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Matt Quinn: Striking A Chord

Updated: May 14

Mt. Joy’s celebrated frontman, Matt Quinn, takes center stage for what promises to be a moving and expressive solo show at Spruce Peak Arts


MQ - Alana

By Benjamin Lerner Photos courtesy Spruce Peak Arts


Matt Quinn is a songwriter, guitarist, and the lead singer for the acclaimed rock band, Mt. Joy. On the heels of Mt. Joy’s well-received 2022 album, Orange Blood, and their latest single, “Highway Queen,” Quinn is gearing up for a compelling solo set at Spruce Peak Arts in Stowe on May 15. He will take to the Spruce Peak Arts stage before embarking on a nationwide headlining tour with Mt. Joy, and will also be joining Vermont-born folk-rock icon Noah Kahan for several high-profile festival and concert appearances, including two sold-out shows at Boston’s legendary Fenway Park on July 18 and July 19, 2024. In a candid conversation with VERMONT Magazine, Quinn shared his thoughts on the importance of authentic artistry, freedom in musicality, and the powerful connection that occurs when an artist strips down their sound and returns to their musical roots.

 

Q: Thanks so much for joining us, Matt! You put on an incredible performance at Shelburne Museum last August with Mt. Joy, and we’re excited for your upcoming solo performance at Spruce Peak Arts. The new performance series at Spruce Peak Arts, “Spruce Peak Arts Unplugged,” provides a wonderful platform for songwriters who normally perform with full bands or orchestras to connect with their audience in a different way. How are you approaching this set differently than your larger performances?

 

A: For me, it's all about trying to find the right balance with a super intimate, vulnerable performance. Almost all of the songs I have written and played with Mt. Joy have started out with just me and an acoustic guitar. Hopefully, it will be a cool way for fans to see a different version of some of the songs that they really like. The reason that people normally come out to see Mt. Joy is because it's exciting. It's got all of these other players, colors, and personalities. Obviously, I can’t do all of that by myself with this show, but it’s a good opportunity to mix different things in, get the audience more involved, and bring them in closer. I’m going to use Mt. Joy songs and cover songs to create a different exchange between myself and the audience.

 

Q: When the energy is right, it becomes a truly collaborative experience between the performer and audience, and you’ve certainly created a strong audience connection through your performances with Mt. Joy. How do your choices of Mt. Joy song selections and covers for your solo show align with your aim of building a different sort of emotional connection as a solo performer?

 

A: There are songs that I love to play in any environment, but without Jackie's piano moments, Sam’s guitar, or anyone else in the band, it wouldn’t be as interesting when performed with just me. I’m choosing songs that are going to be conducive to just me and the acoustic guitar. I want to make it feel like I'm just a guy in a room, I’ve got some songs, and I’m going to belt them out and bring it to a space where we are all connecting and exchanging energy. I'm not a virtuoso guitarist. I'm not an opera singer, either. I’ve picked songs that I know people can interact with and add their own voices to, so that we can all make a band together as a performer and audience.   

MQ - Brent Goldman

Q:  Spruce Peak has created a space for Vermont musicians (who are working towards establishing their careers) by giving them a chance to perform with the “Homegrown in Vermont” festival. Like most musicians, you came up in a local scene, as well - and you then chose to take the leap towards committing to a life in music. What would your words of advice be to young musicians on what it takes to go the distance in the music industry?

 

A: I came up doing open mics, getting in front of people, and playing my songs while I was terrified and shaking onstage. You slowly build confidence, but the confidence comes from the songs. I think anyone who puts the time in will start to gain more understanding and awareness of their music and its impact. I think what helps musicians move forward through those early stages is finding a balance between loving your music and being your own harshest critic. When you start to write songs that you believe in, that’s when you can move into the “conquering” stage of your career. When you know you have “the stuff,” you get the confidence. It’s similar to an athlete who knows that there’s no one who is going to stop them from putting the ball in the basket. Still, sometimes failure can come from moving too quickly, and thinking you can put that ball in the basket when you’re not quite there yet. It may take a little more time or learning, and there are two sides to it: There’s the performance, recording, and promotional side, and then there’s the completely free and beautiful side of it, which is just listening, learning, and being a student of songwriting. It all comes down to knowing when it’s time to strike. If the time is right and you have the song that’s going to take you there, you will see a path forward and you can go for it.

 

Q: Finding the confidence to perform and developing self-awareness is key in any creative journey, and you’re a very self-aware songwriter. If you listen to Mt. Joy songs like “Lemon Tree” and “Astrovan,” there’s a real sense of spiritual connectedness. There was an incredible energy in the crowd at your show last year at Shelburne Museum. What are your favorite things about the musical culture here in Vermont and the experiences that you’ve had while touring and performing here?

