Mt. Joy in concert at Shaky Knees in Atlanta last year (Photo by Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP)
It’s Boston Calling time again, which means Harvard Stadium will be packed with big names like Alanis Morissette and the Foo Fighters. But as usual, you won’t get the full experience unless you show up early, wander the grounds and catch the best of the local and second-rate bands.
Philadelphia band Mt.Joy is a local favorite; they were one of the first to headline the new MGM Music Hall at Fenway and will return there in the fall. Their Boston Calling set promises to be shorter but more packed. “You’re playing in a place where the energy is different,” said frontman Matt Quinn. “You know people still have a whole day of music, so don’t get too caught up in them. So we’ve put together something that’s high energy, at least for us. When you cut it down to an hour, you can pick the greatest hits and let them rip.”
Kit Mt. Joy can still go anywhere, with his originals flowing into covers. Last year at Fenway, they played a tune from Phish — who are known for covering all sorts of people, but rarely cover themselves — and sneaked in Pink Floyd. “Some people shy away from that, but we want to feel free to express the music we love. A lot of my favorite music is from the vinyl era, the rock and roll of the 60s and 70s. We always think about that when we’re putting together an album – “Here’s where you’d flip the record, and this is the first song on side two.”
The recent single by Mt. Joy “Evergreen” has a witty video featuring Creed Bratton of “The Office” fame. “We became friends with him because of his music and we needed someone to play a goofy character. This video is open to interpretation, but to me, it’s about a person who seeks happiness and finds it by playing music. I think when I wrote the song, I was subconsciously trying to convince my girlfriend and now wife to join me in this crazy life that I lead.”
Boston band Summer Cult doesn’t need to put together a special set for Boston Calling: “We feel pretty good about going in and doing what we normally do,” says guitarist Tom McTiernan. What they do is classic Boston stuff: intense but emotional guitar rock. “We started out more inspired by ’90s alternative rock. I’ve been telling people it’s Arcade Fire meets National, even though we never sounded like that,” offers guitarist Jeff Bielat. Adds drummer Adrian Navarro, “As we’ve gotten older, we’ve become more sensitive to country music or pop. We like the guitars and we want the melody to paint a nice melody on top.”
They used the years of confinement to focus on songwriting, releasing three EPs with a solo album in the works. Navarro has written many of the lyrics that contrast with the upbeat guitar sound. Navarro says, “Knox [bassist/singer Andrew Knox] is great at putting a positive spin on things. And if they start negative, we try to keep the topic a little broader. We don’t want all our songs to be “I’m lonely, I miss you and you took my dog.”
Playing Boston Calling will be a new experience for Alisa Amador, a local Latin/pop singer who is now building a nationwide following. “I’m familiar with organizing festivals, but doing them on this scale is new to me. There’s always an element of my music that’s introspective, but the band and I put together a set that emphasizes groove and flow. I’m trying to create a space where people’s hearts can open.”
Amador has been performing since the age of ten when he started appearing with his parents’ band Sol y Canto. “I guess I realized I’d be lying to myself if I said I wasn’t a musician. My music is impossible to fit into a box, but I realize that no man can do that. So it’s between everything I’ve been exposed to—Latin folk and pop, but also American funk and vocal harmony. As gross as that sounds, when I write a song, I just try to let my heart slide.”
And many of her songs, she admits, come from moments of emotional upheaval. “Once a song is done, I can live with whatever has been eating away at me, whether it’s happy or sad, and make sense of this crazy life. A lot of people feel lonely and out of place and need to hear that they belong, and I want those people to hear my music. I’m also looking for people like me who grew up in a mixed cultural background who could use the support. And I also want people to dance.
Boston Calling at Harvard Sports Complex, May 26-28, bostoncalling.com