Curated By:

Hop Along

Philadelphia, PA

Weathervane Music

Song: Sister Cities

Length: 4:43


Just wait until you hear this voice...If you want to talk about commitment and intensity, look no further than Frances Quinlan. "Sister Cities" presents her front and center as a powerful and honest storyteller, one who pours everything into her performance. We dare you to look away.

   Over the past year or so, it seemed to be an almost weekly occurrence that someone would tell us we must, absolutely must, check out the 90’s-inspired Philadelphia based rock group, Hop Along. Headed up by guitarist, singer and song-writer, Frances Quinlan, with her brother Mark Quinlan on drums, and Tyler Long on bass guitar, Hop Along and their blistering song Sister Cities did not disappoint!
   One of the primary goals of Shaking Through is to share the inner workings of the creative process, from how songs are inspired and written, to how they are committed to tape. Sister Cities was a breath of fresh air--an explosion of visceral guitars that set the stage for a vocal performance that has to be heard to be believed. The song conjured The Replacements, The Breeders and Throwing Muses, but Frances’ ripping delivery sets her squarely apart.
   Hop Along arrived at Miner Street on a sunny day in April. The band was joined by Philadelphia guitarist Joe Reinhart (also a local engineer), and keyboard player Peter Helmis. After an hour of setting tempos and

guitar sounds, they were well on their way to nailing basic tracks. It was at this point we knew we were on to something amazing.
   The word of the day was “performance”. While it seems this should be the theme of any recording session, Hop Along really did recall a different era, where “what you say” can be easily eclipsed by the importance of “how you are saying it”. It was an interesting process to watch, and Frances is unrivaled in her focus and dedication to getting her part right. Her lyrics were 95% complete coming in, and that remaining 5% - a line or two, really – had to organically materialize, inspired by the delivery.
   As you can imagine, this meant we spent a lot of time on the vocals. "I'm known for recording vocals over, and over, and OVER again," laughs Francis. "This was the first time I was working with people who WANTED me to keep going, usually people get sick of it." But the more she explored her performance, the more serendipitous moments bubbled up, many of which became pivotal moments of a song. Considering the final take, we would have let her take all the time in the world...

“ There are so many songs out there that are about being young, I want to write songs about people that have almost had it. People that are really in trouble. ”
“I love the moments making music by myself, but what makes them important is other people... I'm so lucky to have so many people care about these songs. ”


Producing and engineering is a lot of thinking on your feet. When the band came in, some important decisions had yet to be made--dynamics, tone and the final vocal performance. Reacting quickly we helped to steer the session to where it needed to be. By part way through the day, we shared knowing looks, we knew we'd be thrilled by the outcome.

The session was engineered by Jonathan Low, and produced by Weathervane’s Brian McTear. For the session, we had the great fortune of having access to nearly the entire line of AEA ribbon mics, an incredible Heritage rack containing a 1073 and 2264e, and a Retro Sta Level all courtesy of George at Studio Logic Sound.

Sister Cities began with all five musicians, plugged in and ready to go. After a few passes it was determined that the group should pair down to Mark’s drums, Frances’ guitar and Tyler‘s bass for a simple basic take. Tyler played the studio’s 1973 Fender P Bass. It was tracked direct into the Creation Audio Labs MW-1 with the Retro Sta Level. The drums were again tracked using our tried and true Weathervane drum recording techniques, with a pair of Telefunken Ela M260s through DW Fearn VT-2s, and a Coles 4038 overhead. We also, again, had the great pleasure of capturing rooms with an R84 and A840 (used as a pair) with the nulls rejecting the kit. Though Mark was at first inclined to mute the drum heads, we found it much better to let them ring a bit. And his beat, though initially played with a “lighter” dynamic, definitely benefited from a heavier hand.

Frances’s Gibson ES-335 guitar ran through the studio’s Badcat Wildcat 40, with a Telefunken M-81 dynamic on the speaker. Immediately after the trio landed the take, Frances doubled and then tripled the electric with a Gibson J-185 acoustic (using the Josephson C700 ). On top of that a second electric guitar (the same chain but with The Coles put in place of the M-81) would double the electric. Needless to say, there were a lot of guitars in this song before guitarist Joe Reinhart even pulled out his leads!

For Frances’s vocal, we shot out 4 great mics that were in the house, the AEA A440, AEA 840, the Josephson C700, and Neumann U67. The two favorites were the U67 and A440. We decided to use the A440 because it’s always fun to use something you don’t own. It turned out great through the Heritage 1073 and Retro Sta-Level, though since Frances moves around a lot and the proximity effect is so strong on the mic, it was a little complicated to comp together takes. Frances sang repeated, evolving takes for about two hours throughout the day, and any variation of distance from the mic over that time period were far more audible than others. But again, we love this mic. It’s massive and smooth like nothing else out there!

Other Overdubs
Joe Reinhart played a G&L ASAT (Tele copy) through his Vox AC30 reissue amp. Jon placed the AEA R92 up close and an R84 a little above the amp, with the null rejecting the speaker. Joe is an incredible guitarist and performer. The same way Frances gathered the best takes from the most animated performances, Joe looked like he was on stage, reminiscent of a Replacements record… the same fun is captured and preserved in everything they did. If the haircut and Chuck Taylors weren’t a dead giveaway, Joe is clearly picking up from a by-gone era of performers.

After dark came time for Peter Helmis’s keyboards. With all the gritty texture of the guitars, there wasn’t a lot of room for drive and distortion. Peter’s parts were worked out on The Rhodes Piano, and played through a Fender Deluxe Reverb with the slightest hint of MuTron BiPhase. This was captured with an AEA 84 and API 512. In order to spread out the signal into stereo, Jon suggested he double his parts with the Vibrophone a few minutes later with the same mic and pre.

Mixing was relatively simple. Check out the Console Mix Bussing Sheet from the session for exact routing details through Miner Street’s MCI. 4 mono busses and 3 stereo busses were routed from ProTools into the console. The kick and snare were eq’d with a pair of Vintech X73i’s, and a parallel drum bus was smashed to bits through a vintage Compex 760. The bass made a pass through the Heritage 1073 EQ before hitting the Retro Sta-Level, which is a massive combo. Vocals went through the Urei 530 Graphic EQ before hitting the UA LA2A. Everything came out of the console through Manley Massive Passive and a pair of Daking Fet Compressor IIs.

Download the Raw Tracks and/or Mix Stems to make your own mix.



Peter English

Executive Producer

Laura Grablutz


Brian McTear
Peter English


Jonathan Low


Frances Quinlan
Mark Quinlan
Tyler Long
Joe Reinhart
Peter Helmis

Director of Photography

Phil Bradshaw

Camera Operators

Phil Bradshaw
Larry DeMark
David Milstein


Sean Huber
David Milstein

Production Supervisor

Nicky Devine


Joe Bisirri
Morgan Muse

Still Photography

Larry DeMark
Peter English


Special Thanks

  • The Patriarch Foundation
  • The Philadelphia Cultural Fund
  • The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts
  • Samuel S. Fels Fund
  • Muse Educational Foundation
  • Michael Donahue
  • Laura Grablutz
  • Jason Smith
  • Giovanna Imbesi
  • Felix Espinosa
  • George Moore
  • Alex Knott
  • Kristin Thomson
  • Christopher Adams
  • Rustica Pizza
  • El Camino Real
  • Johnny Brenda's
  • Dan Scholnick
  • Bennett Daniels
  • Jan Torosion
  • Tara Boyd
  • William McCall
  • Ross Zimmer
  • Paul Dickman
  • Matt Miller