Hop Along Interview

Hop Along

Hop Along released their follow up to their sophomore effort, Painted Shut, on April 6, 2018 titled Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Radio UTD’s own Zachary Royal gave the album rave reviews as you can check out here if you are unfamiliar with the groups garage rock/social commentary style. We got a chance to talk with the Hop Along guitarist and audio master Joe Reinhart. We discussed the progression of the band, the state of the audio industry, and reflect on the longevity of Green Day’s impact on music listeners.

Radio UTD: So I wanted to start off by asking what all the roles are inside of the Hop Along group.

Joe Reinhart: I guess we could start with Tyler. Tyler’s sort of the does everything guy. Besides becoming the best bass player I’ve known in the past few years, when were on tour, he’s going to go get the oil changed. He’s the guy that the whole thing would just crumble / nothing would get done if he weren’t around. He writes the best bass parts. Those parts are really really good. When we first started Hop Along he didn’t play on the whole record. He was a good bass player, but over the past two records, he’s just went through the roof. Worked his ass off, and it sounds fucking amazing. Mark is a little more business-y. So he’s really on top of that stuff. Which you know, I can be a ding-dong about. Francis has plenty of other things to worry about and always takes care of that stuff. Obviously you know, the live drumming is flawless. I don’t have to worry about tempo, or if he’s going to mess up anything. If he’s behind me I’m feeling good. And the whole thing wouldn’t exist without Francis. She provides the things that make people buy records and come to the shows. Her role is pretty valuable.

But you, yourself, you’re pretty valuable. The way I kind of came across it was that you’re the guitarist, but you’re also a producer and the recording engineer.

Yeah! Right, so I’m the audio guy.

Right, so to me, it would seem that you would have a lot of foresight for the projects because you are the audio guy. So how does the creative management go with you when you’re making an album?

Hopefully things are hashed out before the record. Francis is focused on what she’s doing and really thinks about the lyrics. That is number one to her. Then the melodies come together slowly. We all sort of work on the vibe of the song. It’s easy for me to step back because I don’t really do much with the guitar until her vocal melody is concrete. When she changes her vocal melody, I may not even play anything. I’ll just sit there and just listen to the song and see how it feels. You know like arrangement-y kind of stuff I think I’m pretty good at. Like “Yo, this bridge is awesome! why isn’t this bridge the chorus?” You know what I mean that kind of stuff. In the studio, with this newer record we wanted to get back to using the studio as a creative tool, as a writing tool. It sounds cliché, but Painted Shut was like a rock band recording. It was fun; I wouldn’t change anything about it. The producer we had, John Agnello, was amazing. However, it was very much a document of the demos, and the demos were just worse sounding versions of what we put out. This time we wanted to be like “hey let’s stay up all night and drink coffee and whisky and get weird.” We’re taking out guitar parts and adding string parts or Rhodes parts like all that kind of stuff. Like taking out a section of a song, having fun in the studio, and I was able to facilitate that. Francis would be like “ well what if we did this?” and I would be like a snowball onto that like, “ what if we did this!” Then we do the second and third change at the same time.  A lot of bouncing the ideas off of each other to see what kind of madness we could come up with.

Right, and you know it comes through in the record honestly. Bark Your Head Off, it seems to me at least, one of the most danceable, fun, energetic, albums Hop Along has released so far. The fun experiments really do reflect through. You just started your tour, are you seeing that in the tour? How are people responding?

I’m always shocked when we show up somewhere, walking through the doors with an amp, or whatever the hell I’m holding. And I’m like, “Oh Crap… This place is BIG!” This is going to feel really bad if nobody comes to this. Then by the time we go on it’s at least a half full room of people. It’s a really wild feeling. For example, I remember the last time we played this city, it was 30 % as many people, or were sold out and we’re going to play somewhere bigger next time. It’s been a beautiful progression for a band that’s been doing it for a while. We do kind of work our asses off to make the records and everything. It seems to me people are starting to latch on. Friends are telling friends. It’s really neat.

It’s well deserved. I want to dive into some of your personal ventures. What was it like working with Modern Baseball on the Holy Ghost record? What all did you do on that?

Well that was the first time they worked with a producer. I mean they’re all sort of producers in their own right. Obviously their other records are great. I didn’t really know them that well before that, besides seeing them at shows. I did arrangement-y things. Finding fun ways to play chords. Being like, hey maybe we don’t do this part of the song, because I’m listening, I’m rocking out, but I think this part goes on a little too long, why don’t we cut this in half, or why don’t we take all of the guitars out of this part and just make it the bass. It wasn’t like a preconceived notion. Let’s start working and see what comes about. We didn’t have a ton of time, and they didn’t have full songs to show me when we got in the studio. So we’re all sort of working on it together. Which made it easy, because nobody was precious over their parts yet. So any input I had, “ oh yeah cool I wouldn’t have even thought about it that way.” Plus they’re all just super great people, so easy to get along with. Anytime I thought something needed to get done, and they responded, “ Nah it’s cool the way it is.” there were no hard feelings. I’m trying to help them make the best record possible, and I think we did that. I hope we did that!

