Mt. Joy talks quick assention to indie folk popularity ahead of Belly Up show
Special to the Daily
If you go ...
What: Mt. Joy
When: Saturday, Nov. 23, 9 p.m.
Where: Belly Up, Aspen
Cost: General Admission $38 plus $6.50 fee, Reserved $50 plus $7.50 fee
More information: Visit bellyupaspen.com.
Mt. Joy’s Matt Quinn and Sam Cooper didn’t expect to be where they are today, leading a band that, in the space of two years, has gone from its very beginnings to touring worldwide behind a debut album and a No. 1 single (“Silver Lining”) on Billboard’s Adult Alternative singles chart.
Just a little more than three years ago, Quinn was pursuing a law degree focusing on music copyright law and Cooper had passed the bar and was already an attorney. Those are the kind of experiences that most people plan to build into long-running careers.
Then they caught a ride in an Astro van.
As high schoolers back in Philadelphia, singer/guitarist Quinn and guitarist Cooper had written songs together and been in bands.
They both ended up in Los Angeles after college — Cooper because of a job offer and Quinn because of a girlfriend. They had their law careers, but in their spare time, the duo resumed their songwriting partnership.
“It was just one of those cool, serendipitous life moments where a person that I’d been making music with in high school ended up in the same city as me, and I didn’t really know anybody else,” Quinn said in a phone interview. “Just because we love music we were getting together and writing together.”
One of their early songs recorded with bassist Michael Byrnes was called “Astrovan.” Quinn’s roommate at the time, Jack Gallagher, happened to be in artist management, and he liked the song from the first time he first heard it.
Gallagher knew a few people at the digital streaming service Spotify and passed them the song. That’s when things got unexpectedly crazy.
“It wasn’t one of those things where (Gallagher) was like, ‘Oh, we’ve given it to this person at Spotify who’s going to take it to the top because they owe me a favor,’ kind of thing,” Quinn said. “He (Gallagher) was definitely like, ‘We’ll see what happens. They said the people at Spotify like it.’ I remember not knowing what that really meant.”
That meaning soon became clear when in 2016 “Astrovan” debuted on Spotify’s viral charts. Over about the next month, Spotify visitors gave 1 million spins to the song (whose reference to a doobie-imbibing Jesus driving an Astro van and listening to the Grateful Dead makes for quite an image).
Suddenly a music career seemed a lot more realistic. And Quinn, in particular, found himself facing a very short deadline to choose his career path.
“I started doing law school night classes at Loyola in Los Angeles, and pretty much eight weeks into that was when ‘Astrovan’ really started moving,” Quinn said.
“Basically, it was a Friday night and I had my first midterms for law school on Monday. I looked it up, and if I took the midterm, I’d have to pay for the next semester. If I wait to make this decision in three more days, it’s going to cost me an inordinate amount of money to just throw this away. So I walked in and told everyone I was leaving. They were kind of surprised, but that was it.”
Law school went on the back burner, and Quinn and Cooper went to work filling out the Mt. Joy band lineup. They retained Byrnes, who was tapped into the musician scene in Los Angeles and recruited drummer Sotiris Eliopoulos. A few months later, keyboardist Jackie Miclau completed the lineup.
Early on, Gallagher and his associate, Matt Shay, agreed to manage Mt. Joy, bringing the band onto their roster at C3 Management, while Ali Hedrick at the Billions Corp. signed on as booking agent.
The band, though, didn’t jump right into signing a record deal, even though “Astrovan” had labels interested in the band.
A trip to the 2017 South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, though, brought Dualtone Records into the picture.
“We were super-impressed by what they had to say about our band and how much they already knew about our band,” Quinn said. “They just seemed like they were the most invested in the actual music and really were excited to be a part of it. And yeah, the rest is history.”
Dualtone has seen a quick return on its belief in Mt. Joy. The momentum started by “Astrovan” has continued, first with “Silver Lining” and now a new single, “Jenny Jenkins,” went top five at Adult Alternative radio. Quinn is able to gauge the group’s success by the steady increase in attendance at Mt. Joy shows.
“We started out playing to maybe 100 or 250, whatever it was. Then on the last headlining run for us, (we were) in big cities playing to 1,000 people and selling out those rooms,” he said. “The main validation for us has just been to go to these rooms and see a ton of people singing along. I think in today’s like music economy that’s the number one way to get real validation in terms of is this thing working, is it connecting.”
Listening to the self-titled album, it’s easy to see why Mt. Joy’s fortunes have been on a rapid upward trajectory.
The sound is rooted in folk but is more expansive than that description implies. For instance, “I’m Your Wreck” fattens its sound with multiple electric guitars. “Silver Lining” uses a rollicking piano line and thickly layered gang vocals to bring an epic feel to the song. “Sheep” (one of several topical songs on the album) generates tension by shifting into an insistent beat in its sharply worded choruses.
But what really helps “Mt. Joy” stand out are the striking vocal melodies (sung by Quinn, whose wide and supple vocal range frequently rises to a full-bodied falsetto) that inhabit many of the songs.
As a live act, Quinn said the band’s goal is to create an experience that’s more than a reproduction of the group’s self-titled debut album.
“We’ve been out playing these songs, I guess, for a little over a year now,” Quinn said.
“I think for us, it really comes down writing various transitions and writing in different musical interludes in the middle of songs and trying to find fun covers that fit well with our songs or the themes of our songs. We just try to find things that make each night (unique), not only for the crowd or people who have seen us several times, but for ourselves, to keep things fresh. I think that’s one thing that’s exciting about a performance for me. I’m a huge music fan. You may see something and you think maybe that particular set that night in Richmond, or wherever it was, was one of a kind compared to more cookie-cutter performances of tracks and samples and everything lining up to do the exact same show.”
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