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The Meaning of Mt. Joy’s “Astrovan”

“Astrovan” was the first single released by the Los Angeles-based rock band Mt. Joy, in September of 2016. The song caught fire with its catchy, nostalgic conjuring of bohemian lifestyle in a way that resonated with many, and Mt. Joy quickly rose to prominence in the years that followed.

The story goes that Matt Quinn (vocals / guitar) and Sam Cooper (guitar) met during high school in Philadelphia and then linked up while they were both living in Los Angeles in 2016. They named their band after Mount Joy, a peak in Valley Forge National Park, nearby where they grew up in PA.

“Astrovan” along with the follow-up single “Sheep” blew up on streaming services, which led them to putting together a full band as they had become in-demand for live shows during the summer of 2017.

They hit a few big festivals right away, including Bonnaroo, Newport Folk, and Lollapalooza, and even got to open for the Head and the Heart and more.

Nowadays, Mt. Joy have multiple full-length albums under their belt and are arguably one of the most popular young rock bands on the scene at the moment. They’ve released many other well-known songs, but the first single, “Astrovan” still holds a special place in the hearts of many fans.

“Astrovan” Lyrics Meaning

Lyrically, “Astrovan” paints a vivid picture juxtaposing the more romanticized aspects of life in the music industry with the harsh realities often lurking behind closed doors. This resonates with people who have found themselves in the depths of the party or festival culture, and who have seen both sides of the coin with their own eyes.

It also resonates with fans of the Grateful Dead, evoking nostalgia for the bygone era of traveling around the country in a van, following your favorite bands and letting life’s responsibilities float away.

This begins with the first verse, setting the scene with a relatable image of a late night turned early morning:

Angels smoking cigarettes on rooftops in fishnets in the morning with the
Moon still glowing
And here comes Jesus in an Astrovan rolling down the strip again
He’s stoned while Jerry plays

First verse to “Astrovan” by Mt. Joy.

Not only are these compelling lyrics, bringing to mind a group of bohemians who stayed up all night partying, but it’s also just good marketing.

The image of a hippie Jesus driving an Astrovan down Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, while listening to the Grateful Dead (referenced via “Jerry” for Jerry Garcia), serves as a metaphorical call to Deadheads and the festival scene at large.

Couple this with an easygoing arrangement, featuring acoustic guitar accented by electric strumming to kick things off, while Quinn sings with a soothing restraint, and you’ve got a fantastic entry point into a song. Especially a debut song.

“Astrovan” is already a recipe for success in and of itself, and we haven’t even reached the chorus yet:

Life ain’t ever what it seems
These dreams are more than paper things
And it’s alright mama you’re afraid
I’ll be poor along the way
I don’t wanna see those tears again
You know, Jesus drives an Astrovan
Yes, he does (I say: whoo)

Chorus to “Astrovan” by Mt. Joy.

The chorus presents a new angle, addressing the concerns that his mother may have about his career not panning out the way he hopes. He explains that the things he hopes to achieve are more than just monetary goals — something less tangible, more abstract.

Still, he reassures her that he understands her fears of him being broke, and tells her not to cry. Then he playfully references her apparent love for Jesus, by suggesting he’s found his own Jesus to devote himself to. This one drives an Astrovan.

The second verse brings into focus the darker side of the music industry, one that wouldn’t exactly be the first thing you’d volunteer to Ma’:

And in my heart there’s a holy ghost writhing on the floor from an overdose
You know the best ones never come down
So if I love at the tip of my toes reaching out for the great unknown
Every addict has illusions

Second verse to “Astrovan” by Mt. Joy.

Here, Quinn reveals the overwhelming desire for success that exists within his heart, while also bringing more religious imagery to the mix. The holy ghost in this context could be seen as a muse of sorts, suggesting his aspirations for success may be unhealthy. He then calls to mind how many of the best artists in history died at the peak of their careers, often from drug overdoses.

The second verse ends with a resolve to give it his all, wear his heart on his sleeve and reaching into the future with a hopeful mindset. He refers to himself as an addict, modestly implying that his aspirations may be illusions.

It’s interesting how their debut song has this kind of imagery, as it might imply that “Astrovan” represents a willingness to sell your soul to achieve your vision of success. And then, they went on to become quite successful.

Next up, we have another chorus that leads into the bridge:

And when I see those angels on the roof
I’ll know I’ve made it when my
Doobie smoking Jesus puts my name upon his guestlist
And says son you’re famous in heaven
Maybe you’re famous in heaven
And maybe there is no heaven
Maybe we’re all alone together now
But I don’t wanna see those tears again
You know Jesus drives an Astrovan

Bridge to “Astrovan” by Mt. Joy.

We come back to the angels on the roof from the first verse, suggesting that their presence in the sunrise moonlight is a sign of success. Being accepted by the countercultural Jesus himself is what they’re hoping for, in their utopic vision of success.

However, a dose of cynicism touches the song here, suggesting not only that the traditional concept of heaven may be a myth, but also that the idealized life of success within the music industry may not result in personal fulfillment after all.

We must keep the dream alive as long as we can, though, so we wipe the tears from our eyes and look to the image of Jesus in an Astrovan for a glimmer of hope through it all.

Listen to “Astrovan” by Mt. Joy. below, and see a live version from Red Rocks in May of 2021 below that.

Mt. Joy – “Astrovan”

Mt. Joy – “Astrovan” (Live at Red Rocks 5/22/21)