The swing of things

It should be said, in case the total lack of updates over the summer wasn’t indication enough: a daily photo blog was maybe a bit ambitious of me.

In the months since my last post here (show recaps aside, and I’m behind even on those), I took a few classes, traveled some, started shooting music for a local alt-weekly, bought some cameras, sold some cameras, etcetera etcetera… I’ve kept busy, you get the gist.

Most importantly, I moved back to the city after an 11-month absence. And now that I’m settled in Squirrel Hill, I’m taking time to re-evaluate some things.

Daily photo blogging is fun in theory but a bit much to keep up with in reality. For as much as I wish I could spend all day, every day making photos, other responsibilities tend to take precedence… never mind the fact that I’m often a human potato. (It’s in my nature, take your judgment elsewhere.)

Weekly photo blogging, though? I can handle that. Maybe even bi-weekly blogging, if I’m feeling saucy.

It also occurred to me that I have yet to talk about film on this blog, which is a little nuts, given that the topic takes up maybe 65% of my brain space on a day-to-day basis. I don’t know yet what those posts will entail… features on various cameras or emulsions? A guide to home developing? Film Fridays, if that’s of interest to anyone? Bueller??? We’ll figure it out, I’m not worried.

Whatever I come up with, I’d like to focus more on the quality of what I’m posting than the frequency. Sharing is good, but so is thinking things through. And there are enough other things in life to stress over—it’s important to me to keep sacred the things I enjoy.

So I’ve got some half-finished drafts to catch up on, a LOT of photos to sort through and share, and even more ideas brewing up in the ol’ gray matter. Not to mention, a slew of shows lined up for September… things are about to get real busy real fast. All the more reason to make time for the little moments.

Hop Along @ The Rex Theater (July 9, 2019)

Am I blogging about this show well over a month after it actually occurred? Yes. 43 days after, if we want to get nit-picky about it.

Am I sorry about that? Also yes, a little, but better late than never.

June was a dry spell for me, at least as far as live music is concerned. There wasn’t a whole lot going on in Pittsburgh that I was excited about, and work obligations kept me from attending the few shows I did want to shoot. (Like when I missed a FREE downtown performance by Tank & The Bangas… yay, day jobs!)

Then July came, and so did Hop Along.

I remember precisely where I was when I first fell in love with Hop Along: at the back of a classroom in Penn State’s Visual Arts building, watching in awe as Frances Quinlan serenaded the crowd with an unplugged rendition of ”Some Grace.”

Quinlan, for the uninformed, is a vocalist without equal—not just in the indie rock scene, but in music period. She can growl, bark, croon, scream, often within the same song (hell, the same line), remaining always one step ahead of your expectations. Strip these songs of her vocals and they’d still be good… it just wouldn’t be Hop Along.

There is no describing Frances Quinlan’s voice. There just isn’t. It’s something that demands to be experienced.

Several years have passed since my first Hop Along show, but as the band (Quinlan, her brother Mark, Tyler Long, and Joe Reinhart) have grown as musicians so too has that original sense of awe. Bark Your Head Off, Dog, the band’s third Saddle Creek release, is Hop Along at their very best: full of the richly empathetic narratives, peerless vocals, and intricate, unpredictable compositions the band is known for, delivered in a more meticulously measured, artful package. 

That said, though, Hop Along is a rock band at heart, a fact most clear whenever they’re performing live. There will be shredding, headbanging, perhaps even a mosh pit when they close their set with ”Tibetan Pop Stars.” Mark Quinlan will banter with just about everyone. It will be a damn good time.

This show was particularly exciting for me in that it doubled as my first show for Pittsburgh City Paper, a gig which high school Erin would’ve shit her pants over. Pretty incredible to think that my first “official” photo pass was my favorite band, shot for my favorite local publication, in my favorite city in the world.

Not a bad deal at all.

Caroline Rose @ Beachland Tavern (May 9, 2019)

There’s this shirt Caroline Rose sells at her merch table. Across a black background in red gothic script, as if plucked from a Hot Topic catalog of yesteryear, it reads: “NICE IS THE NEW PUNK”.

Spend five minutes in a room with her band and you’ll understand it as more than a snappy slogan. It’s an ethos the entire Caroline Rose crew live by.

Last week’s show in Cleveland arrived on the final leg of the LONER LOSER FREAK TOUR, wrapping up the album cycle that began in early 2018 with the release of LONER, a triumph of indie pop-meets rockabilly-meets trip-hop-meets riot grrl feminist surf punk and my favorite album in years. The band (including Abbie Morin, Willoughby Morse, and new member Mike Dondero) has toured virtually nonstop in that time—a long stretch to be playing the same dozen-ish songs plus a Britney Spears cover, but you’d never know it from their energy onstage. For as long as they’ve been on the road, they manage to bring the same beer-chugging, wise-cracking, dance party zeal to every show.

If you’ve never seen Caroline Rose live, picture David Lynch doing stand-up comedy on a gaudy ’70s porn set, complete with feather boas, piñatas, and an animatronic cat, and you might reach an approximation. Caroline’s shows are so off-the-wall vibrant that it feels wrong to edit photos in black and white, but hey, shitty bar lighting, what are ya gonna do?

I’ve seen Caroline four times now in three states, and not just because LONER is permanently burrowed in my brain. It’s also that this band has more fun on stage than any other band I’ve seen. They’re living the best-friends-hit-the-road-together dream from my wildest middle school fantasies, and in the fiery horror movie hellscape that is our modern world, it’s nice to see that kind of camaraderie play out in real life.

And yeah, the whole nice-is-fucking-punk ethos has a lot to do with it, too.

Even at 26, I still waste an infuriating amount of time worrying about being “cool” enough to fit in. I’m still hyper-aware of how I come off to other people, convinced that every interaction will reveal me as a fraud. So when LONER dropped and Caroline talked in interviews about “dismantling [her] ego”—unlearning the instinct to take things so seriously—that resonated with me in a big way.

I was fortunate enough to spend time with the band when they kicked off their tour in Pittsburgh last year, and that serendipitous encounter was the catalyst that led me to brush the dust off my camera and start taking pictures at shows. If I were to draw out the timeline that led me to music photography, the thing I now love most in this world, it would start with Caroline Rose.

Isn’t that great? That living your own best life can inspire others to go out and do the same? That’s exactly why I’ll keep hitting up shows as often as I can.

My camera is yours whenever you want it, guys. Thanks for keeping it real.

Using Format