On a Safer Scene with Hop Along

If you are reading this, you have probably already heard of Philadelphia’s Hop Along. Their prolific blend of alternative, folk and grunge can be found at the top of any Pitchfork list. Piloted by the mighty voice of Frances Quinlan, their sound is unforgettable. Frances was kind enough to answer my questions and was incredibly honest.

Thanks for talking to us, Frances! How are you doing?

Hi!  I’m well, just jamming some Sun Ra (solo piano Venice 1977) and getting some work done.

How was the tour with Built to Spill? Are there any particular memories you’d like to share? 

The tour was incredible, one of my favorite tours ever. I sometimes am nervous about going out with an almost entirely male group of people (although now that we have Stephanie doing merch that’s been a lot easier for me), but I couldn’t have felt more comfortable or accommodated. Laughed a lot too.

Built to Spill have to be some of the chillest folks I’ve met in a long time, and we made friends with the Alex G guys as well.  Lovely humans all around and amazing bands!

How do you feel Hop Along’s music has evolved from its infancy to Painted Shut?

Hop Along as a project has existed for around 12 years now, so it’s been through a lot.  I started it as sort of a folk project because at the time I strictly played acoustic guitar.  I think the electric guitar intimidated me for a while, I’ve never been much of a shredder and maybe thought I couldn’t write my solo stuff on anything but my acoustic.

Mark and my friend Dom and I all started jamming right after I graduated from college, in 2008.  Dom left a couple years later as his other projects became more demanding, Tyler joined in 2009, and Joe came into the picture as our producer for Get Disowned, and then officially joined in 2013.

The sound changed significantly as soon as Hop Along became a band, obviously.  Everyone’s own tastes came into play very quickly, because this has never been a project where I simply told people what I wanted them to perform (except for a couple stripped down songs on Get Disowned and Painted Shut). Mark and I have always arranged together, and that process grew as soon as Tyler and Joe joined.  Painted Shut is our first time arranging songs as the four piece that we are now.

As a major focus of Safer Scene’s is to raise awareness about discrimination in the music scene, have you experienced or witnessed sexism while touring?

I always consider myself very lucky for first playing at house shows and DIY spaces, which were often occupied at least half by women. I generally felt very safe in that scene (although I realize others have had negative experiences which is terrible, I definitely don’t want to make a blanket statement about the punk scene because I know there are abusers everywhere, regardless of someone’s supposed ethos).

It wasn’t until our band gained some popularity that I really started to notice a change in the way I was treated.  Soundmen or loaders calling me “Sweety.” Men not being able to understand that I was the leader/songwriter of the band.  People in the industry (including women) bringing up my looks when talking about the band’s prospects.

The music industry is beginning to feel pretty antiquated in parts, I think a lot of people in the business are missing great opportunities because they don’t realize the world is finally beginning to wise up to the fact that women are capable of as much brilliance as men are.  So in a way I feel sorry for people who aren’t caught up, they’re the ones losing out, at this point.

I will say at the ripe age of 30 I’m done putting up with shit, if a man is rudely trying to flirt with me I shut it down pretty quick.  My bandmates have my back too, that’s critical.

I’ve recently joined Philadelphia’s music scene. You’ve been particularly impactful to it! As you become bigger and see more of the world, how does philly’s scene compare to other cities?

Thank you, that’s lovely to hear!  I’ve only really occupied one other city for longer than a few months, and that’s Baltimore. Philly reminds me in a few ways of that city, except that the music scene in Baltimore was a little more out there (Dan Deacon and Animal Collective were just getting big when I first moved there, and bands like Ponytail, Lexi Mountain Boys and Jana Hunter were playing shows often).

That strong sense of community was present, just like it is in Philly, there was a great punk scene with spaces like Charm City Art Space.  I couldn’t even tell you how many times I played there.

I think it’s just got a lot to do with affordability for artists to move in, and a strong sense of character to a city really helps.  Baltimore has a lot of character, so does Philly.  I still miss Baltimore sometimes but I love it here and am grateful to have any role in the Philly music scene, I kind of missed the boat in Baltimore, I wasn’t ready back then.

I hope Philly remains affordable but that’s already changing, and it’s fucked up that people who’ve grown up here are being pushed out for the sake of beer gardens and coffee shops (although I’m sitting in one right now as I write this).  I don’t know how to address my being part of the problem at the moment, but it’s a concern.

Do you think there is anything in particular that can help create a safer and more inclusive music scene in general?

In some instances I think communication can be a huge help. I’ve met people at a few shows that I think have the wrong idea of how they’re entitled to behave, but I don’t necessarily want to shut them out of the conversation. I want to change people’s minds, and I’ve actually had a couple that I think had a positive effect on the other person, made them rethink their impact on others. Maybe that’s naive. I hope not.

I do little things; I like to address the women a lot while we’re playing, look into their eyes and let them know I see them and what’s going on, and I hope they’re comforted by that. Dudes loooove to shout at the show. Sometimes I ask if my ladies are there so I can hear them as well as the men.

That all being said, at our shows, If you’re violent you can get out. I have no time for people who don’t care if they hurt anybody.  I really don’t understand anyone who thinks as soon as they walk through the doors of a venue that common human decency is no longer a part of their experience.  That’s crazy.

Are there any particular bands, musicians, and/or organizations you believe are making an effort to help the cause?

I think any band that acknowledges their audience with some level of concern for their experience helps the cause.  It’s important to remember you are in a space full of human beings, and they’re all looking to you to lead them through a reaffirming evening.  Watch the audience, watch how they treat each other. If you have to stop the song, do it.

I watched a video in which Patti Smith asked the security guards to back off and told a guy in the audience herself to “cool it, don’t be an asshole,” and it worked.  She addressed him as a human being, I think that can sometimes be enough make a person recognize their humanity and wrongdoing.

It’s great to get lost in a performance, and I’ve certainly been guilty of that, but I hope I never lose that sense of connection, especially to the young women who come to see us, I hope they always feel safe coming to our shows.  If that ever changed my heart would break.

What advice would you give to women who want to become a musician or start a band?

Get going!  Play everything yourself if you have to.  Garageband is a very nifty tool…

Are there any female alternative/rock artists you look up to in particular, and why?

Sleater Kinney was huge for me in my teens.  Just a really compelling and interesting bunch of songwriters and performers.

Also I am a huge Joni Mitchell fan, she did exactly what she wanted at a time that wasn’t all that warm towards women songwriters. Rolling Stone called her “Old Lady of the Year” for crissakes. Shameful shit.

How have you changed personally, since starting a band? What have you learned from the experience?

I’ve learned to collaborate and compromise, at least I’m still working on it.

What are Hop Along’s plans for the upcoming year?

Write, write, write.  And then hopefully record something from all that.

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Author: Kat Hamilton

I am a Cali born turned east coast punk princess. Writer, rocker and dog person. I identify as a "Pumpkin Spice Lesbian". If I could, all of my days would be foggy and my streets would be cobblestone. I love scary movies and penguins. Check out my band, Manic Pixi everywhere that music exists.

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