This story is featured in CityBeat's Sept. 20 print edition.
Ever since Mt. Joy made a big splash in the music world with “Silver Lining,” the single from the band’s 2018 self-titled debut album that became a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Triple A charts, the band has been widely labeled as a folk-rock act and frequently compared to the Lumineers.
Mt. Joy singer/guitarist Matt Quinn will even allow that “Silver Lining” sounded a little like the Lumineers, with its strummy folk-ish verses and stacked harmonies in the chorus. And the fact that Mt. Joy opened for the Lumineers on that group’s early 2020 arena tour probably reinforced the connection.
But Quinn is ready to see Mt. Joy’s music viewed through something much broader than a folk-rock/Lumineers lens.
“I love the Lumineers. I got to meet them. They’re lovely people. I think the music they make is fantastic,” Quinn noted during a recent phone interview. “Not wanting to be compared to them has nothing to do with not liking their music. I think it’s just about comparison. I’ve always felt like it was about comparison.”
The band’s recently released third album, Orange Blood, could go a long way in changing perceptions about Mt. Joy’s music.
There is still a folk element to songs such as “Roly Poly,” “Don’t It Feel Good” and the title track, but they come with some gauzy atmospherics, synthetic beats and treated guitar tones that push the songs outside of the folk realm. Elsewhere, Mt. Joy get even more adventurous with the sonics. “Johnson Song” has a distorted lead guitar that gives the tune a freaky edge. “Lemon Tree” takes on a Beatles-esque psychedelic pop experience when it kicks into a pair of instrumental segments full of fuzzed-up tones. “Evergreen,” meanwhile, is a catchy, nervy rocker with shimmery guitars and a driving beat. The sonic creativity generally enhances the songs, but what still stands out most is the ability of Quinn and his bandmates to craft striking and inviting melodies.
Quinn got started writing for Orange Blood soon after the tour opening for the Lumineers wrapped in March 2020.
That was not the original plan. Mt. Joy had their second album, Rearrange Us, ready for release and were eyeing an extensive round of touring in 2020 to support the album. But then the pandemic hit, upending those big plans, although the band went ahead and released Rearrange Us rather than making their fans wait any longer for new music.
Pivoting into songwriting mode was the only real option for Quinn once the world started shutting down.
“Right when the pandemic started, I was in New York City. I was stuck in a studio apartment and actually my girlfriend had a kind of busted acoustic guitar, but I didn’t even have my guitar,” Quinn said. “But I had (her) guitar and it (songwriting) was all there was to do. We were literally quarantined and genuinely terrified of interacting with people. So we were making music, and, yeah, it was freeing in a way to have an outlet like that. I feel really, really fortunate that that was my job.”
Quinn and his girlfriend didn’t stay in New York City for long. The city became an epicenter of the pandemic, and, feeling it had become dangerous to be there, they decided to move to Quinn’s former hometown of Philadelphia. Eventually, Quinn and his girlfriend felt things had calmed down enough for them to travel to Los Angeles to bring Quinn’s things from his apartment there back to Philadelphia.
It was during this trip that Quinn began to get his head around the kind of album he was starting to make.
“On the way back east to Philadelphia, we stopped in Joshua Tree (California). And just sort of — I think, really, the intentions for the record and what we were trying to do with the music were really built there,” Quinn said. “There’s such a spiritual element to being there. You really connect with this sort of, like, the earth, really. You can just connect with this larger level of (existence). All of this stuff was happening with COVID and everything at the time, but the earth is still an incredibly beautiful thing that doesn’t really give a shit about COVID.
“I think just connecting with that, the idea of Orange Blood came from just this idea that the sun and the light is sort of the blood of the universe,” he said. “And yeah, I was sort of able to wrap my head around maybe the intention of the record being a place where people could zoom out a little bit and connect with something other than sort of doomscrolling around their phone.”
After that, Quinn and his songwriting partner in Mt. Joy, guitarist Sam Cooper, rented a small barn near Philadelphia and started convening for near-daily writing and recording sessions. Most of Orange Blood was written there, and then it was time to hit the studio. So Quinn and Cooper joined the rest of the band — keyboardist Jackie Miclau, bassist Michael Byrnes and drummer Sotiris Eliopoulos — and producer Caleb Nelson in Los Angeles, where the album was completed.
Quinn credits Nelson, a long-time friend of the band who produced several songs on the first album, with helping to achieve many of the bold sonic treatments of the songs.
“I think for us it was definitely intentional. I think each record is an opportunity to do something different and to take a step in a new direction,” Quinn said. “It feels like each record you get a little more space and time in the studio to experiment, to try to make sounds and try to make, really, I think the most simple explanation is you’re just trying to make something that moves you.”
Quinn said the new songs — even with the studio-crafted sonics — translate well to the live stage. And the Orange Blood material is bringing Mt. Joy closer to achieving the kind of live experience the band has wanted to create all along.
“One of the real amazing things about the new album is it’s really allowed our sets to be more diverse,” Quinn said. “Before this album we had, what, like I don’t know, 26 songs, which of course, you don’t play every single one. You get into a set list problem where you’re trying to change it up as much as possible, and we would really like to become a band that plays, that has unique shows. And our new album has really allowed that to happen. It’s set up some cool jams. It’s really made the live show more dynamic, I think.”
Mt. Joy plays the Andrew J Brady Music Center at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4. Info: bradymusiccenter.com.
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