Sometimes, a person meets their destiny on the road they took to avoid it. For Mt. Joy’s Matt Quinn and Sam Cooper, that road was a cross-country flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. As friends in high school, they dreamed of being musicians, tempted by the slow-burning, Deadhead philosophies espoused in the sounds of the 60s and 70s they steeped themselves in. The idea, so far removed from their comfortable, city slicker upbringing, only made it that much more alluring. Understandably, with not much to show in the way of music production sans a few pages of fragmented lyrics, the two pursued college degrees and the normalcy of a life irreconcilable with their wistful teenage daydreams.
Seven years later, through the ebb and flow of adult life, the pair reunited in Los Angeles where Quinn was a first-year law student and Cooper was a practicing attorney. Together again, they reminisced about what could have been. Now white-collar professionals, they truly lived long enough to see themselves become the villain. Refusing to concede, Quinn and Cooper met bassist Michael Byrnes through a Craigslist ad, called themselves Mt. Joy as an ode to a mountain near their childhood home and recorded their first single, “Astrovan.”
“I knew I still wanted to write songs, but the realities of life made that dream seem pretty impossible,” Quinn said, reflecting on this period in his life.
“Astrovan” accomplished the impossible, racking up two million plays on Spotify within the first week without any initial promotion or fanfare. The music spoke for itself, and people recognized that regardless of names or branding. Immediately, The Allman Brothers’ influence is apparent as a muted, plucky guitar plays percussively over a bluesy acoustic rhythm. Quinn’s lyrics are deeply cinematic. The track opens, “Angels smoking cigarettes on rooftops in fishnets in the morning/With the moon still glowing.” Not only does it feel like the opening scene of an indie movie, it serves to illustrate the struggle so many artists face in the pursuit of their passion by juxtaposing the purity of something like angels with the unglamorous occupation they are presumably holding.
It was an ironic twist for a song about being stuck in life, desperately wishing to pursue a dream, to become such an instant success. Suddenly, the band had that exact opportunity. Mt. Joy quickly transitioned from a part-time calling to a full-fledged band, rounded out by Sotiris Eliopoulos on drums and Jackie Miclau on keys.
In the ensuing two years, they would release another three singles, each one being received equally as well if not better than the first. The third and final release, “Silver Lining,” peaked at the top spot on the Billboard AAA. These tracks would go on to form the foundation for their eponymous full-length album released in March 2018.
In the eye of many critics, “Mt. Joy” generally fell flat. It seemed as if they burned brightly but briefly, and I agree with this sentiment to some degree with a few notable exceptions. “Sheep” is a topical and welcome departure from the easy-to-swallow songs that make up the bulk of this album. The song uses the 2015 Baltimore race riots in response to police brutality within the city and across the country as a vehicle to illuminate the most essential flaws of our modern era. In our cultural divide, through blood and violence, we find ourselves more divided as a nation than ever. However, the song remains hopeful as the chorus echos, “You cut it up, you cut it up, but it’s still the red white and the blue.”
While Quinn has moments of awkward earnestness that feel saccharine and clunky, “Julia” avoids this pitfall by taking itself a little less seriously. It’s an intensely observational and somewhat comedic track about falling in love with a waitress.
“Mt. Joy” may not have lived up to the tremendous hype preceding its release, but I would have been shocked if it did. They are a young group with plenty of time to learn and experiment, which is why I’m looking forward to hearing more from them in the future.
Mitchell Clark is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.