Hop Along, Like a Wrecking Ball
After a few years of building momentum, Philly's beloved hometown heroes are about to have a breakthrough.
Last January, during one of Hop Along’s frequent trips from Philly to fill an opening slot on a big New York punk show, the band sat in their parked van outside a bar, belting the holy hell out of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.”
Cramped on top of an amp, I squeezed beside an air-drumming Tyler Long, the band’s bassist. Guitarist Joe Reinhart was outside sneaking a piss between cars. Drummer Mark Quinlan sat in the passenger seat, testing how high the volume knob would turn. And his sister Frances, the band’s singer, guitarist, and songwriting force, was behind the wheel, trying to wrangle them all, like some helpless herder of feral, screeching cats.
When you think about it—or at least grasp desperately for a deeper metaphor as I’m about to do in 3… 2…—the band has been something of a wrecking ball themselves. (Sorry.) The last few years have been a long backswing for Hop Along, beginning with the release of 2012’s Get Disowned. (I can’t apologize enough for this metaphor.) Little by little, the album, their first as a full band, started gaining heavy, forceful momentum. (Look, we are in this metaphor together now, let’s just stick it out.)
Since the band self-released Get Disowned, there was no label to put marketing dollars behind it or publicists to spread it to the media. It simply grew on the word of its fans. And if you knew a fan, they didn’t give you a soft sell, either. Phrases like “absolutely beautiful” and “stunning” often got tossed around. The fanbase grew larger and more rabid and suddenly, Frances was getting invited on stage by Rivers Cuomo to sing along to Weezer songs, and Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus was tweeting out links to the Hop Along fan-favorite “Tibetan Pop Stars,” calling it “the most painfully beautiful song ever.” And he wasn’t wrong.
Now, Hop Along are set to release their follow up, Painted Shut, on Saddle Creek Records and from the looks of it, they don’t look like they plan on hitting the wall softly, but exploding through it. [metaphor cringe emoji] We talked to Mark and Frances recently about the pressures of having a highly anticipated album, painting houses, and ways to end this godawful wrecking ball metaphor.
Noisey: You really stressed yourself out over this album, huh?
Frances: Oh yeah, totally. I lose my mind every time we make a record.
What’s the main worry?
Frances: Is it the absolute best I could’ve done? Because once it’s done, it’s your past and you’re already hopefully getting better. But once you get better, you want to fix the past.
That’s why I was surprised to hear references to modern things on the album, like YouTube. Do you ever get worried that something like that would date your work?
Frances: Totally. And I hate hearing it in other songs. I think it’s a really fine line to tread. I brought it in to see if I could pull it off, actually. I relate to being bothered by disrupting a song with some brands. But that is actually based on real experience, so it still felt as real to me as the rest of the song.
You had a lot of labels after you for this album. Why’d you go with Saddle Creek?
Mark: We were looking for a balance between an intimate setting mixed in with having a lot of resources and I think Saddle Creek was just the best fit there. They were absolutely poised to have a resurgence with new releases right now and the timing just seemed right. They’ve been crazy attentive.
Frances: They were the first label I ever cared about. I’d always just figured record labels were there to make you famous or something. I heard the Saddle Creek compilations and started reading about the label and got super interested in how they functioned. Growing up in the suburbs, I didn’t know about punk labels. I didn’t even go to a house show until I was in college. I found out about Saddle Creek and that was the first time I realized someone could make something happen themselves.
What’s your favorite Saddle Creek release?
Mark: Mine is a dead-even tie between The Ugly Organ and Wet From Birth.
Frances: I have a really soft spot in my heart for that Son Ambulance and Bright Eyes split. This is so corny but I just have strong memories of laying on my back in the grass, listening to that album.
You’re a bit of a perfectionist, aren’t you?
Frances: Yeah, I guess that’s kind of the definition of a perfectionist, not being alright with something as it is. We put our all into making that record when we were there, but once it was done, well… [Laughs]
I know you’re a bigger picture kinda gal when it comes to your art. How does it feel to hand your album over to the music blogging cycle where everything is picked apart into tiny pieces, and consumed song by song?
