Hop Along Confront Death on 'Painted Shut'

Hop Along Confront Death on 'Painted Shut'
Photo: Shervin Lainez
"Give me one second, I'm about to pass a cop."
 
The line goes silent for a few seconds. Frances Quinlan, head songwriter and voice of Philadelphia's Hop Along, is on the road to Dallas from Atlanta. "Sorry," she says. "I'm just not quite sure what the laws are here about being on your phone in a car."
 
The band — road warriors since they were kids, according to Frances' brother and drummer Mark Quinlan — are getting close to the halfway point of the headlining tour for Painted Shut (out now on Saddle Creek), their blistering, beautiful sophomore record.
 
The album packs a hurricane-force punch, combining brawny rock'n'roll riffs and fills with Frances' inimitable whisper-to-a-scream vocals. But her lyrics provide the true blood and guts of Painted Shut, showcasing a talent for taking ordinary situations and using all the right words to make them extraordinary. Where Hop Along's debut, Get Disowned, was sprawling and more stream-of-consciousness, Painted Shut's narratives are focused and sharp.
 
"Painted Shut took a long time to write lyrically, for sure," Frances says. "There was a lot of editing for this record. A lot of going over songs again and again, and thinking about what I really wanted to say."
 
That time paid off in spades. The writing on Painted Shut is masterful but simple, with songs that are able to cut to the heart of small but significant moments in Quinlan's life. On "Powerful Man" she describes feeling helpless watching a father abuse his son, exclaiming, "Sun setting on the street / Your dad told you not to look at me / Down came the fist hard upon your head." "Texas Funeral," inspired by the revisionist Western film Hud, is about the cost of destructive, antiquated notions of success, what Paul Newman's character may have been like as he got older, and how that's not going to happen to her.
 
It's only one of many times on the album that Quinlan confronts death on Painted Shut.
 
"Nobody's getting away from death," she says. "And death used to be a really big part of art. I mean, you'd see old paintings of still lives and there'd be a skull. There'd be fruit and bounty, but then also this skull in the corner, because we should be aware that it isn't lasting. I still don't understand that. I don't know if I'll ever have the capacity to understand my temporariness."
 
An album is not as temporary, though, and the self-described perfectionist says walking away from the finished product was "insanely hard." But despite Quinlan's unending concern about giving her "whole self" to the recordings, she knows Painted Shut is important regardless of any worry about whether things could've or should've been done different.
 
"A friend of mine said as long as you're being honest, and it's an honest documentation of where you are, that's valuable, that has value. I agree with that. We were present. Everyone was present for that endeavour, and that was who we were at that moment, and we're already past that moment and we're becoming, even now, different people. But I'm happy with what we captured."
 
You can check out Hop Along's tour dates here. They include upcoming stops in Vancouver (May 30) and Toronto (June 7).