With the release in April of their third full-length — Bark Your Head Off, Dog — Hop Along have proved more than ever that they have transcended genres as we know them. The band’s catalog now stretches wide, covering folk, punk, indie rock, and power pop and making it hard to categorize them as one specific type of band. Frances Quinlan’s expressive voice leaps from a sing-songy tenderness to unexpected breaks of fervent wailing that frequently turns into screaming and is often the first thing to draw fans into Hop Along’s music.
Just hours before the Philly band’s first return to the Twin Cities in five years (a sold-out, Wednesday night show at the Turf Club), Quinlan and I sat in the Clown Lounge talking about their shifting sound.
“I think it took all the albums that it’s taken to become what it is, if that makes sense,” Quinlan said. “We had to make Get Disowned to make Painted Shut in order to come now to Bark Your Head Off, Dog.” Quinlan said the band gave themselves extra time to work on this album because “we all agreed that we wanted this album to have a mood and not worry about how we’ll translate that mood live.” Instead, they focused on making a rich studio album full of strings, keys, and backup vocals.
The live translation didn’t seem to be an issue at all. They brought Chrissy Tashjian of Thin Lips on this tour to help with keys, vocals, and guitar, helping to translate the album’s soundscape to the stage. Hop Along began their night with “How Simple,” the first single off Bark Your Head Off, Dog and the crowd were more than excited. The setlist contained about an even mix of new songs and fan favorites from Get Disowned and Painted Shut.
Mid-set, drummer Mark Quinlan (Frances’s brother) tried consoling an audience member who had made a song request and was politely turned down by saying, “We have a ton of songs here and hopefully you like a couple of them.” To that, someone else responded, “We’ll see.” Frances Quinlan, joking that you can’t please everyone, confirmed, “We will see!”
That idea of pleasing people is touched upon in Bark Your Head Off, Dog, though the bigger theme is the unrest felt once you realize that you won’t be able to please everyone, but you’ll still be expected to. The lyric, “so strange to be shaped by such strange men,” is repeated on two songs and stands as a reflection on that realization.
“It’s really an observation,” Quinlan told me. “There’s a lot of anger in the album and I think at one point I was a little worried about sounding bitter, but in reality, it is just very very weird that things have shaped up the way that they have — no pun intended. In thousands and thousands of years, why do men run everything? Because they’re stronger than we are? I mean, I guess,” she said with an eye roll. “And yet something is going on that is being perpetuated by everybody, and why? Why does it have to continue, it’s all so strange, and we all feel so pinned. Things are happening, our backs are against the wall, but we have to dismantle.”
After the main set, Quinlan returned to the stage for a solo encore of “Happy To See Me,” a request that she teased earlier in the set. The full band joined her afterward to play two popular tracks from their first two albums, “The Knock” and “Tibetan Pop Stars,” the latter of which Quinlan told us was the oldest song they have. That final song is what launched the happy but tame audience into full-body headbanging and scream-singing along.
Hop Along are a band for the ages, but right now they’re living in the moment. “We can’t help but be a product of our existence and age,” Quinlan said in our interview, “but it’s funny, though. I remember when I turned 25 and being depressed at one point and saying to my brother, ‘Maybe I’m going through a quarter-life crisis.’ He said, ‘You’re not going to live to be 100,’ and it was really funny, because, oh yeah, I guess I was past that already, huh?”