Wednesday, October 12, 2016
I'M ALONE, NO YOU'RE NOT
There is nothing like the sound of siblings singing together. Whether it's the Beach Boys or the Everly Brothers-or, more recently, First Aid Kit-absorbing the same breathing rhythms and speech patterns adds an element to vocal harmonies that can be pure magic. With the release of I'm Alone, No You're Not, the mesmerizing, hypnotic sound of the trio known as Joseph-made up of sisters Allison, Meegan, and Natalie Closner-joins this elite company.
"It's just second nature, like a fifth limb that's already on you," says first-born Natalie. "There's an ability to anticipate what's going to happen and blend with it. When Meegan and Allison sing, they know exactly what I'm going to do and when."
But the Closners didn't actually start singing together when they were growing up in Oregon, the children of artistic parents (their dad was a jazz singer and drummer, their mom a theater teacher). Natalie was the performer-"the older sister who stood on the edge of the fireplace and told everyone, ‘Watch me!,'" she says. Twins Meegan and Allison stayed out of her lane, joining in for their mother's musical theater productions but otherwise avoiding the spotlight.
When Natalie was in college, she began pursuing music more seriously. The summer before her senior year, she went to Nashville to check out the scene and work on her guitar playing and songwriting. She had recorded an EP and done a few rounds of touring when a friend sat her down one day.
"It was kind of dramatic," she says, "He took me aside and said, ‘I don't think you really believe in this.' It stopped me in my tracks." She thought deeply about the music she was making and had a curious epiphany; she decided to ask her sisters if they would consider singing with her.
Initially, they didn't really get it. "We thought she was asking us to be background singers, so we didn't take it that seriously," says Allison. "It was more commitment than I was expecting-I even tried to leave at one point, but after a while, I was convinced."
A transformation occurred when the Closners were in the process of recording their first album, Native Dreamer Kin. At the time, they were calling themselves Dearborn, but their producer felt that the name didn't fit the strength of the music. They went to visit their grandfather Jo, in the eastern Oregon town of Joseph. Allison made a playlist for the trip and called it "Joseph," which is what influenced the band's name.
"Once she said it, it just hit us all-that's what this is and who we are, these are the sounds of the land that we've lived on," says Natalie.
With this new sense of themselves, Meegan and Allison began taking a more active role in the group's songwriting. Meegan notes that while the process was a "totally new journey" for her, it felt similar to the candor and vulnerability of her long-time journaling-just "pulling out the gold and arranging that into neater lines."
She and Natalie both point to the song "Honest" as a keystone for the development of I'm Alone, No You're Not. "We were trying really hard to write a song, but nothing was coming," recalls Natalie. "One night, Meegan was working on some lyrics and getting frustrated, so she wrote in the margin of the page, ‘I can't say a true thing. It's hard to be that honest.' Immediately after that, her most honest sentence spilled out-‘There's always two thoughts, one after the other: I'm alone. No, you're not.' And she thought, ‘Oh, there's the song.' "
Meanwhile, the group was cultivating a devoted fan base in the most traditional ways possible: touring the Western states playing living room shows, backyard parties, and secret house party gigs; reaching an audience directly through such platforms as Noisetrade; selling their self-released CD and building a loyal following step by step. By the time they were approached by ATO Records, Joseph had already built a strong community of fans on its own.
As they moved toward making their second record, the project took an additional turn when the Closners decided to work with some other songwriters in Los Angeles. "We were afraid of it at first because the songs were more pop than we were used to writing," says Meegan, "but as we internalized them, they started becoming super-important to us."
They point to "More Alive Than Dead," co-written with Ethan Gruska, as an example of these contributions. "That song describes an experience with a partner where you have hard things in your combined past," says Natalie. "You're haunted by them until you realize that those things are dead, and as long as you dwell on them, you're missing the real live person in front of you."
She adds, though, that Gruska was critical in clarifying and sharpening the nuanced emotion of the lyric. "When Ethan sent us back the demo, I lost it, He was able to see the heart of the song and bring it out, cut to the core of what I was trying to say."
Finally, the women of Joseph recorded the album with acclaimed producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Jenny Lewis, First Aid Kit) at his studio in Omaha. He was able to open up their expansive, evocative vocal sound with powerful and striking arrangements, adding depth while highlighting their haunting intensity.
