“Sheep” by Mt. Joy was the second song released by the group following the viral success of their debut single “Astrovan” in 2016. The track has a distinct political subject matter, but still maintains a loose, easygoing vibe that allows it to resonate with a wide range of people.
During an early interview that vocalist and guitarist Matt Quinn did with birp.fm not long after the track’s release, he explained how “Sheep” was started in 2015 after the incidents surrounding the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the Baltimore Police Department.
“As that issue became an epidemic that impacted the entire country it coincided with me and Sam [Cooper, guitarist & co-writer] starting to put together some tunes to record,” Matt says. “The song itself is really just about people in the majority having a responsibility to do everything in their power to support people who are being oppressed.”
Matt continues, explaining how as time went on, and the 2016 election madness ramped up, “Sheep” became more universal than just a focus on the happenings in Baltimore.
“The scope of the song definitely started getting more broad though as the election came into focus,” Matt says. “We changed some lyrics around to try to make it more in general about what I feel is just kind of a sheep like blind following of racist, xenophobic tendencies that I don’t think people come to rationally.”
Looking back from a 2023 perspective, and the George Floyd murder and subsequent nationwide protests during the summer of 2020 and more, “Sheep” remains just as relevant, if not even moreso.
“Sheep” Lyrics Meaning
Lyrically, “Sheep” is a unifying rallying call for the youth. It’s a recognition that the youth will inherit the world they’re living in, and the responsibility falls upon them to make the changes they want to see.
“Kids get high in the basement sometimes / And tell themselves not to watch the screens”
Rather than see the screens, be it the television screens or their cell phone screens, the kids would sometimes rather hide out in a basement smoking pot.
This also reminds me of the post-apocalyptic Neil Young song “After the Gold Rush,” where he sings of lying in a burned-out basement, and how he felt like getting high. A likely influence for the group, if not a direct nod to Uncle Neil in that lyric.
“It’s the blood that haunts me, I can’t fall asleep”
It’s not just the toxicity of the screens, it’s the killing and the blood that has become all-too-common that bothers him and makes him want to hide the most.
“Cause it’s ruthless, and don’t tell me you’re ruthless too”
He hopes that the listener has more compassion than the people committing these heinous acts against their fellow humans.
“When there is blood on the streets of Baltimore / Kids are getting ready for a long war”
This is a direct reference to the killing of Freddie Gray, expanded into a commentary on society as a whole. The youth don’t see it as an isolated incident, and are suiting up to challenge the existing racist and xenophobic norms of society, and it’s not going to be easy or quick.
“Maybe I was born in the wrong skin / But those sheep are rolling in the mud again”
The lyric “Maybe I was born in the wrong skin” is a stark metaphor for the alienation one can feel from societal prejudices and injustices that are often perpetuated by those sharing one’s identity.
The “sheep” are those who unthinkingly participate in or support these biases, and the “mud” they roll in represents the sullied actions and ideologies that the songwriter vehemently opposes.
“Oh, it haunts me, tell me it haunts you too”
He wants to unite with his fellow people who also feel disturbed by this.
“You cut it up, you cut it up, but it’s still the red white and the blue”
Discussing the mutilation of the American Flag or the overarching American identity, and how no matter how much you may want to separate yourself from it, it still remains as the United States of America. This deepens the call to action for the youth, to unite around the things they care about to make a change.
“Wasted, in the tangles of time”
Taking a poetic stance, the lyric ties the events of the modern era with a long line of historic events, and the general ongoing conflict between the open-minded youth and the narrow-minded powers that be.
“And my baby, is she the only one left when it’s dire?”
He worries that his lover is the only one who will be by his side when things get bad. This is a fear that the rest of the young people may not feel as strongly as he does. A fear that he will have to stand and fight on his own.
“She said a change is gonna come, but it’s all on us”
With a nod to Sam Cooke’s famous human rights anthem from 1963, “A Change is Gonna Come,” the lyrics again acknowledge that the youth must be actively responsible for any improvements that come to society.
Ultimately, “Sheep” is an impactful song that manages to deliver a powerful message in an easy-to-digest package. If Mt. Joy had the goal of resonating in the hearts of the youth, they were certainly successful. As evidenced by their current (late 2023) status as one of the most popular rock bands on the market.
Listen to “Sheep” below.