Absolutely! I absolutely love that record. Well I found it, because I was stalking you a little bit, actually and I found that you were a producer for that record so I just had to ask about that experience. At the same time of stalking you, I was going down your Facebook page and I saw a quote, “Ok fine, American Idiot is not that bad.” Care to explain?

HAHA, I mean I’m going to be thirty-fucking-five in a month, so Dookie was my “what the hell is this music” thing. You know what I mean? I was just starting to get into music. I had that Counting Crows tape and some other things like that, and I just…no… yeah! It was that what made me want to play the guitar, it was that “Basket Case” video. The sound of the guitar and just how fast and catchy it was. That my introduction to punk and it blew my mind. What is this music? My friends would talk about it. Then we’d go raid my friends’ older brother’s CDs. We found Rancid and NOFX, all that type of stuff. I’m rambling, but early Green Day was super important to me. I guess at some point I was too cool for it around the time American Idiot came out. My girlfriend who’s seven/six years younger than me, American Idiot was her Dookie. So she played it, and I was like “ Oh man this sounds amazing.” There are some clunker tunes, but it was fast and catchy. It was everything I liked about Green Day. This is still really good.

That’s so funny. I just thought it was such an interesting message “… is not that bad.” At my age that album was strictly banned from kids. I actually recall going up to the front desk of a store to purchase the CD with my mom. They clerk mentioned how the album was explicit and parental advisory is encouraged. That didn’t go over so well with my mom, so like most kids I had to find my own ways of listening to American Idiot. However that just increased the edgy punk feel to the whole experience. Could you talk about your studio a little bit, The Headroom? How long have you had it?

Well I’ve always been recording bands. Growing up I always had jobs to buy instruments. Once I had a piece of crap drum set and bass I was like, well we need to record this. That’s when I bought a 4-track between the summer of 7th and 8th grade. I tried to record friends’ bands for free. That started to snowball. Record for free, then recorded for a case of beer and 50 bucks. I met Kyle the co-owner at school. He had some gear lying around. He had graduated a year before me, so he was like “ hey we got to find a place to make records.” That’s really how that came about. Actually we’re coming up on 10 years, of calling it The Headroom.

Congratulations! When molding your studio over time did you have a particular feel in mind? Any tips?

If I had more money it would have a better feel, but it’s just trying to make it comfortable with what you got. At the end of the day I’m not buying really nice lamps. I’m going to buy equipment like a pedal. The vibe of the studio is comfortable enough. Really its being a producer or engineer and making people feel comfortable to get the best out of them. I’m a little like a therapist. Little bit of an audio engineer. Just trying to make it a good experience. Finding the balance of having a good experience and having them leave with something that is awesome.

That’s got to feel really great when working with Hop Along. Where you’re all this super tight group and you have this free space, like a creative think. Jam out and have a great time. That seems to be one factor in why this album came out so good.

Thank you so much.

Could you describe the difference between a producer and audio engineer for those who might not know?

Sure, it depends on the project. Some bands may not even need a producer. Maybe they want a producer but once we start doing stuff, I’m trying to fill a little of their sound. Maybe I’m doubling a guitar in a different cord position or why don’t you sing this note. Little things here and there to touch up the edges is where I’m mostly being an engineer. I’m making them sound good. Talking to them, they’re like “we want it to sound like this” and then doing that. Other bands are like, we want input and sometimes they really need it. I’m not going to say anything if I don’t think it needs it. For example, I did a record for Joyce Manor and they were like, “we want a producer.” I think the thing I did the most production with that was just letting them be themselves. We didn’t change a whole ton. We changed some B.P.M., drum parts, and little baby things like back up vocals. Mostly we just let the songs fly. They were like, “Well what do you think? Do you want to do anything to this?” and I was like, “nah, this is awesome. It’s you guys. I’m just going to hit record and capture what you’re doing. I’m going to make it sound good, you be you.” Other bands its major deconstruction. We end up changing every part of every song. Which is a more producer role. So in today’s state of the industry it’s a more blurred line. I feel like the producer and engineer are more often the same person. Where as, in the past it takes bigger budgets so there was two clearly defined roles. Now it’s, “ Hey, come to my place. Let’s make a record together. I’ll help you with whatever you need.”

That’s honestly clearer for me, because I didn’t really understand the difference between the two, so thanks for that knowledge.

Yeah, traditionally the engineer would handle the tones, read the vibe of the producer, and just made it sound good. The producer would be in charge of bigger picture things like the songs and making sure the bands feeling all right. Now a days its just one person. I’m super lucky. It’s straight up awesome and I don’t take it for granted.