 

A: I think an oversimplification of my thoughts on the Vermont music scene would be to say that I really like Phish, but it’s obviously bigger than that. (Laughter) I have friends I grew up with who ended up at UVM and have stayed in Vermont. We’ve played some great shows in Vermont, and I think that’s because people in Vermont are connected to nature and appreciate the space that they exist in. It helps them get to a place where they really appreciate music on a different level than people who are just into the hustle and bustle on the dancefloor. When we go to Vermont, I feel like we can stretch out and really get into playing music between the verses and choruses of our songs, really let it rip, and be free. People do connect to music on a more spiritual level in Vermont, and that’s awesome. At the end of the day, I don’t know where my songs come from, if not from some sort of realm with all of the same things that we experience while being in nature. Vermont is an amazing place to play music, and we always look forward to playing there whenever we get the chance. 

 

Q: We’re looking forward to having you back in Vermont at Spruce Peak Arts! We’re also excited for your tour with Noah Kahan, a proud Vermonter and incredible musical talent. When I first heard about you touring together, I thought that it was a fitting musical collaboration, because both your band’s self-titled album, Mt. Joy (2018), and Noah Kahan’s Stick Season (2022) are albums that are very attuned to their regional environments. I’m excited to see your musical worlds collide on the tour. What are you most looking forward to about the tour, and what has it been like working with Noah and seeing his artistic progression?

 

A: We played a festival with Noah two days ago in Charlotte. I think that coming up in the same scene together, we’ve developed a real friendship, and it's been amazing to watch him. I was standing side-stage two nights ago and looking out at the crowd while he performed. Hearing them sing his songs back was iconic. It’s cool to watch someone who you love as a friend become an icon, but it’s also inspiring to see the whole scene taking off, including for us on a smaller scale. When you're on the stage and when you're in it, there's just so much happening. It's a little harder to see it than when you're standing back watching someone. To see the way people react to his songwriting is amazing. Obviously, he plays an enormous part in that, but I do think people are really coming towards that type of real, authentic music. I think that the sky's the limit for Noah. That’s the dream: to get to where he's gotten in terms of how he’s impacting people with his music. I’m looking forward to the next couple of festivals and playing at Fenway with him. He's creating something that I think music needs; It's real.

 

Q: In addition to being skilled songwriters and performers, you and Noah also both speak on significant issues through your songs, such as politics, the mental health crisis, and what it means to find a personal identity. In many of your songs, you allude to the mental health challenges that you and your friends have faced, but you do it in a way that isn't overly obvious or cliché. As a musician who has drawn from your own experiences in your songwriting, how do you balance musicality and accessibility with making real music that speaks on the societal, emotional, and spiritual issues that you care about?

 

A: For me, it all comes down to trusting the process that got me here. I never intentionally try to write a song about anything in particular. It’s more about saying, “Look…I'm trying to say something. I don't know what it is yet. I'm just strumming my guitar and it's coming out of me. How do I build around this without it being too on-the-nose?” I think it just comes down to trusting that process. For me, when I reached for things too much and wrote songs with the intention of writing a hit, it didn’t necessarily go the way I wanted it to. Some of the lines that I’ve written that truly strike a chord – no pun intended – are things that I didn’t sit down and intend to write when I started creating the song. If it’s something you feel, you’ll be able to speak it through the language of music and songwriting. It’s going to affect people on a deeper level because it’s not straightforward. That’s what I’m hoping for, and I can’t force that.

 

Q: What excites you the most as a musician and songwriter today in terms of pushing the boundaries of your musicianship and expanding your creative palette?

 

A: Not to be boring, but the creative place I’m in today is the same place I've always been. I'm just learning, I'm trying to get better at guitar, and I'm trying to be a better musician all the time. By staying in that space, hopefully, my palette stays open, my songs get better, and I have more colors to choose from. One thing that is specific to today is knowing where I’m at and what I’m writing, which right now is the fourth Mt. Joy album. The question then becomes, “What does the album need?” You can’t force it, but you can try to “mood-board” your way into using songs to create a vision for the album. It’s a fun challenge that can be frustrating at times. With the third album, I think we dipped our toe into psychedelia. I think this record that we’re making now is going to have some of that, but it also will have a straight-ahead Americana song like “Highway Queen.” I’m not going to try to make a conceptual album that all sounds the same, is played in the same relative key, and just slithers through your brain in a perfect way. I wish I could do that, but that’s not how I write. My music taste is very open. I’ll listen to Dua Lipa one day, then the next day, I’ll listen to “Divided Sky” (Phish). It all depends on what my musical antenna is bringing in. I’m very excited for the new album. It’s going to be a hodgepodge of different musical styles, and we’re going to make the best 10 songs that we could possibly make and go with that.

