In 2013, Northeastern University’s student-run label Green Line Records released an album by a band called Brave Elephant. The record’s centerpiece, “Silver Lining,” is a strummy folk-rock tune in which singer Matt Quinn (then a Northeastern music industry major) implores the song’s subject to “tell the ones you love you love them.”
In 2017, the song would be re-released by Quinn’s new group, Mt. Joy. That version has more than 14.5 million streams on Spotify.
It’s a turn of events that surprised Quinn as much as anyone else.
After graduation, Quinn followed his girlfriend to Los Angeles, where he hoped to work in the tangentially music-related world of copyright law. There, he reunited with high school friend and former songwriting partner Sam Cooper, and the pair started a project they named after a mountain near their Valley Forge, Pa., hometown.
“I wasn’t really in LA to try to make it in music,” says Quinn. “It just so happened that [Sam and I] were in LA together and put together some songs.”
Quinn and Cooper recruited the services of producer Caleb Nelson and multi-instrumentalist Michael Byrnes off Craigslist to record their first four songs. Included in that batch was “Astrovan,” which recasts Jesus as a stoned Deadhead chasing his dreams. It’s a surreal image that appealed to Quinn more for its goofy charm than for any profound spiritual significance.
“When I wrote that song, [Mt. Joy wasn’t] a public-facing thing, so a lot of the things I was writing had a sense of humor,” Quinn says. “One of my absolute favorite moments [from] touring is hearing a crowd full of people sing, ‘Jesus drives an Astrovan,’ because quite frankly, I don’t even know what it means.”
When “Astrovan” started racking up millions of Spotify streams, the duo realized Mt. Joy could be much more than a creative escape from their day jobs.
Nelson recalls those sessions as fun but casual; though he didn’t see Mt. Joy’s explosion coming, he understands why they resonated with people.
“The songs have a super-
relatable vibe,” says Nelson. “They don’t try very hard, and people can relate to that. They’re just honest.”
Quinn and Cooper soon turned Mt. Joy into a full-time band, making Byrnes their bassist, adding drummer Sotiris Eliopoulos and keyboardist Jackie Miclau, and releasing a series of follow-up singles. One of those singles was an old favorite of Quinn’s: “Silver Lining.”
“I had always wanted to take another crack at ‘Silver Lining,’” says Quinn. “That was originally recorded at Northeastern, right in Ryder Hall on Huntington Avenue.”
Mt. Joy specializes in a sort of modern roots-rock, characterized by strong melodies and earnest, open-hearted vocals. Lots of young bands till similar sonic soil, but Mt. Joy comes by its sound naturally. Growing up, Quinn became enamored with the ’60s and ’70s legends his father would play around the house, and that influence has permeated his music ever since.
“For me, it was always emulating those people, whether it was Neil Young or Paul Simon or Bob Dylan,” says Quinn. “There’s always this throwback thing [in my music] that sometimes is unintentional, but it’s just the way I learned to write.”
When Mt. Joy recorded its self-titled debut with producer Jon Gilbert, the band found that exploring the possibilities of the studio gave the record a 21st-century edge. Gilbert, as new to producing as Mt. Joy was to being produced, recalls the experience of learning together fondly.
“It was a very organic and fun process working with them — just a good-natured way of creating,” Gilbert says.
Many of Quinn’s lyrical concerns are decidedly topical, whether he’s “addicted to TED talks” on “Julia” or grappling with the implications of the Freddie Gray police killing on “Sheep.”
“I had this chorus, and then stuff started ramping up with Mt. Joy right around the Trump election,” says Quinn. “It seemed to tie in with people ultimately supporting the idea of a Donald Trump presidency and everything he seemed to stand for.”
In the past year, Mt. Joy hit all the standard rising-young-band checkpoints: Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza sets, opening gigs for heroes like the Shins, and the NPR stamp of approval for their album. The rise has been more rapid than any of them could have anticipated, but they’re trying not to lose perspective.
“[We’re] just focusing on getting better all the time, and not trying to think about this big-picture thing,” Quinn says. “As a musician, you don’t really get to choose [your] destiny. It sort of works itself out based on the music that you make — and some luck, too.”
The one constant for Mt. Joy has been the road; the tour that brings the band to Royale Sept. 26 has been running on and off all summer. As listeners to “Astrovan” might have guessed, Quinn is a Grateful Dead fan, and it’s the Dead’s reputation as a legendary live act that inspires Quinn to make his own band’s concerts as unique as possible.
“I feel like people own the record, and then they come to the show, and you’re trying to deliver an experience that’s separate from something they already have,” says Quinn. “We’re starting to make some pretty cool strides in that direction.”
At Royale, Boston, Sept. 26. Tickets $18-$20, 855-482-2090, www.royaleboston.com