Silver Lining Inspiration – a Q and A with Mt. Joy’s Michael Byrnes

Mt. Joy began as a rekindling of musical synergy between high school classmates Matt Quinn and Sam Cooper. Originally from Philadelphia, the pair reunited in Los Angeles, where they met up with Oklahoma-native and multi-instrumentalist Michael Byrnes through a Craigslist ad. Together with Byrnes’ roommate Caleb Nelson producing, the men recorded some songs, one of which was an infectious folk-rock song called Astrovan that went viral on Spotify, racking up over 5 million streams.

Less than two years later, Mt. Joy has expanded into a full-fledged band with Quinn at lead vocals, Cooper on guitar, Byrnes at bass, and with the addition of Sotiris Eliopoulos on drums and Jackie Miclau on keyboard. The band has also left their “living room” recording studio behind, released their first, self-titled album in March, and taken to the road on a successful international tour. Kicking it off with key stops in major U.S. cities like New York, Chicago, and Dallas, they will also take to stages in Toronto, London, Paris, Berlin, Zurich and Amsterdam—all before the end of 2018.

Paul Isaacs at Sound Devices caught up with Mt. Joy’s bassist Michael Byrnes for a little Q&A before the band’s late-night show at the Majestic Theater in Madison, Wisconsin.              

Q: Mt. Joy, how did that name come about?

A: The name comes from Mt. Joy in Pennsylvania, an area in Valley Forge.

Q: It actually exists?

A: Yes, there’s a Mt. Joy and a Mt. Misery. Sam and Matt grew up—or maybe just Sam grew up on Mt. Misery—but they were like right there. That was where they went to high school and stuff.

There’s some story about a famous Colonial who had to spend the night on Mt. Misery and named it Mt. Misery and then found food or something on Mt. Joy and named it Mt. Joy. There’s some story like that, but they’ve changed the names now because it’s harder to sell houses on Mt. Misery.

Q: I bet! So, tell us a bit more about the band itself and how you got involved.

A: Matt and Sam, our singer and guitarist, had written songs in their bedrooms, and they were looking for a bass player, in like 2016 maybe, and they put out a Craigslist ad for a bass player, and I’d just moved to LA and was responding to anything to play with other musicians.

I’d been in a million bands, then I moved to LA, and I was just going to do the hired-gun thing. I met up with Matt and Sam, and we just went through, I think, four songs and recorded them in my living room. I ended up playing bass and drums on them. It was just a good, immediate hang, and my roommate produced it, and then, I didn’t hear from them for like six months, and then one of the songs did really well on Spotify. They hit me up, asking, ‘if I wanted to play bass? Do you know a drummer?’ I said, ‘Sure and yes.’ A little bit after that, we all had a mutual friend with Jackie, our keyboard player, and so then we just became a band.

We got lucky with a certain number of things, and we just kind of stuck with it, and here we are.

Mt Joy Live at the Majestic: Matt Quinn (lead vocal/guitar), Sam Cooper (lead guitar), Michael Byrnes (bass guitar), Jackie Miclau (keyboard), and Sotiris Eliopoulos (drums)

Q: You’ve already played over 100 concerts as Mt. Joy. Any particular favorite show so far?

A: We played last night in Chicago. That was pretty incredible. That was the biggest audience we’ve played to that was just our fans. It wasn’t like a festival or an opening, or anything like that, so that was a pretty crazy experience. They were all singing along.

Q: Singing along? That’d be like the ultimate dream. How does it feel for you?

A: It feels amazing…totally surreal.

Matt is an amazing lyricist, so whenever I hear the stuff he’s working on, I feel my own reaction to it. You know, you listen to music that you love and you have your own reaction to it, and you don’t know if other people will have that same reaction, just because people are different, but those shows really confirm my own reactions.

Q: You released your first album March 2nd, 2018. How’s that going?

A: Seemingly well. It feels good to have it out and a tour behind it.

Mt Joy plays before a packed house at Majestic Theater in Madison, WI

Q: Are you working on a second album?

A: Slowly but surely. We’ve been touring so much, it’s kind of hard to, but whenever we’ve gotten a chance, or when we’re all back home, (we) get together and work on ideas.

Q: What was the making of the album like, behind the scenes?

A: There was a large percentage of songs that were brought in acoustic, and we would form a band arrangement around that, and there were a couple of songs that were way more fluid, just came together in a rehearsal room. So, potentially for the next record, it looks like more songs will be made in that way.

