably in depth & thoughtful interview answers, and because there's already a ton of amazing interviews with her out there, here's mine in barebones Q & A style:
Q: Has being on Saddle Creek Records been what you hoped it would be, when you signed with them?
A: I'm happy with those guys--we quickly became friends with them.
I appreciated their ethics from the start. The label is made up of 80% friends. It's not strictly a business--we can speak personally. As a label, they started with the right intentions, and stuck to them-- in the time that I've known them at least! [laughs]"
Q: Which Saddle Creek bands do you still enjoy?
A: Azure Ray, Maria Taylor & Orenda Fink, Rilo Kiley and Son Ambulance. We listened to the Saddle Creek 50 in the van. It was the first label that had a story to me, the first one I heard of that way growing up, at least. They have a story & a connection to each other.
Q: What bands have you recently discovered or plan to listen to next?
Natalie Prass [note: if you saw Jenny Lewis on her last tour, that's where you will realize you recognize Prass from. She performed in her backing band for the Voyager album], Sheer Magg; Alex G is a great band. I'm behind! I still need to listen to Joanna Newsom.
Q: If you could play music with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
A: I would be so intimidated. I think I would just try sitting & watching Joni Mitchell play. I'd rather just watch them play, I'm not good at jamming.
Q: Can you tell me a bit more about your solo shows with Barry Johnson?
A: We met at a warehouse show in Chicago. We've been friends with them [Joyce Manor] for a while now, & I started talking with their booking agent, thought it would be cool. The idea blossomed from there.
Q: Who else would you like to tour with?
A: I'm open! [laughs] We just got to tour with Modest Mouse, that was incredible. Radiohead would be ridiculous! That would be amazing & crazy. Built to Spill, playing with Stephen Malkamus would be amazing as well. We've toured with a lot of surprising bands, that you wouldn't necessarily expect us to play with. We loved playing with the Thermals. We've played with a lot of amazing bands. The band Owls were great. Me Without You, War On Drugs, Waxahatchee-- we're friends with Katie [Crutchfield, band name Waxahatchee], so that was a really good time. I'm like looking through records as we talk--Neil Young would be amazing to perform with. Within the band, our tastes are pretty different from one & another's.
Q: If you could meet anyone living or dead, who would it be?
A: Well if you meet them, you find out what kind of person they are. Leonard Cohen, the poet Louise Gluck and the artist Julie Mehretu.
Q: How do you think of your role as a musician, politically? [Quinlan spoke up for the band Joyce Manor's stance on protecting their fans regarding stage diving]
A: It's still changing. People became so violently & aggressively against Joyce Manor for that. People are just so used to doing exactly what they want to do. People also feel they need to post in a public forum. For the public or for me: I don't quite trust people's motives for posting like that yet, that's something that's permanent. Things change so fast, it's important to try to keep everyone involved in the discussion. People say ignorant, misguided, uninformed things, & you so often see people post 'if I see a friend posting about this, I'll unfriend them'. But if you shut them out, where are they going to go? I mean, will they go buy a gun? It's about learning to communicate.
Q: Did [the bassist you who is now in Dr. Dog] invite you to tour with them, or how did that come about?
A: Eric started playing with Dr. Dog in the first year I knew him, I've been good friends with Eric for years.
Q: What books/poetry/ movies do you look forward to reading/watching next?
A: There are a couple books I am still working on-- A Boat in the Evening by a Norwegian author [Tarjei Vesaas]-- it's beautiful. But I have trouble focusing on it because it's a quiet book with subtle imagery. It's very poetic, as a book. I want to see "Creed", it's a Rocky movie. The Nina Simone documentary, but I'm not ready, it's going to be heavy.
Q: Who inspires you, musicians or otherwise?
A: Belle & Sebastian, Joanna Newsom, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elvis Costello, Pavement. Bill Callahan is one of the greatest lyricists I've found. Leonard Cohen, again [laughs]. The artist Poussin from Paris, another artist--William Kentridge.
Q: How do you feel your on versus off-stage personas differ?
A: They don't to me consciously, I guess I just feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. Unless I'm in moment with something, I have a difficult time with everything. I take a really long time to do anything, it's a struggle. If I'm onstage, I feel like I'm in right place at the right time.