Rare Candy spoke with Mark Quinlan, drummer of Hop Along, to talk about their new album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, “devastating love,” and incorporating other forms of art into Hop Along’s music.
By Paulette Arnold
RARE CANDY: Do you have a favorite song off the new album? Either because of its lyrics, listening to it, playing it, etc.?
MARK QUINLAN: As far as favorite songs go, I love so much of this record. That’s a tough question, “Look of Love” is a lot of fun for me because of how dynamic it is musically and because of the compositional journey that we went on to make it. And it’s really fun to play!
RC: Because most of the lyrics are written by your sister and are often times very personal, is it ever awkward playing music that shows her as more vulnerable than you’re used to?
MQ: Absolutely not! My sister, Frances, is one of my heroes and to see her go on these journeys and to allow herself to be vulnerable is so inspiring and wonderful that I’m really glad that I get to be a part of it. Watching her realize her power and who she is has been nothing but special and enjoyable for me.
RC: There are some narrative themes in this new album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Whether the songs from the new album are autobiographical or not, do you prefer playing music that represents your own experiences or something else?
MQ: Here’s the thing – in life, as a straight, cis, white male – I already feel represented to the degree that I recognize it’s unfair to pretty much everyone who isn’t who I am. I prefer that Frances speaks on her experiences and carving out her place in the world rather than my own narrative which is already so spoken on.
RC: In an article by NPR, Frances explains how the root themes for Bark Your Head Off, Dog are centered around the abuse of power. How is each member of the band, with their respective musical contribution, able to help share the album’s message?
MQ: I think it’s important to recognize the space that we take up as individuals, I’m talking about specifically the other members of the band that aren’t Frances, and to realize the inherent power that we, and people like us, have. It is important to recognize that and help other people that have to carve out their own place in this world to realize their own power. And I think that’s how the band members feel, that it is our job to help nurture the level of comfort we feel and help other people who don’t inherently get to feel that way gain that.
RC: How often does the entire band participate in the songwriting process?
MQ: Every song is different. We make all of them fun to play and fun to make. Sometimes Frances will come to us with an idea that’s pretty fully fleshed out and all we’ll have to do is kind of accompany it. There’s other songs where she’ll come in with these wild, abstract ideas and the rest of the band will kind of look at each other and wonder, “How do we make that a song?” But it’s great! It’s an awesome challenge and we make it work. When she came to us with “Prior Things” and with “Look of Love” we were just scratching our heads. So, we got to dissect that one all together and talk about what we wanted from it and what strengths she brought that we wanted to enhance and play upon. Those songs were much more of a band effort, and it’s fun to have those challenges and bang our heads against a wall until we’re happy. And sometimes she’ll bring something like “Texas Funeral,” which is already so well-done and well-written that I can branch out and do freaky drum stuff.
RC: Speaking of “freaky drum stuff,” you’ve mentioned previously that you and Frances have a shared love of heavy music. Do you feel like that plays into the songs you write together as a band?
MQ: The way that it plays for me is recognizing that I’m not holding back and I should be. Naturally, I want to emote in a way that ends up being power and force. That’s when heavy music plays into our own personal composition. Realizing that when I listen to how much muscle is actually here and how much is composition. When we play certain songs live like “Look of Love” or “The Knock” and we want this big, wide, heavy part, it’s nice to know that I can play it at a dynamic level personally and it translates as this big thing. Within heavy music, realizing that it’s not just about muscle and that it’s about composition has been an experience in growth for my own personal playing style.
RC: The lyric “in an open field man is always guilty” from “One That Suits Me” makes a pretty heavy claim. The song ends by saying “in the history of man, reality becomes softened.” How does the story in this song, as well as others in the album, relate to the world today?
MQ: I think they’re very deliberate and well thought out lyrics. It’s Frances’ perspective and it’s real. It’s the world as she experiences. It’s such a beautiful lyric and I want to speak on it in a way that respects how it is big and beautiful and true. The world today favors men, the small percent of people that all look the same and are the same person have the power. When people aren’t the same as them it almost feels like those people are threatened and they aren’t willing to let anybody else in that doesn’t look like them because it threatens everything they have. It’s something that needs to be spoken upon and I so don’t feel like the world needs my perspective on it based on who I am. The world needs people like Frances to speak on those things and to be heard. The world needs people like me who listen, hear, and learn from those things. I think her lyrics are accurate and real. It’s really hard for me to put into words what those things mean in my own perspective. “In an open field man is guilty always,” it’s just true. People with power are the ones that have to be the most sensitive.