I’m sure there will be songs where Matt just comes in with a beautiful song, and we’re like alright, let’s just stick with that, because that formula works, and other times there’ll be a lick with a melody and we figure it out (together).

Q: You have a Sound Devices MixPre-10M. Can you tell us how Mt. Joy is using it?

A: In Mt. Joy, we’ve been using it (10M) just plugging two microphones in and recording our rehearsals, so far. Because we’ve been touring so much, we haven’t really had a chance to work on any demos that aren’t just recordings of us playing songs live.

Sound Devices Paul Isaacs chats with Mt Joy’s Michael Byrnes about his MixPre-10M

Where this thing stands out, of course, is because before this, all we had were our own iPhones. We’d place those down and get a recording so we could conceptualize it without playing a song later, but they sound really bad. Sometimes you’ve placed it down next to the kick drum and you don’t realize it, or the high-hat or something, but setting up two mics in a room and putting this (10M) down is as easy and sounds 100-times better, ‘cause these are really –  Can I curse in this interview?

Sure. 

These are badass preamps!

That’s how we’ve used it in Mt. Joy so far. And it’s super easy with the SD card, pop it in the computer, email it out to everyone.

Q: Would you rather use the 10M instead of a computer?

A: Yeah, I think, for what I’ve used it for in my own home with my roommates, it’s really handy. I have a bad tendency to get caught up with DAWs. Not knocking DAWs, of course. I guess you can consider this (10M) its own DAW, but I have a bad tendency to record a bass line, and focus on it. You zoom in on the clip in ProTools, you start adding drive, or different effects to it, and then you start obsessing, and then you’re hours in and you have eight bars of music that you don’t like.

What’s good about this (10M) is since it’s all just one thing, small screen, you just hit record, you play into it, and you could if you want take a bunch of time to tweak everything, but it has more of a tendency to make you stick with how you play.

Q: You’re saying it helps you focus on being a musician, rather than a technician. Would you say that’s true?

A: Totally, and it gets you out of your own head. I’m very guilty of this—getting inside your own head and becoming paranoid about your own playing, or paranoid about the song, or paranoid about something over just against actually listening to the song as you’re playing.

Michael Byrnes shares his thoughts on recording songs with the MixPre-10M

Q: You said, you’ve used the MixPre-10M in your home. How?

A: I’ve set this up in my living room, and my roommate – we mic his drums. We mic a bass amp, and I use a bass DI to just go straight into this (10M), and then pump out improvised recordings.

I have a huge drum loop library of all these really famous drummers… They’re live drums, and I’m trying to get into a habit of — for making myself a better bass player — using this (10M) as an interface, and putting the loops into ProTools, and just playing over it. It’s just all made up bass lines.

Q: So you have used the MixPre-10M as a USB interface on occasion?

A: I used it just as an interface, but I used the preamps just to do some recordings for a friend of mine’s demos. He ended up using the actual bass tracks from what he’d considered was going to be demos. And I just plugged a bass into a tuner and then into this (10M). It sounds great…I know I talked about getting paranoid about it, but for that particular thing, he sent me (a file of) just guitar and drums, just emailed it to me, and I threw it into ProTools, and plugged directly into this (10M). Just went with it.

Q: Have you ever used any built-in effects?

A: Yes, the reverbs.

Q: How do they sound to you?

A: Wonderful. I stick with the Hall pretty much constantly…and it doesn’t sound artificial or anything like that.

Q: Will this be a tool that helps you write songs in the future?

A: Definitely! After the Fall, Mt. Joy has two months of not touring, so that’s going to be hard-core demoing time.

I think we’ll just start off in our rehearsal space, set this (10M) up, and there are enough inputs on it to just – we can play live into it and then overdub as well, and just use the effects in it. Go out to a PA, so we can hear it.

A MixPre-6 in the sound booth, recording Mt Joy at Majestic Theater

Q: So, from here, it’s off to St. Louis and then?

A: We’re out for a while, all U.S., Canada, and Europe.”

I won’t be back in LA until after Thanksgiving. There are a couple of days where we have off and everyone is heading back to LA, but I’m from Oklahoma, so I’ll go and visit my parents at that time.

Q: I bet they’re proud of their son.

A: I hope so! I’m trying, Mom, I’m trying. No, I think they’re great. They’ve been the best parents I could ever ask for.

Q: We could send ‘em this clip in a post.

A: Exactly. That’s what I’m thinking. Christmas is coming.