Joseph Stand Together
Photo by Ebru Yildiz
Natalie Closner Schepmen was tired and unhappy with her solo work, so she called up her sisters Meegan and Allison and formed Joseph instead. Based out of Portland, the trio of sisters had to adjust to playing together as Natalie's sisters hadn't been singing much they graduated high school much less gigging. Hitting the road however they hit their stride fast playing festivals like Bonnaroo and touring with country greats. We caught up with Natalie ahead of Joseph ahead of their show at Babylon on September 19 to talk about working with her sisters, touring with Faith Hill and what makes them stand out in a world where sister bands are more popular than ever.
Owen Maxwell: What was your biggest takeaway or lesson from working touring with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill?
Natalie Closner Schepmen: I think it's amazing to see something at that scale. They're some of the biggest country stars in history so to see what you can do with that kind of budget and just visually, and how tight the whole show was, was really an experience for all of your senses. While we don't even have close to that kind of budget for shows, it got us thinking about what kind of experience we're offering people that come, whether it be visually and different things like that. The other thing was singing to that many people in an enclosed space. We were joking with our manager afterwards saying "Okay we're never playing anything but arenas ever again." It was just the three of us and the guitars too, so it was really powerful to sing at that volume.
What was the biggest change you felt in the writing and performing when you went from solo to having your sisters on board?
To be honest all the songs I'd written as a solo writer were just me, so you get it all from one perspective. But when I invited Meegan and Allison to sing with me, it had this whole other colour pallet that really affected what kind of songs we were writing. I was also living with this girl whose fiancé was in a band, and he showed his music. I was like "Holy shit, that music speaks to me in a way that no other person's music has made me feel." So I talked with him and he ended up in this producer role for us, and he's the one who refines the writing for us. I'd play him songs on his porch back in Portland, and then he'd take it in this direction I meant for it even more. My biggest influences as a solo writer were Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles, but everything I was doing was completely derivative and trying to copy that. Andrew took it to this truer place than anything that we were doing.
There's quite a few sister acts floating around these days (HAIM, First Aid Kit) what sets you apart and makes the Closner trio more than a novelty?
It's interesting because I love all of those bands and we are definitely the newest on the scene. So I've wondered if we're copycatting them, but I would hope they of anyone would feel like the song writing and our approach is way different. Obviously HAIM has a different approach, styles and energy, if I could categorize everybody I'd say HAIM are the cool kids who don't care what anyone thinks, and they're amazing instrumentals. While the Staves latest album wasn't as ambient and was more indie rock, they're singing tone is a lot softer than ours. For us, I see our music has more of a mysticism and a spiritual aspect to it that isn't veiled by poetic language as much. Not that I don't adore these bands because I've just gone on about how much I'm into them. Both Haim and the Staves don't have as much full-on belting in their harmony work, whereas we were influenced by a lot of soul.
After working with Mike Mogis in the studio what do you want to take from those sessions to evolve the band going forward?
Just the massive range that he created. He was able to create a sound that was 20 times the size of anything we'd been able to create before. The soft moments are so hushed and demanding, and the massive moments make me feel like I'm being swept away. That range that he creates is this wide, open space that I hope we can carry in our music going forward.
What do you think each of you bring to the band in terms of writing and serving the team?
I have been writing more, but that often means that more of what I write gets thrown out, in a good way. Meegan and Ally are able to say "Cool" or "Meh." There's a line in a song I have right now where Ally said "Oof that's so cheesy, it's gotta go." They're really good editors. As far as the creative side, their genius lies in their arrangement of harmonies. It blows my mind every time I come to them, they flesh it out. They would say writing-wise they're still finding their voice. Ally has a great sense of mood and imagery. She'll say "This song is missing the feeling of a bird flying overhead," and so we'll try and emulate that. Meegan has a knack for truly raw thoughts, that really levels me, and bring the songs to a place of honesty. It takes me to a place of honesty that my pretense and my song writing might not allow me to go sometimes.