Hip-hop has become the most important musical genre of our time. Not even kidding. Electronic music, meanwhile—house, techno, dubstep and so forth—has become a mainstream mainstay. Country, of course, has always had its place as well, a big seller with big personalities. Countless genres and subgenres spiral out from there, eating up almost every sound and style. But whatever happened to indie rock? No, I don't mean the Weezers or the Future Islands or even the OK GOs of the world, but the mid-level (and happy about it) bands on labels like Asian Man Records or Doghouse or Saddle Creek.
These bands are alive and well—they're just operating outside of a dying system and forging their own futures in the relative youth of an online wilderness. They are Grizzly Bear, Snail Mail, Milagres, Kurt Vile, Japanese Breakfast and on and on, countlessly; the major players long ago shirked the idea of attaining quote-unquote rockstar status (anyway, the "it" in making "it" isn't even really an "it" anymore, y'know?) and are now making moves and succeeding and failing in their own way, on their own time.
Big-label support did wonders for putting music in the minds of the masses, this is true, but the real-life living achieved during the late-'90s and early-aughts American obsession with post-punk, sorta-emo, fuzzy guitars, lyricists-who-really-fucking-meant-it thing evolved into a self-produced and self-propelled DIY aesthetic-cum-movement that amounts to something like constant touring, a strong online presence, self-made videos and albums and a distinct lack of artifice. Philadelphia's Hop Along is one such band within this new-ish milieu.
Make no mistake, Hop Along is singer and lyricist Frances Quinlan's project. Bursting onto the scene with 2012's Get Disowned (not counting earlier self-released material when she was known as Hop Along, Queen Ansleis), Quinlan and crew presented a raw and emotionally charged opus hallmarked by heart-wrenching vocals and a post-emo sound. The album made the rounds and won the critics and fans,
especially Omaha, Nebraska-based label Saddle Creek (hey, we just mentioned those guys!). Cut to 2015 and Painted Shut, the band's Saddle Creek debut and a continuation of Quinlan's sing-shouty vocal style, which won similar acclaim. The fanbase grew.
But Hop Along keeps on growing up, it seems, with this year's Bark Your Head Off, Dog, a more mature effort and the kind of album that seems to make music writers want to use words like "restraint" and "abstraction." Still there, however, is Quinlan's knack for storytelling—songs that paint a picture and make economical use of her sometimes acrobatic vocal range.
"I think it's the direction that [the music] just took," says Mark Quinlan, Hop Along's drummer and Frances' brother. "Naturally, in working together, we become better at communicating with each other; we become better at serving the song as best we can without stepping all over each other."
Mark is a self-proclaimed metalhead who also freely admits he's tried to replicate a hybrid Blood Brothers/The Faint (The Faint also released music on Saddle Creek) sound in his previous bands. He also says he's found a more suitable home with Hop Along; a place where he's happy to collaborate with his sister and friends.
"I don't know that I was coordinated enough to be a metal drummer," he says jokingly. "I don't know that I was ever a metal drummer—I always loved indie rock and I think I was just lucky enough to have a place in music with my sister, and I was willing to sort of play whatever as long as I could have that place."
Mark defers to Frances' ability and vision numerous times throughout our phone call, identifying her as a humble songwriter, a top-notch collaborator (vocalist Chrissy Tashjian of Friday's opener Thin Lips has appeared on every Hop Along album thus far) and a mindful human person. "I think Frances' goal is awareness and being caring and responsible for people, especially those who are smaller than you or with less power than you," Mark explains. "I think if you have a voice and people pay attention, you should use it for good."
This includes Hop Along's process, which Mark says is democratic. It also encompasses the band's DIY aesthetic. Saddle Creek, he says, has been very hands-off, even as the band is aware of the value of producers. "They bring in ideas and thoughts, of course, but we all want to have the most say over what we create as we possibly can," Mark tells SFR. "And the power dynamic has shifted a little bit since the early aughts when record sales went down the tubes—I think smart labels are aware of that and able to adapt; we definitely shopped around, but [Saddle Creek] seemed like the best bid for sure."
And thus, indie bands keep indie-ing. Just don't be surprised if you start to hear more about Hop Along as time goes by. Their growth, output and trajectory are noteworthy, even if they know how it goes in the rock game.
"I don't think it's the world where a band like Nirvana could be the biggest band in the world anymore, but that doesn't mean there's not a comfortable niche for music with guitars," Mark adds. "I don't think there's a place for playing guitar music as pop culture icons anymore, but I don't think it's dead, either. Do I think the times are scary because of indie rock's musical place in the world? Not really."
Hop Along with Thin Lips and Future Scars:
8 pm Friday August 3. $15-$18.
1352 Rufina Circle,