The sibling trio known as Joseph didn’t become one of Portland’s biggest bands by writing songs that were dull and unambitious.
Indeed, when the Closner sisters were starting out—playing house shows and small clubs around the region in the mid-2010s—they were cognizant of the transformative role that dynamics can play in a simple song.
“Even when it’s just the three of us and a guitar,” says Natalie Closner, who has married and now goes by Natalie Schepman, “we rely on the soft moments and the loud moments to create the tension and the thrill of it.”
They do that very well. Schepman and her younger twin sisters Allison and Meegan Closner seemed to arrive fully formed with their 2014 album Native Dreamer Kin, which showcased their likeable blend of folk rock, pop instinct, and vocal harmonies honed over a lifetime together. That record (and their joyous live shows) landed them a deal with ATO Records, which released Joseph's 2016 follow-up, I’m Alone, No You’re Not. That album, led by a hand-clappy hit single called "White Flag," found the sisters transitioning seamlessly into a punchier, more produced sound.
But it wasn't until they hit the road in support of I’m Alone that Joseph truly experienced and understood the possibilities of playing with a full band.
“It’s such a powerful feeling to have that much literal sonic volume behind you and [realizing] the things you can accomplish. It changed our writing,” Schepman says. “Because we had this experience of being in a room with a band, we realized that we could have so much broader of a palette. It was like, ‘Wow, we want to make an album that’s just full-blast.’”
For pure singer/songwriter types, making a “full-blast” record means getting the right producer, and Joseph did exactly that when they found Christian “Leggy” Langdon, best known for his work with art-pop artist Meg Myers. Langdon is “explosively creative,” says Meegan, and after a handful of conversations about the direction for Joseph LP number three—now called Good Luck, Kid and scheduled for release on September 13—he went to work giving the sisters’ songs a shiny new coat of paint.
“We’d give him a demo that would just be a guitar and our voices, and then we’d come into the studio and he would have basically recorded a whole track on his own and he’d say, ‘What do you think about this?’” Meegan says. “And he nailed it almost every single time on the first try. He understood us so well.”
Without question, Good Luck, Kid is a significant stylistic shift for Joseph. The trio’s exquisite vocals are still the centerpiece of its songs, but the elements around them have grown darker, sleeker, and bolder. Lead single “Fighter” rides a gurgling electronic bass line and thunderous beats straight into one of the best hooks of 2019. The electro-acoustic vibe of “NYE” glitters and sighs like its namesake holiday. “Green Eyes” starts off like a cool retro-soul number before blossoming into a buzzy chorus. And the Spandex-tight title track barrels forward at a post-punk pace, as the sisters sing about that daunting phase of life where you suddenly realize you’re an adult now, you’re in charge of your life, and the days of someone else taking care of you are in the rearview mirror:
“They handed you the keys/The driver’s seat is yours now/There’s nothing left to lean on/You’re the queen from here on out/No time for doubt/Good luck, kid.”
The track inspired the album’s name for a reason. The women of Joseph didn’t realize it at the time, but when they were writing Good Luck, Kid, they were writing a song cycle of sorts about adulthood and responsibility, fear and excitement, eye-opening epiphanies and trying to live in a world that feels like a harder place to live every day. For Natalie, the last few years have changed a lot about who she is, what she believes and how she’ll face the future.
“I feel like a lot of my certainty was very youthful... and the more I learn about life, about the world, about everything, it’s like entering a new room of the library,” she says. “It’s like, ‘I didn’t even know this room was here, and now I have all of these books to read.’ That’s how it feels.”
Meegan puts it a little more directly: “To me, this album is like, ‘Come on. You’ve got this. You have to have this.’”
The good news for the sisters is that if they’ve got this, they’ve got it together. But that wasn’t always assured. Without going too deeply into the details, Natalie and Meegan acknowledge that Joseph came close to splitting up at some point in the past few years. But the same sibling relationship that no doubt strains life on the road also brought them back together, ready to fight another day.
This weekend, that fight comes to the Roseland for two nights of album-release celebration with a hometown crowd. Portland has been supportive of Joseph for years, from small clubs to Pickathon to a sold-out Crystal Ballroom in 2017.
“That was like, ‘Oh my god.’ That was such a moment of triumph, and this weekend will be, too,” says Natalie. “Portland has always given us such incredible support, and that’s an amazing feeling.”