Mt. Joy first began when Philadelphian friends Matt Quinn (vocals, guitar) and Sam Cooper (guitar) reunited a few years ago in Los Angeles. The two had met in high school where they cultivated a shared interest in music, but life had since taken them down different paths. Luckily, their reunion rekindled their shared ambition. In LA, they teamed up with Michael Byrnes (bass) and producer Caleb Nelson to record three songs under Mt. Joy, named for a mountain in Valley Forge National Park near Cooper’s childhood home.
Soon, the band took off; one of their songs, “Astrovan,” became an indie-folk hit, catapulting the part-time side project into a full-time sensation. They added Sotiris Eliopoulos on drums and Jackie Miclau on keyboard and hit the road in 2017, playing festivals like Bonnaroo and Newport Folk Festival, as well as shows alongside established acts like The Shins, The Head and The Heart, and The Lone Bellow. It was during this whirlwind summer that Mt. Joy eventually caught the attention of Dualtone Records, who they cut their debut, self-titled album with this past March 2, 2018.
It’s no surprise that Mt. Joy’s rising popularity was bred on the summer festival circuit. The entire album gives off that airy, folksy vibe that does so well when your listeners are sitting in a field with a thousand others, surrounded by smoke and singing along. It’s an album that was made to be played live.
At it’s core, Mt. Joy’s debut feels like a band working through life through the lens of a dream that, at the time, must have felt impossible. There’s a lot of existential questions in between that ambling, open sky vibe. Quinn makes declarations like “life’s a bitch I swallow” and “you can’t control who you really are or what you really want,” making so many of the songs instantly relatable to anyone in their 20s (or 30s, or 40s, or…) who is still trying to figure things out.
“I always wanted to be free, in the simple way I found in all those younger days,” Quinn sings on the last track of the album, “Younger Days.” It feels like a thesis.
The fifth song on the album, “Sheep,” delves more obviously into politics despite hiding under the guise of an easy going guitar line. The song specifically calls out Baltimore and feels slightly hopeless in Quinn’s seeming inability to do anything about the injustices. Still, Quinn offers hope in the chorus with lines like “you cut it up, but it’s still the red white and the blue” and a call back to Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” in the second verse, appropriate for a song ostensibly about civil rights.
“Astrovan,” the song that made them famous, also shows up on the record, and is admittedly an early favorite of mine. Its relaxing groove comes in at track 8 at a time where the energy on the album has gotten a little low. It’s a smart move on the band’s part. Nothing pumps up your listeners more than the song that first made them fall in love with you. It gets you excited to hear what comes next.
What comes next is “Cardinal,” another gem on the album that hits on the pains of growing up and trying to find your place in the world. It’s a song about being yourself and doing the things that make you happy despite the judgements of people around you.
Overall, Mt. Joy’s debut is a rumination on life and love shrouded in the rootsy genuineness that Americana music so often breeds. It’s a great introduction, and I can’t wait to hear more from this band.