OCM Asks Hop Along Queen Ansleis (Francis Quinlin)
OCM Although you still do solo stints live, what were some of your thoughts behind adding additional players to your live show?
FQ I've pretty much always wanted to be in a band, ever since I became involved in music. I've always wanted to have a BIG sound that takes over a space; creates a space, really. It just took me this long to become capable enough to play alongside others onstage. I started the solo project after I left for college, and my oldest brother Andrew and I couldn't get together to jam as much anymore, so that whole method came out of necessity rather than preference (I'm also kind of lousy at jamming if you want to know the truth). When I'd go to shows (especially ones where practically the whole audience danced), I'd get so hung up watching full bands play, and I'd get really frustrated about not having the kind of energy that only a great drummer can create. And not to sound cheesy, but Mark and Dom play with so much life onstage, they get into it, and people can't help but at least feel that, in my opinion. It's just so much easier to get excited about playing, especially older songs, being in that kind of presence. At maybe our fifth or sixth show, there were people dancing and crowd surfing for the first time during a Hop Along set.
OCM Has adding other players to your live roster changed your recording process?
FQ Absolutely, and in the best ways possible. Whenever I used to write a song, they would nearly always be intended to have more than one part, more than me on my guitar. But my ideas were usually vague and unrealized until I'd make an album. So I'd write the acoustic part and figure out the rest while recording. The fact that I've leaned toward creating a big sound for a while I think explains why freshman year has so much stuff going on all through it. I wanted so badly to fill up that space that an acoustic guitar just can't fill; so I recorded layers and layers of bells, whistles, toys instruments and noise, sparing no moment of nuance, just a ton of stuff. I was trying to give the record process, make it whole. Sometimes it worked there are some nice little moments. But mostly, I think a lot of that extra stuff was kind of thrown in without much thought as to what could be lost. And I'd get such a little thrill when people would hear freshman year and think I was a band. But most of it was done haphazardly, and another thing, it's really hard to recreate any of it live, I can't even remember a lot of what I did.
But the way things are now, the songs take most of their shape during practice. And I've had to rewrite older songs since the band formed, because Mark comes up with these really interesting, surprising beats, and I've got to adapt to that. And then Dom works out these really pretty, captivating parts on electric that often make a small section pop and I've got to match his intensity, which is a big challenge, I've been learning.
A little over two weeks ago Tim from Sgt. Dunbar came down to Philly to help us record a demo, and we took care of the bare bones of songs, just drums, guitars, and vocals. Now I'm staying up in Albany, where most of the Dunbar kids live, and where I am currently snowed in. This past weekend Tim and I have been working the way I did on "freshman year", writing while recording, adding little things of character where we see fit, and being much more selective about it. So there is this awesome three-part system going; writing the songs with the band, recording t hem with the band, and then holing up in an old house in the snow and adding the elements that give the songs a personal quality on the record, the weird stuff. So we really get to make something great, that's big but still intimate. And I've been so lucky to have so many people as invested in this thing as me, and what's more, the songs are so much better. My sense of improvement has really speeded up since I started playing with Mark and Dom.
OCM Do you have different expectations for the release in the works having self-released Freshman Year?
FQ Freshman Year did well for a self-released project, especially since it was produced mostly by me, someone with close to zero talent as an engineer (Chris Archibald of Illinois produced four of the tracks, and he's got way more skills than I do). Phil Douglas really saved my skin when he mixed and mastered the whole thing for me; he did a wonderful job. So even then, other people had their hands in the project, I was never completely alone. But during the whole process, it all came down to my opinion, so you might say the expectations were automatically smaller then. Now you've got three people with different ideas, and when we started out I admit I was afraid of that. I'm not the best at collaborating, especially on big projects, a lot of the time, I get more concerned about getting what I want in there rather than considering what's best for the song. And I didn't want to abandon the character that Freshman Year had (although sometimes, for the sake of arguing I'll say otherwise), the chance to experiment at the last minute while recording. But Mark and Dom both liked that album, so I got lucky and don't have to worry about it in that regard.
We all want this record to be big, bigger sounding than Freshman Year (we're trying to get some bass on it, even), but it's got to be better thought out. There's even less of an excuse to put out half-thought-out songs now that there are three (more than that, really) people working on them. So the expectations are pretty reasonable, certainly more so than mine were while I was making Freshman Year. I wanted to create the illusion of there being more people, now I don't have to; they're right with me and they're helping me make it happen.
OCM Will this release be self-released like Freshman Year, or are other strategies in the works?
FQ We've been talking about labels we're hoping to send this demo out to, there are more than a few who've got rosters I really admire, and those I'd flip out over if we were ever asked to join. But if we do end up self-releasing this, it still won't be as hands-on as the last record was; I'm not going to cut the covers myself and paint every CD (the stamp is all worn down now). It's kind of sad I guess, it's always nice to send each person a personally crafted item, but I'm really not all that bummed about the change. I've spent so much time making copies and I think I've gotten all I'm going to get from that kind of experience. I'd rather not use up that kind of time now, when I could be spending it working on a song, or at least making something new, not copy after copy.
OCM Finishing Art College did put some restraints on your music aspirations. What specifically did you gain from that experience, and how has it informed your music? Any regrets?
