Frances Quinlan's debut solo album under her own name, 'Likewise' isn't a rejection of her band and everything she's done before. Instead, it's an accompaniment to the career she's carved out with her band Hop Along and a chance for her to spread her musical wings.
Indeed, the gestation of the album came from two songs left off Hop Along's previous album 2018's 'Bark Your Head Off Dog'. "There were two songs that we recorded during the 'Bark Your Head Off, Dog' sessions that we left off the album, 'A Secret' and 'Went To LA'. They were two solo songs that were supposed to be on that record, but it made the record too long," begins Frances.
Realising that those songs were too good to go to waste they provided Frances with the impetus to release them on her own and expressive herself outwith the band. "I told everybody I wanted a shot at recording a solo record and everybody was super supportive," she says. "It felt right, those two songs were already solo, but they were the kind of songs that stayed as they were from inception to the end. That was different from Hop Along's approach were we edit pretty heavily as we go along. I wanted a shot at doing something that stayed a little truer to the initial mood. Also, I didn't want to just stick to the guitar."
Working from a wider sonic palette was a key principle for the record as Frances stipped things back and brought in more refined arrangements featuring keyboards, string arrangements and harps. It didn't feel like too much of a departure and was in many ways a return to her earliest days making music.
"When I started Hop Along I was alone," she says. "I always wanted to be able to evolve and have music involved with excitement and surprise. I've been in Hop Along for half my life and always want to have room for dynamism. The band is still going strong. They all make an appearance on the album. They're brilliant players."
Frances and her collaborators including all of Hop Along in some form, primarily with guitarist Joe Reinhart as co-producer, began to craft a collection of songs with no set formula other than they had to be different. "I didn't know exactly what the instrumentation needed to be I just knew that I needed to be able to experiment. It completely changed the songs when we took the guitar out. The guitar is just a vehicle. I was allowing the songs to have freedom."
It took a few years working within the industry for Frances to get to the point where she could firmly express her own ideas work with people to bring them to fruition. Her experience with her bandmates in Hop Along for a decade helped her bring 'Likewise' to life. "I feel more confident in how I collaborate now. My ability to converse and feel understood is better. Joe understands what I'm looking for and what sounds I like."
There's definitely a desire to return to Hop Along sooner rather than later, and Frances feels the experience of working on her own music can be beneficial to the band. "I hope it informs the way I express myself in Hop Along in the future. I hope it's an asset to the band. I'm still worried it might fail, but it has to be a good thing," she says hopefully.
The lyrics and the songs themselves emphasise the importance of real human connections and actually talking and engaging with each other. It's about realising people can change, and we have to be considerate of each other.
"They have a common thread of an attempt at discourse," she explains. "There's an ongoing desire to feel understood and the closer you are to people maybe that's more of a challenge as people feel they know you in their way. It makes it hard to feel a sense of growth. Maybe if you're feeling defined by who you are as a child or who you were in the past. The songs are optimistic as they're ongoing attempts at discourse."
Ultimately though Frances knows that people will forge their own relationships with her songs and she's eager for people to take this collection to heart. "People have come up to me and told me very vivid versions about what they think songs are about and their visions are way more clever than what I had initially intended," she laughs. "I hope people get more out of it than what I put in."
The one striking thing about all of Hop Along's music and very much to the fore here is Frances' stunning voice. It's an instrument that defines all her work, and the considered and nuanced arrangements of her solo record are designed to bring out all the passion and fire in her voice. "The fact it's more stripped made it possible for me to be a little more loose vocally," she says. "Also, my voice was just changing from year to year in ways I'm not really aware of. The sparseness gave me more room to wander in."
For now, the immediate plan for Frances is to take these songs out on the road which she acknowledges will be a strange experience without her Hop Along bandmates but buoyed by a successful solo record she's in no doubt the future has lots of possibilities. "I just hope things stay exciting. I love being in such a dynamic group. I'm excited to work with them again."
Taken from the February issue of Upset. Frances Quinlan's album 'Likewise' out 31st January.
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