Joseph
Through thick and thin, this family sticks together. (Illustration by Jessica Shaklee, University of Georgia)
Sounds x
Joseph

This family band is writing beautiful harmonies that evoke their Oregon home.

Misty forests and waterfall trails, frigidly beautiful coastline, criss-crossing rivers and more are all distinctive natural features of the Pacific Northwest, spanning Washington state, Oregon, the north of California and parts of Idaho. Known for its heavy rainfall, the Pacific Northwest boasts lush greenery and full bodies of water year-round, and the resulting atmosphere is one of mystery and the sublime. Out of this atmosphere come the three Closner sisters, the trio of harmonies behind the band Joseph. Since 2014, the sisters have focused on developing their folk band, named in part for their Oregon hometown and part for their grandmother. Their lyrics and musicality combine to craft fresh yet hauntingly ancient songs that sound the way the Pacific Northwest feels.

On a road trip to visit their grandma Jo in Joseph, Oregon, the three sisters created a playlist they named “Joseph,” and the name of the mix became the name of the band they would come to create. The band itself was really the brainchild of Natalie Closner-Schepman, who tried to pursue a solo career before asking her twin sisters, Allison and Meegan, to join forces and form a trio.

With no formal musical experience, the trio started recording their own songs and playing at small local Portland venues. The most strikingly obvious thing to notice about the band’s sound is the perfect harmony among the three sisters — even more incredible when considered in light of their collective lack of experience. With two musical parents, though, musicality seems to run through their blood.

The state of Oregon runs deep in the band’s veins, evident in their very name, and ever-present in the musicality of their tracks. In “Cloudline,” the lyrics “Show me the high dive, so high up in the sky / I’ll jump up, I’ll take flight — fall through the cloudline” references the Pacific Northwest’s notoriously thick blanket of clouds that separates the land from the sun above it and diffuses the light all around. As the song begins with the lyrics, “Take me to your water and lay me on your shore / I want to come in deeper but the water is so cold,” the haunting sound brings to mind hiking trails hazy with water-laden air and beautiful, powerful northwest Pacific coastline.

In their song, “Come In Close,” Joseph draws out the sense of mystical intimacy that permeates their music, singing, “Here, come in close / wear me like a winter jacket / What do we know but this, this?” Each sister’s sense of caring love comes through as they point out the obvious but ever-elusive truth about humans — more than anything else, what we’re all looking for is closeness with another person. “Hold out your hands / I’ll breathe on them and place mine over / What do we know but this, this?” sings the group, just after recounting that the singer feels chilled as well, but is willing to receive what warmth comes from helping others get warm first.

After self-releasing their debut album, “Native Dreamer Kin,” in 2014, the band released their first album working with ATO Records, “I’m Alone, No You’re Not” in 2016. This second album featured a more polished sound while retaining all the heart and soul that popularized “Native Dreamer Kin” only two years earlier. In particular, the song “Honest” holds lyrics that some fans have gotten tattooed: “There’s always two thoughts / one after the other — / I’m alone / No you’re not.” Lyrics that began as a journal entry grew to the album’s namesake, and it’s that authenticity that shines through in every song Joseph comes up with.

It was between “I’m Alone, No You’re Not” and their subsequent albums that the band had a kind of crisis point. While carefully hiding the exact content of the unrest, the sisters said in interviews that a source of family conflict led to a dark night just before a Portland gig. Not wanting to let the issue cause a fissure, the family tried to avoid discussing the topic, but that only led to more unrest as the problem stuck around. Finally, the sisters agreed to talk through the matter openly and fight for the intimacy they’d enjoyed in their relationship previously. The result was the opening track on their album “Good Luck, Kid,” “Fighter.”

As each sister tried to hide hurt in order to maintain family relationships, the rift between them all only got bigger. Each wanted to keep the peace, but none could break through the barrier — the very pain the sisters poured into the lyrics, “You think you’re keeping the peace / Don’t keep yourself from me” in “Fighter.” After sudden and unexpected success with their band, it would have been easy for the stress to burn the Closner sisters out and force them apart. Rather than let that happen, though, the group chose to fight.

The main refrain of the song reflects the core longing of each sister to fight for the intimacy between them as they sing, “Wide eyes, eyes white / I want a fighter / Don’t lie this time / I need a fighter.” And fight, they did. In interviews, the trio reflects that the problems were messy and tough to wade through, especially for a family that doesn’t consider themselves dramatic. In the end, though, the close family ties were only strengthened, and Joseph performed “Fighter” as well as the rest of their newest album earlier this month.

In September of this year, Joseph released their newest album, “Good Luck, Kid.” Opening with “Fighter,” the album’s sound continues the powerful trend of the previous ones as the group gains experience and still hold fast to their essence. Joseph has seen rousing success that brings to mind Oregon’s state motto, “Alis volat propriis,” Latin for “She flies with her own wings.”

Joseph is currently on tour throughout the United States and Europe, and tickets can be bought through their site.

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