FQ It put physical restraints on it for sure. My original, totally unrealistic plan was to record an album every summer after I did Freshman Year, so the next one would naturally be called Sophomore Year, and so on. I didn't realize that I just can't write that fast. My sophomore year of college was a major dry spell in terms of song writing; I think I wrote maybe six songs that year and I only play three of them today. Plus I always get stressed over school, and sophomore year I spent mostly making bad paintings and working on my poetry and screenwriting homework (I wrote the worst screenplay; it was about house painters). But on the flip side, I also went on my first tour while I was a sophomore, during winter break. Dom and I went for 11 days, and he was in school too. It was a huge deal, for both of us. Dom and I would probably never have met if I hadn't gone to art school.
And Freshman Year is self-explanatory, I wrote most of those songs during my first school year; furthermore, I blame it for the worst grades I received during my college education, which I got the spring semester when I was a freshman. I spent so much time recording rough drafts of Bruno is Orange, Elizabeth and Elizabeth, Two Kids, and so on; I neglected classes a little bit. It was cool though, my roommates gave me a lot of feedback whenever I'd show them a song (two of them being musicians: Wheatie Mattiasich and Molly O'Connell of Hittie Titty), and they usually helped me record them too. So my first year was actually a bigger deal for me as a musician than it was as a visual artist (I made some really awful paintings that year).
After that I did get pretty caught up in school, doing more ambitious paintings (after sophomore year all my paintings have been no smaller than 6' x 7' or so) and investing more and more time in increasingly demanding classes. But every school year I still managed to go out on a little tour. My second one with Wheatie and Molly during winter break of junior year, and the third with Dom again during spring of senior year. Besides that, college is an incredible vehicle for discovering/ being shown new music. My freshman year was when Molly showed me Kimya Dawson and Joanna Newsom, sophomore year I heard Herman Dune and the Microphones (again Molly's doing) and Jonathon Richman and Zoe Keating, and it never stopped. It did a lot for me, certainly as a musician, and I always listened to that stuff while working. Music that creates space helps a lot when you're trying to build a visual space from scratch. Practically every painter I know works to music, and the ones who don't I automatically consider snobs.
Regrets? I wish I could remember what I learned about building your own website. That happened my freshman year, spring semester.
OCM Any cool plans for the physical art on the hard copy of the new release?
FQ Yes, very big, very vague plans. I know I want it to involve printmaking again (the cover of Freshman Year was result of the first etching I ever did), I've been talking to my former professor, who taught me lithography (it ended up being one of my favorite classes) and we might collaborate on something. I have no idea what the image will be at this point, but I'm thinking something over spilling or billowing maybe, with sparse color, if any. But I could be completely off. I always end up going way off course when it comes to planning a visual project and then realizing it.
OCM Your songwriting and song structure is unusual in what way has it evolved since your last release? What changes can fans look forward to?
FQ I guess I sort of answered a lot of this in the second question, since a great deal of songwriting happens for me during the recording process. It probably always will. But overall, I've gotten better at experimenting with a song without losing track of a central tone. The band has really helped me do that and filling a song's major form out during the first stages too, with less of a dependence on the later extra sounds, on bells and novelty. Those things can do a lot, I love them, but I'm relieved that I'm not putting a toy piano in every single song I record now. Now it'll have some personality when it shows up. I've also started writing more personal songs, more directly related to my own life and more mature. All in all, it's less cute. I hope fans can look forward to some of that. They can at least look forward to the cameos of a trumpet, the sound of knives being sharpened, and some badass ragtime piano.
OCM You do not have typical fans they enjoy a broad variety of genres, yet they are drawn to your music. Has that helped you in the sense of not being pigeonholed in terms of sharing the bill with bands that represent a very different sensibility and genre?
FQ I've been pretty lucky in that regard. Not only have I had the opportunity to play with some really unique and exciting bands (like WHY? and Fake Problems), I've also met a broad range of talented people with whom I occasionally get to work on music. Recently I became friends with a subject of one of your interviews, the B3nson collective, a perfect example of a broad variety of bands sharing a collective aim, that's to help one another realize visions and ideas, and to do it in ways one would not typically expect. Their music is full of surprise and adventure, and it's because they aren't afraid to delve into unexplored territory. I've tried to be careful in the sense that I don't try to surround myself with people trying to do the same thing as me. And playing with so many different bands reminds me that there's so much new territory still available. It encourages me to be unafraid.
OCM Just curious how you were received touring with the punk outfit Fake Problems a few years ago?
FQ Wheatie and I were so nervous about being totally overshadowed by a raucous punk band, we'd never toured the south and didn't know what to expect as far as a reception, but the shows were amazing, people were really kind and attentive and a good number of kids in every city came and spoke with us after our sets. I think Wheatie and I both benefited from a well-rounded audience after that tour. Plus every single guy in Fake Problems is, as my mom would put it, real good people. I got to hear their new record and it's unbelievable. Plus I met one of my new favorite bands, P.S. Eliot, through them.
OCM How did the upcoming benefit show with Kimya Dawson come about?
FQ It's funny, I was asked to play this show before the band even existed, way back in April. I'm not sure how it came about. Carter, who runs the Common Grounds Coffee House in Dobbs Ferry, e-mailed me and said he liked my songs and could I play a show with Kimya Dawson in December. He's a super nice guy, he came to a show Dom and I played together at ABC No Rio over the summer, and he's excited to have the whole band come up and play. I don't know what made him pick us. It must have been magic. It's been a pretty magical year, all in all. I get to play with someone who was one of the greatest influences on my musical development, and I'm in a band. I don't think I've ever felt so full of potential, it's like from now on I have no excuse to do anything but get better. Once you are shown your capacity for improvement, as an artist or a human being, you can't go backwards to exactly what you were without a sense of artificiality. You can't turn around without losing some of yourself. I'll take some of the old things with me, I have to, but I can't ever go back now.