Joseph: Getting Honest in a Hundred Ways

MC: Joseph didn’t originally start with the three of you—you initially were a solo artist. What lead to your decision to stop being a solo act?
Closner: In the span of eight months I did two [solo tours]. [On] the second one a musician friend of mine, who I had become friends with on the road and is a straightforward, frank kinda guy, looked at me one night after the show I played in Chicago and said, “I don’t think you believe in this.” And I was shocked, feeling confronted. He said, “Seriously, it seems like you are writing things that you think people wanna hear. But you should love them. You should believe in them instead of being like, ‘Hey, did you like that?’ So what do you need to do to be compelled by your own music? You need to get to a place where you’re excited about this and you like it regardless of what anyone else thinks.” That was when the thought occurred to me to invite Meegan and Allie.

Joseph1156MC: How long have you all been singing?
Closner: It’s been about four years now.

MC: Did you all work with a vocal coach or take lessons?
Closner: I did in college. I studied classical voice. But Meegan and Allie are majorly naturals. Being siblings there is a bit of mind reading that naturally happens ‘cause you’re so familiar with each other’s cadence and pattern. There’s a lot of natural anticipation of what the other person is going to do that makes it pretty easy as well—it’s kinda cheating in that regard.

MC: How do you three vibe in making melodies and harmonies? Does one person sing and the other two ad lib on top of it, anticipating it?
Closner: Yeah, exactly! We usually go with whatever comes first, but occasionally it’ll be, “What if we tried this?” but usually it’s whoever’s song or melody it is; they’ll sing it and we stumble into an arrangement together.

MC: Being on tour singing every night with music heavily driven by vocals, what maintenance measures do you take to keep your chords healthy?
Closner: It’s a perfect question, because I don’t think that’s a strength of ours, honestly. I lose my voice all the time on the road, and because of my voice lessons from college I know the techniques I’m using that are wrong––but I’m not quite sure how to implement new ones. We’re actually just now talking about getting a vocal coach to help with some of the bad habits we have: muscle-driven belting instead of [using] breath support. But we’re starting small—Brian [has suggested] warming up before the show instead of just gunning for it, which is what we usually do. So we’re starting to make that part of our routine as well.

MC: Any dietary habits you keep an eye on, vocal maintenance wise, while you’re on the road?
Closner: Meegan and Allie are gluten and mostly dairy free as it is, so we tend to naturally eat in that way. I mean, I drink all the dehydrating things; I love coffee, I love beer, so I would always drink a couple of beers before we go on stage ‘cause it’s still great and it tastes delicious. But one thing that was really interesting that James [Bay] actually taught us is that cold carbonated textures don’t help. Your vocal cords are a muscle, so it freezes them up and they’re not warm. We’ve also been getting into the habit of steaming. Whenever there’s a steam room anywhere, we take advantage of that and even [try the] trick of turning on a sink with hot water and putting a towel over your head. Honestly, we’re really new to the vocal heath mentality.

MC: I’m Alone, No You’re Not is your second album. Did you take a different approach to it, compared to your first one?
Closner: The first album was a collection of songs that came to be over a long period of time. So as it is with all second albums, you think, “Okay so what do I have to say now?” We had a lot of half songs in the beginning of that process that were … the way I can describe it is preachy. I got on a phone call with a good friend and collaborator—Andrew Stonestreet, who has co-written a lot of our songs—I had sent him a bunch of ideas and he called me and said, “Every single one of these songs feels like you are standing high above me in a tall tower telling me to be okay or telling me what I should do. I don’t want that from a song. I wanna hear what you wanna do; I wanna hear your feelings and your honest experience.” That was a huge lesson that we learned to put aside what we think people want to hear and listen really hard to what’s already inside.

MC: Is the writing collaborative or more individual?
Closner: Every song is different, but how it works usually is one of us will have a small idea that’s not fleshed out. Whether that’s a melody or Allie usually comes to the table with a lyric, I’ll start playing guitar, she’ll put a melody to that lyric and we build it from there. Meegan, as well, actually picks up the guitar and plucks one string a little bit and creates something from that.
One thing that we did that was new with this album was we did some co-writing with other people our management set us up with. That was an incredible experience, because you have your own pattern and blocks, and getting another person means you get through those blocks. And whether or not you necessarily feel that it’s fully you in the moment, I felt like it helped us break through different feelings that were holding us back, and that impact, the way someone else said something, I found to be true for us too.

MC: One song in particular, your single “White Flag,” was inspired by the threat of an earthquake in the Pacific Northwest, yet the lyrics are vague and relatable enough to apply to different scenarios dependent on the listener—the symbolic image of burning a white flag with a message to never surrender. How was that song crafted?
Closner: We were in L.A. at the time and we were going to a writing session with a great writer named Morgan Taylor Reid. The tensions were really high for that because there had been a New York Times article that came out about [the earthquake], and we had a miserable moment in the car where we had to say, “Okay what are we going to do about this feeling of fear that we have about this?” It was a hovering cloud of “this could happen at any moment,” tense shoulders kinda thing. It spoiled over that into this moment that was a fight and that was like, “Okay, well, are we gonna not be there right now? Are we going to move away from Portland?” If the answer is no, then all we can do is keep living our lives and say, “I’m gonna keep going.”

And when we went into the writing session with Morgan, we tried to write a different song and we were hitting our heads against the wall. He said, “Let’s start fresh,” and we all just decided while this is the thing we’re going through right now, this is what feels real and raw and palpable, so it was like the song tumbled out after that. It was like, “Oh, we mean that!”

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