At some point, Matt Quinn realized his life was a series of windows. One day, he’d be watching the country pass by through the window of a plane. The next day, it’d be a bus window. Quinn, lead singer of the band Mt. Joy, was constantly on the road. He’s not complaining. He knows he’s blessed to be a musician. Still, experiencing life through a window can be weird.
“There’s a lyric in one of our new songs, ‘Witness,’ that kind of sums up how that feels,” Quinn says. “It goes, ‘I’m staring at America, and if I blink, I’ll drown.’ You become a watcher of the world, a traveling salesman. And that’s bittersweet.”
Since the band burst on the scene with a flurry of singles and their eponymous 2018 debut album, Quinn and his cohorts have spent most of their time touring. Mt. Joy opened for bands like The Head and the Heart, The Shins and Rainbow Kitten Surprise. More recently, they’ve been setting the stage for The Lumineers. Then, of course, the world ground to a halt. The pandemic cut their tour short, along with their plans to promote Rearrange Us, their second record.
“We were sitting there in March, kind of in limbo,” Quinn says. “I can't imagine any bad of our size that wasn’t thinking, ‘Is this the end of bands?’ And I’m sure it was for a lot of bands.”
But not for Mt. Joy. The Los Angeles-based band recently embarked on a tour of drive-in shows, including a three-night run at Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive. On Thursday, Oct. 29, they’ll come to Fair Park, and Quinn is looking forward to it more than he thought he would.
“To be honest, I had very, very low expectations for these drive-in shows,” he says. “I thought it was great we were getting back out there, but I didn’t know how it would go. Maybe 2020 made me a pessimist. But they’ve surprised me with how incredibly fun they are. They remind me of a tailgate, where instead of going to the game, a stage gets erected in the parking lot and someone starts playing music. And I need that, in a sense. It’s really healing for me.”
Mt. Joy is technically indie rock, but to define the five-piece band by a single style feels reductive. Rearrange Us reveals the band’s ability to travel through multiple genres with ease. Some songs (“My Vibe”) are a little bit pop, a little bit psychedelic. Others (“Bug Eyes”) are somber tunes you might expect from My Morning Jacket. That’s all by design. Keyboardist Jackie Miclau is classically trained, and drummer Sotiris Eliopoulos has an affinity for jazz. The bandmates take their individual talents and interests into the studio, and, in Quinn’s words “mix it all up in a pot.”
“It’d be silly for us to make one type of music,” the singer says. “There are so many amazing ideas floating around in the studio space, and that’s what we want Mt. Joy to be: the combination of what each of us brings to the table.”
For Rearrange Us, the band got a boost from experienced producer Tucker Martine, who has crafted songs with everyone from Sufjan Stevens to Modest Mouse and Mavis Staples.
“We had this idea of wanting to make something that he’s good at making, too,” Quinn says. “But he’s good at making a lot. If you can’t figure out exactly where we’re going with the next song, that’s kinda on purpose.”
Regardless of which kind of song they’re playing, Mt. Joy performances are brimming with energy, buoyed by Michael Byrnes on bass, Sam Cooper’s guitar-pickin’ and Quinn’s otherworldly vocal range. The crew’s talents make for great live shows, and all five of them relish the stage. Therefore, when it felt like they couldn’t play live for a while, they were crushed.
“We were all just sort of waiting for this moment where we could give people an opportunity to step away from the madness in a safe way,” Quinn says. “I think music is important in times like these.”
Even though he was initially skeptical about the drive-in shows, Quinn quickly ate his words. The concerts were more lively than he imagined, and they offered a bit of the connection that has largely been missing from this year.
“Drive-in shows are a really rare opportunity to be amongst people,” he says.
When he got to Chicago, the band did their soundcheck at the venue, then headed back to the hotel. On the way back, Quinn saw a long line of cars waiting for the show. People were playing music, enjoying the company of one another, and waiting to see Mt. Joy take the stage.
“I was looking through the windows of all these cars thinking, ‘I haven’t seen people going anywhere to do something together in so long,’” Quinn says. “It sounds really simple, but it makes you so happy to see people coming together.”
Mt. Joy will play at Fair Park on Thursday, Oct. 29 at 8 p.m.