Frances: The funny thing about Get Disowned is that we didn’t have any publicist or anything for that record and it still got reviewed. So even though this is the first time we’ve been talked about in this magnitude, reviews generally read the same to me unless they’re really well-written.
If you could control the conversation, how would you want people to talk about your music?
Frances: I don’t know any band who feels like they control the conversation of how they’re talked about. It’s just not possible. I think about it a lot. I personally respond most to lyrical content. But I think it’s when… like, if someone talked about “Powerful Man” and just called it catchy, that would bum me out. Because that doesn’t discuss the content at all.
Mark: Dan, why are people calling us “pop punk?” Tell me why!
That’s a good question. You’ve done shows with Fucked Up and Paint It Black and The Thermals, and that might’ve made sense for Get Disowned. But Painted Shut is really different. You’re touring with The War on Drugs soon. Who do you think you fit in with?
Frances: I would like to think we could fit in with a lot of people. That’s why I’m excited about these future tours. I’m really excited about The War on Drugs, and maybe a band that sounds absolutely nothing like them will ask us next. For me, that would be the goal. I would never want to be pigeonholed in anything where we are playing with a certain kind of band. That would get very boring.
You can actually hear the air leave the room at the 2:20 mark.
I know you’re not a fan of musical comparisons.
Frances: They very rarely make sense to us. But I’m personally trying to not let it bother me as much anymore. I feel like people are doing that more for themselves. They just want to feel their own sense of understanding of it. And I don’t want to try to control that. That would bring on unnecessary anxiety. That’s why I worked especially hard on the lyrics on this one, making them a little self-explanatory. I mean, people are still going to interpret them how they want to interpret them. Maybe they won’t even listen to them, and that’s fine too. But it’s cool that people are talking about that, including the lyrics in the conversation.
You’re not big on doing media in general, are you?
I wouldn’t say I’m particularly skilled in that area, per se. [Laughs]
Why is that?
Frances: I just don’t consider myself a particularly interesting person with a lot of stories. When we tour, I listen to podcasts and I like listening to those WTF interviews and my favorite ones are always with older people who have garnered a lot of experience of interesting stories to tell. I feel like I’ll be more interesting in 20 years.
OK, so what’s your schedule like in March, 2035? Can we set up an interview?
Yeah, let’s schedule it for that April, Saturday.
Good, because I have something on that Friday.
Frances: Right, I have my stories on Thursday that I gotta watch.
Totally. Saturday, 2035 it is then. So, I don’t want to make you nervous, but there does seem to be a lot of anticipation around this album. Does that mess with your heads at all?
Frances: I was most nervous about the first song, “Waitress,” and now it’s out there and people seem to enjoy it. That’s not even my favorite song on the album. I feel pretty—I want to say positive—but I’m alright with it now. You remember what I was like a few months ago—a lot more nervous. I’m in a much better place.
The kids love 'em.
What is “Waitress” about?
Frances: It’s hard to get into that one because it’s a very high school-esque tale. It’s just one of those things where you run into someone that you’re embarrassed to run into for various reasons and you’re also working at your restaurant job, which is an honorable position. But it’s just awkward to be in the middle of being in the middle of your job and trying to be friendly and accomodating and seeing somebody you have no idea how to connect yourself with because of the past.
You do waitressing and housepainting and a lot of random side jobs between tours. Does holding down those jobs give you time to think and help you creatively?
Frances: I can’t say I’ve held them down that well. [Laughs] But yeah, my aunt owns a housepainting business and she’s been kind enough to let me come back which has made me a decent housepainter after ten years of doing it. I enjoy it a lot more than I used to. I remember being 18 and saying, “I’m never doing this again. This is the last summer that I paint houses!” and I’ve been doing it ever since, on and off. I appreciate that there’s something I can do besides music that I feel useful doing because I’ve had other jobs I’ve picked up that I was really bad at. I had a dog-walking job once that was probably the worst decision I ever made. I did retail and everything else. There’s this quote from Neil Young—someone asked him why he played music and he said, “Because I would be terrible at everything else.”
Dan Ozzi is gonna be creepin' on ya so hard. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi