Three years ago, Natalie Closner needed a helping hand. As a solo musician, she was struggling to stand out in the crowded folk scene, touring far and wide from her Portland, Oregon, home without finding the solid footing she needed to succeed. So Natalie texted her twin sisters Meegan and Allie back home and recruited them to join her in a new project, Joseph, named for their grandfather. The trio performed primarily as an a cappella group with occasional acoustic guitar and foot drum additions, but it was on the 2016 album I’m Alone, No, You’re Not that a fuller sound was cultivated with help from acclaimed producer Mike Mogis. Joseph’s first headlining tour in Florida includes a free Hurricane Irma relief concert performance at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, with donations encouraged and proceeds benefitting St. Johns County Health & Human Services Department.
Folio Weekly: Where did you get the idea for Hurricane Irma relief?
Natalie Closner Schepman: Our manager volleyed it to us as an idea. With everything going on in the world, so many people have a sense of feeling helpless. But we have lots of friends volunteering right now; I have a friend who flew to Houston to work with the Red Cross. It’s hard to think when we’re in the van on the way to our next gig, “What can I do?” So a relief concert was a no-brainer. We haven’t played in Florida much, so it adds another layer of excitement: come one, come all, let’s do this right.
How have your individual voices changed in the three years Joseph has performed together, and how has the collective evolved?
We started warming up before shows, which is a new concept. [Laughs.] Every voice teacher would be horrified, but for a long time we were just barreling through—last year, 250 dates, which is a lot of singing.
How did Mike Mogis help you realize Joseph’s potential on sophomore album I’m Alone, No You’re Not?
Honestly, when we went in, we didn’t have a band yet, so Mike was tasked with creating a full sound around just the three of us. He’s an incredible instrumentalist with an amazing palate, so he brought the textures and landscapes–the broader soundscape–we needed. That was the goal going in: Make a more dramatic dynamic, bring the lows lower, the highs higher, the bigs bigger … Mike did that beautifully.
Have you incorporated lessons learned from that process into the formation of new material?
Absolutely. We’ve been touring with a band this last year, and it’s totally changed how we write. Also, our friend Andrew [Stonestreet], who produced our first album and has been a part of the writing process throughout, encouraged me by saying, “It seems like you’re held captive by the chords you know. Why not try writing with just a bass line in mind?” That has taken everything to the next level to me. It’s allowed me to write more upbeat songs. Our tendency with these harmonies is to write slow, “feely” songs, which will always be my first love. But it’s exciting with new knowledge and a new technique to continue expressing our feelings in song. Especially in a time that feels so chaotic and tense.
Is that feeling heightened by the rapid growth of Joseph? What sacrifices have you had to make?
The biggest sacrifice is by our partners, family and friends. I got married last year and I hardly saw [my husband]. But he endured that because he believes in what we’re doing. It’s an incredible gift to see the faces in a crowd when you can tell a song means something to them. But your sense of place ends up on the chopping block; you’re everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Are you and Meegan and Allie able to have fun moments on the road, or do three siblings touring together stress?
We have a ton of fun. We aren’t quick to erupt; if anything needs to be worked out, that means it’s been rumbling beneath the surface for a while. But honestly, it’s such a gift to be reconciled with your family all the time.
The critical narrative surrounding I’m Alone, No You’re Not seemed to land on the same touchstones: strength, acceptance, fearlessness, commitment. Does that feel accurate?
We just released an EP recently, and a lot of the lyrics on it (like a lot of the lyrics on I’m Alone) were extremely dear to our hearts. You’re communicating something–not just nice harmonies, but a truth–so of course you want it to land. We’re really looking for someone to say, “Yeah, me, too!” Because ultimately then you feel less alone, which is what music means to me.
Is it daunting to transition from that sort of personal truth-telling to serving as a vocal representative to your thousands of fans?
The short answer is yes, but that touches on a topic I’ve had a lot of questions about lately. We’ve been writing a lot about the confusion of it, as much as we’ve been writing about the triumph and resolve of it. And it’s an occasion we want to rise to. But like many people, we’re trying to figure out what to say and how to say it. We are communicators, but sometimes it feels like the saying of things just isn’t enough. What do we do? Is action more important? I think that’s an ongoing conversation for all of us to have as we move through the world.