Hop Along released its fourth album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, in early April. Early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, many of them calling the Philadelphia indie rock band’s latest its most textured effort yet. Joe Reinhart can verify that claim better than anyone else. Not only did Reinhart (pictured left) play guitar—and a number of other instruments—on the album, he also recorded it. The Hop Along member co-owns The Headroom recording studio in the band’s native Philly, where Bark Your Head Off, Dog was meticulously recorded after an estimated 30 sessions.
Prior to coming to Milwaukee on June 12 to play at Turner Hall, Reinhart spoke with Milwaukee Record about the slower, more adventurous recording approach the band took this time around. He also talked about what it’s like to record your own band, how it feels to be embarking on the band’s longest and largest headlining tour to date, and what it’s like to be part of the burgeoning Philadelphia music scene.
Milwaukee Record: I guess we should begin with the new record. It’s been out for about six weeks at this point. What has the reception been like so far? It seems like you had more attention in general and more positive attention than ever before.
Joe Reinhart: Yeah, I would agree with that. It feels crazy. It’s very overwhelming. It’s the first time we’ve ever done a record where we’ve ever had management and all those sorts of things on our side. And having them facilitate things is helping us make the right decisions. I think we can see some of that’s helping, but also, I think we just worked our ass off and made a pretty good record.
MR: Yeah, and even though you have the help right now with management, you definitely made this on your own. You engineered the record and it was recorded at your place over the course of 30-some sessions, right? I’d read the band felt Painted Shut had a rushed recording process. Why was it important to take your time on this record?
JR: Well, we worked on [Painted Shut] for two years off and on, but we tracked it in three weeks and mixed it in a week. So it wasn’t rushed, but it felt rushed. And we had a producer come in. That was good on one hand because it kept us on track and helped make the big decisions. This time around, it was harder to stay on track. We spent too much time on some aspects of it.
MR: And you implemented a lot of new instruments that we haven’t heard on other releases. I’ve been reading how it’s “textured” and “the fullest record that you have” because there’s violins, mandolin, a harp, and Rhodes. Why was that important to add to the existing framework of what you do?
JR: Well, it all kind of started because I cut my finger before we had a week of practices set aside, so I didn’t play guitar at all during those practices. I played Rhodes. I think a lot of the key things were kind of built around the things we’d played that weekend, even when I started playing guitar again. Throwing in the other instruments—we kind of envisioned a lot of things having strings, so that wasn’t totally far-fetched. We really wanted to create a feeling for the vocals instead of just one particular lead thing. I wanted it to feel like you were floating on a bunch of different textures that were sort of pulsing around the vocals. A little Rhodes line would trickle through the left year, or a little guitar or violin part would poke out at the right spot.
MR: It’s sort of a risk to add that much and to change so many things. With Painted Shut being sort of your breakout album, was there an underlying worry that people wouldn’t be into it because it wasn’t more of the same or now that there is more awareness of the band, did you see it as an opportunity to let the world know what you’re able to do?
JR: You know, I don’t really think it was that intentional. You want people to like it, but it’s a little more selfish than that. We made it for ourselves and hoped people would like it and that we could go on tour and live off the band as long as we could. I guess if it was a clunker, it would’ve sucked. But at the end of the day, we still like it, so we don’t really need the validation. I thought it was good and [singer-guitarist] Frances [Quinlan] thought it was good and we all did the best we could.
MR: Was it hard recording your own band? With you serving as one of the record’s engineers, were you more precious of some of you own parts or did you just try to focus on the whole package?
JR: Yeah, it is hard, but I’ve done it before and I knew what to avoid. I make records with all sorts of bands. I guess when I’m working with a different band, I have more of a rounded edge and stay even-keeled. With my guys, I say what I think and forget that maybe I should sugarcoat my opinion sometimes, but they’re also my best friends. But within the production side of it, we were producing this ourselves, so there was no one going “Well, this is the move” or “That’s the move.” Nobody’s ego really got in the way of whatever we thought was going to be the best for the song. I cut out a ton of my guitar parts. We took out drum parts. I think everyone just opened up to make the right decisions to help the songs.
MR: You mentioned before that you wanted to go on the road as much as you can, and you’re about to embark on what I’m assuming is your largest headlining tour. You’re playing larger rooms. Is it exciting to be setting out for a summer of ballroom-level shows?
JR: Well, they’re not all ballroom-level shows, but some of them are. It’s definitely the biggest tour we’ve ever done in terms of sizes of the room. Every time we walk into a room, we’re like “Oh shit! Hopefully there’s going to be people in this room later.” It’s a wild feeling every time.
MR: Off the road and onto your hometown, it seems like Philadelphia music is having a moment right now. It seems like a lot of bands, yourself included, are getting lots of attention. There’s Menzingers, Restorations, Beach Slang, Modern Baseball, The War On Drugs, and so many more. What’s it like to be in a market like that right now and to be a part of what’s happening?
JR: It’s super wild. There’s always been somewhat of a Philly buzz and I hear people from other cities saying they’re moving here. Some of these bands we’re friends with, and some we just know about because we’re a big little city. Watching someone like Dr. Dog in a basement and then selling out amphitheaters, and seeing the work ethics, I think the smaller bands see that know they have a lot to work up to. Bands like Dr. Dog and War On Drugs and Menzingers are all huge bands and they’re doing really well because they set really good examples and they work their asses off. It’s not somebody just handed them what they have.