RC: So how do you think your unique perspective is able to help even if it is from a position that has higher power in society?
MQ: That’s the thing! My perspective is not unique. I am very much what I appear to be at face value. Just another straight, white, guy musician talking about music.
RC: Do you think that growing up in the northeast and in New York City has given you an opportunity to see a wider group of people and be a larger voice for more people?
MQ: Seeing a wider group of people, meeting and experiencing more people in general, and hearing more perspectives has been a gift and I think it’s one of the best things about living in more densely populated areas. The thing that astounds me is that with all of those perspectives existing, so many of the people that need to listen don’t listen and don’t hear those things. There’s a frequent cycle of communication breakdown and privilege occurring even though all of the tools to eliminate those things are so readily available. I think having the opportunity to listen and to remind myself to do those things as often as I can is extremely important. My wife is also my hero and when she speaks it is always deliberate, important, and intelligent. She has been a constant reminder that I need to pay more attention to people who have things to say that are important. Having my sister and my wife around is a constant reminder that I have to watch and be quiet. I also want to impress that I don’t think I’m special. This isn’t a self-congratulatory thing, this interview has been a reminder that I need to listen more.
RC: Do you enjoy performing in certain places in the world more than others because it gives you an opportunity to see people that you may have otherwise never gotten a chance to?
MQ: Going to places I’ve never been gives me an indescribable feeling. One of my favorite places is a club called Saturn in Birmingham, Alabama. Pretty much any venue that makes it obvious that the artist is cared for– just speaking on a level of basic humanity, like it is clean and everyone gets space and the people that work there are kind. When I feel that I am cared for I want to care for other people. Any venue that does that is a wonderful to place to play. A lot of places do that like Union Transfer in Philadelphia and places in New York and Boston.
RC: Having grown up in NYC, how does it feel coming back to a venue and being able to play at a large location like Brooklyn Steel?
MQ: We’ve played big places before, but not headlining where people were buying our tickets to hear our music and it’s so flattering and wonderful. It’s so nerve-wracking because there’s a part of you that thinks “Ah! I’m a phony and everyone is going to find out!” I’m just grateful to be where I am.
RC: Does gratitude play into why you keep pushing so hard and why you keep playing?
MQ: Absolutely! All of the faith that my wife puts in me and in my art, how genuinely real I think my sister and her art is, and my drive to make my daughter proud definitely motivate me to do my best in this band and at all times.
RC: Have you noticed any changes in Frances as you have grown and are now seeing her lead a band on stage with hundreds of people watching you perform each night?
MQ: Her growth is astounding and it has always been astounding. She decides she wants to accomplish something impossible and she does it. Being able to witness that her whole life has been incredible. She has such a gift! When she was eight years old– she may have been even younger I think– she painted an oil painting of our cat, Blacky, that’s what you get when you let a six and an eight year old name a black cat, and it was amazing! It was expressive and it looked like Blacky. I could not believe it. She has always been so talented on a level that is so inspiring.
RC: The cover art for this new album was done by Frances. Do you think that being able to mix so many platforms and mediums of art has been helpful?
MQ: Yes, Frances went to Maryland Institute of the Arts for painting and being able to use those tools is so personally fulfilling for me because I get to watch her use something that she has always been good at for as long as I’ve known her and get to incorporate it into the music. She is a brilliant visual artist.
RC: How do you see the album cover relating to the content of the album itself?
MQ: I think I see the album cover as an extension of my sister. I think that’s how it ties in. The visual and lyrical content are all extensions of my sister. She is nothing if not completely honest.
RC: Is there anything as a band that you are all looking forward to for the future?
MQ: Just growth within the band and within ourselves individually.
RC: How has it been with the members growing individually and growing as a band as a whole?
MQ: I think the band becomes more honest and more focused. I think the music is more accurately represented because we are not ourselves as much as we are the band with every record that we make together.
Hop Along is currently on tour in the U.S. and will be playing at Brooklyn Steel on May 30th.
UPDATE: Check out photos from the Brooklyn Steel show here
Check out their website here: https://www.hopalongtheband.com/