 

MQ - Alana

Q: I think that the great thing about music today is that genre lines have blurred to the point that there are no more concrete creative limits. Some of the best records that have come out and seen industry success over the past decade are seamless genre hybrids that defy classification. It’s important for musicians to take creative risks, but I don’t think enough gets said about venues that also take bold creative risks, as well. In putting on this stripped-back, unplugged concert series, Spruce Peak Arts is opening the door for artists to connect with their audiences in a way that other venues might not be open to. It speaks volumes to me about their willingness to explore new musical territory with the solo artists that they bring to the stage. What would you say to venue owners who are on the fence about booking a known artist who normally performs with an established band for a stripped-down solo set, and why is it important to take the risk of letting an artist bear their truest self?

 

A: I grew up in Philadelphia, and I had access to a wide range of venues and shows. You never know what type of show is going to make you connect with a band or artist. If a band comes through with big production, lights, a video wall, and all sorts of multimedia elements, that stuff is great, really cool, and expensive. But maybe it’s not as relatable as a dude who you see onstage with his guitar and think, “Hey…I could do that!”  I think that there’s freedom in stripping things back, and I think it’s important for venues to take that risk and inspire people in as many ways as possible.

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A Summer of Celebration!

 

A closer look at Spruce Peak Arts’ sensational summer lineup and community programming

 

Seth Soloway
Executive Director, Seth Soloway

Ever since Spruce Peak Arts’ new Executive Director, Seth Soloway, took the reins in 2023, the celebrated Vermont cultural institution has doubled down on its mission of serving as a welcoming sanctuary for artistic expression, offering both intimate and lively performances that resonate deeply with local and visiting audience.

 

Over the past year, Spruce Peak Arts has hosted beloved artists such as Béla Fleck, Josiah and the Bonnevilles, Mat Kearney, and Jonathan Russell of The Head And The Heart.

 

Continuing their new “Spruce Peak Unplugged” series, Spruce Peak Arts is thrilled to host Matt Quinn of Mt. Joy for a solo performance on May 15. This series promises to bring audiences closer than ever to the artists, creating a unique, moving experience. Soloway is wholeheartedly enthused about the innovative format: "We've been really excited about the unplugged concerts, in particular, because they really provide a unique musical experience.” In addition, Spruce Peak Arts’ creative staff has curated an eclectic outdoor summer concert series at the Whistle Pig Pavilion, offering ample opportunities for great music and community connection.


The upcoming season at Spruce Peak Arts will host a vast range of musical performers, spanning all genres and delivering incredible entertainment. Highlights include performances by artists like Neo-Classical Hip-Hop piano prodigy, BLKBOK (May 30); GRAMMY® Award-Winning singer/songwriter, KT Tunstall (June 13); and a highly anticipated performance by David Shaw, frontman of the lauded Louisiana rock outfit, The Revivalists (June 28). Shaw will be performing with a new band. The musician lineup will be announced as the performance draws closer.

KT Tunstall
KT Tunstall

Spruce Peak Arts’ collective vision also extends to celebrating local talent through the “Homegrown in Vermont” Festival on July 6 and July 7.

 

"We're incredibly excited for the first annual ‘Homegrown in Vermont’ Festival,” says Soloway. “It's going to be a really exciting community event with incredible performances.” Featured performers include Christine Malcolm, Ryan Sweezy, Milton Busker, The Grift, and Troy Millette & The FB on Saturday, July 6, and Lesley Grant, Andriana and the Bananas, Jaded Ravins, Fern Maddie, Wild Leek River, and Maple Run on Sunday. This festival aims to spotlight Vermont's independent artists, offering them a platform to shine and bring the community together in celebration of local artistry. In an effort to highlight the expressive talents of Vermont’s visual arts community, Spruce Peak Arts is also hosting a graphic artist contest for the official t-shirt of the ‘Homegrown In Vermont’ Festival. Ideas can be submitted via email to marketing@sprucepeakarts.org for a cash prize, with a hard deadline of May 15. As Spruce Peak Arts' musical programming continues to evolve, it stands as a beacon of artistic excellence and community engagement in Vermont, offering an array of unforgettable performances for all who come to visit Stowe.

Spruce Peak Arts - Aerial

 

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I think the greatest scene in dramatic literature in English features a more than half-mad old king and a blind man fireboy and watergirl. The scene serves little or no dramatic purpose, but in its profundity it has no rivals.

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Wow, Matt Quinn from Mt. Joy doing a solo set at Spruce Peak Arts on May 15 sounds amazing! Can’t wait to see him perform solo before joining Noah Kahan at Fenway Park. His dedication to authentic artistry is truly inspiring. Anyone else excited for this? slice masters

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It's amazing how Matt Quinn connects with his audience. Stripping down the songs to just him and an acoustic guitar is going to be magical. snake game

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