Named after a peak inside a Pennsylvania national park near where singer Matt Quinn and guitarist Sam Cooper grew up, Mt. Joy make the sort of folk music that feels like a ray of sunshine. The indie rock outfit – which also features bassist Michael Byrnes, drummer Sotiris Eliopoulos, and keyboardist Jackie Miclau – just released their sophomore effort, Rearrange Us, through Dualtone Records, home to the likes of The Lumineers and Angie McMahon. After touring extensively in support of their breakthrough self-titled debut, the band started working on their new album with producer Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse), who lends a lushly organic sheen to the album’s compositions. In short, Rearrange Us deals with heartbreak – and though that’s a pretty omnipresent theme in folk music, here it’s interestingly rendered through a collective lens, an experience shared among different members of the band at the same time. But the album is also more broadly about change, as epitomized by its stunning opening track ‘Bug Eyes’, which showcases Quinn’s dynamic songwriting in all its epic glory, as well as his versatile voice. From that point on, the record comfortably sways from breezy, summer-drenched cuts like ‘Rearrange Us’ and ‘My Vibe’ to soaring rock jams like ‘Acrobats’ and heartfelt ballads like ‘Every Holiday’ and ‘Us’. The closing sentiment, though, is one of hope: “If our lives don’t work then we can change,” Quinn sings on ‘Strangers’, “Lord knows we’ve changed, love will rearrange us.”
We caught up with Matt Quinn of Mt. Joy for this edition of our Artist Spotlight series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk a bit about their music.
How did you form Mt. Joy?
Sam and I went to high school together out side of Philadelphia. His brother introduced us to each other and we have been making music ever since. We both moved away to separate cities after high school, but serendipitously jobs both landed us in LA and we started making music together again in LA in 2015. Those songs were the start of Mt. Joy.
How has your approach changed since releasing your debut album?
I think the approach is similar, but if anything has changed it’s that we spent most of the last three years on the road. So, you really see how different song elements work in front of audiences of varying sizes and that definitely informed the creation of some of these songs. We know we are going to make our living on the road, and I think these songs really improve our live show.
What was the inspiration behind ‘Rearrange Us’?
Put simply, four of the five of us were dealing with break-ups that were at least tangentially related to touring and the time spent on the road. It’s an album about change. It brought us closer together, and I think I sort of wrote sad songs because I knew I needed them, but I also felt like my band mates did too. On the other hand, we were trying to find a healthy way forward and we built a few hopeful, exciting tunes to get out of our heads and try to keep moving forward.
How was the writing and recording process like?
The writing was definitely a little more stressful the second time around just because we had so much less time to really sit and write and play with the songs. Sam and I were fortunate though we had the opportunity to go into the wilderness of Montana for a few days. We bought some old beat up amps from a pawn shop and rented a truck and drove very far from civilization, the stillness was stunning and inspiring and definitely contributed to the record. The recording process was pretty amazing this time around. We spent a lot of the summer up in Portland, Oregon at Tucker Martine’s studio. He is one of our all-time favourite producers and it was a dream to get to work with him. He has an amazing ear and is a true artist in terms of the way he approaches making records. I think the end result has a lot to do with his talent and leadership.
What are some of your favourite moments from the album?
I really love the album opener Bug Eyes. A lot of that tune came from the session out in the wilderness, and I think it thematically speaks for the whole album. This idea that you can learn to live with change and be grateful for the perspective you gain from the things that you can’t carry across the finish line. I am truly really proud of all the songs on the record but some other standouts for me are Let Loose, Death, Rearrange Us, Witness, and Every Holiday.
How have you been keeping busy during this quarantine period?
We’ve been working really hard to try to find creative ways to promote this record without shows. We are so damn proud of the record, and want to make sure people know its coming. So, we’ve been doing a lot of virtual performances and trying to find anyway we can use our platform to make a difference in these crazy times including a livestream where we brought together a bunch of friends and raised $30K for a local food bank and Musicares. We have some more fun stuff that we are working on as well to continue to give back.
Well, we hope the album propels us a little further into the vast unknown that is the music industry in 2020. Beyond that, we had such an amazing slate of shows and festivals lined up that are all likely to be pushed to next year. So, a lot of it is continuing to shift our presence online and work on exciting ways for people to hear our live show in a world where we can’t gather for shows. We have some exciting stuff planned…