"This was our first time doing a recording like this," says Natalie, "and we learned so much about creativity. Mike is a genius, and he's just a total maniac as a musician, so he took these bare bones songs and brought them to life with lush, gorgeous textures and sounds."
The initial reaction to the music on I'm Alone, No You're Not has been remarkable. Joseph was selected as a #SpotifySpotlight artist, and booked for festivals including Bonnaroo, Pickathon, and Sasquatch even prior to the release of the single "White Flag," a song inspired by an article predicting a massive earthquake for the Pacific Northwest.
"Reading that created a heaviness that was making us jumpy, scared, and miserable," says Natalie. "It became clear we had two options: be scared and cowering, backing away from the world into paralysis, or keep moving and live. Defy fear. Wear peace. Find better ways to love the people in our lives instead of huddling together like frightened sheep thinking about earthquakes."
Most rewarding for the Closner sisters has been feeling the audience response to the new songs, as they tour supporting such artists as James Bay and Amos Lee. "This is really when you learn what's special about a song, or if it's special," says Natalie. "It's this crazy firecracker thing that happens-‘Am I feeling something? Is anyone? What is this song, what does it do, which parts make the most sense?'
"It really is about connection with people, and we're so grateful we've gotten the chance to do that. This has been a totally wild journey, and we're constantly blown away with possibility of what could be."
The daughter of a professional drummer, 26 year-old Haley Johnsen grew up in the rain-soaked atmosphere of the Northwest surrounded by musicians in the industry, but managed to keep her own love of music and perfect pitch a secret. Shy and fearful about her ability to sing when a child, Johnsen kept her obsession with finding the perfect harmonies to herself; she would only sing hidden in her closet or when she knew she was home alone. "I couldn't handle attention...I never knew what to do with it," she remembers, " I was so self-conscious for so much of my life, even raising my hand in class left my heart pounding. Being the center of attention was my worst nightmare and my greatest dream at the same time."
It would be a dedication to gymnastics that would take this shy girl who preferred to blend in with the background and turn her into a daredevil, dancer, and performer. "This sort of athletic expression didn't feel as nerve wracking to me. I could be silent and allow my physical my strength and flexibility to do the talking. As strange as it sounds, hurling my body around rather than my voice just felt safer."
Whether she knew it or not at the time, Johnsen was building not just physical strength, but discipline and self-confidence that that would ultimately challenge her to put herself out in front of a million people to face her biggest fear - singing.
It was a last minute decision to join the thousands of people in line that February afternoon in Portland, Oregon in 2011 when American Idol auditions rolled into town, and she knew what a long shot it was. Still, she could afford to roll the dice; she was on the cusp of finishing her degree at Oregon State University where she had spent four years slowly cultivating a discipline for singing and performance through classical vocal training and performance as a hobby alongside her studies and really had no plans post graduation.
Johnsen would be cast into the national spotlight when she captivated American Idol Season 11 viewers making it all the way through to the Top 24 semifinals before conceding.
For artists that come through the Idol machine, the experience can be either a make it or break it one. What it did for Johnsen was confirm that she could - and should - pursue a professional music career based on the response judges and audiences had to her performances. "Idol was the stepping-stone that persuaded me to believe in myself as an artist and performer, and it confirmed that I had the talent to make music my ultimate focus," Johnsen reflects. "Being surrounded by so many other gifted and passionate musicians ignited a fire in me to carry out my dream as a singer/songwriter that I hadn't thought I was capable of before."
Over the course of the last three years, Johnsen has written and recorded over 100 songs. With the help of Portland-based producer, Rob Daiker (Katy Perry, The Fame Riot, Christian Burghardt), the two began a collaborative process of selecting the ones that would best represent Johnsen's range and songwriting abilities.
"The songs are mostly about the extremes in life that I was faced with - sort of like a scrapbook of what I was going through: leaving Hollywood to come back home to Oregon; figuring out what I wanted my life to look like; and finding my own authenticity as a songwriter. My best songs are the blatantly honest ones. Sometimes my lyrics are things that I wanted to say to someone, but couldn't find the words in the moment. Later those words show up perfectly as the chorus to a song. Other times, I was just trying to work out a problem or express to myself a sense of acceptance of whatever I was going through. They are cathartic that way," Johnsen revealed.
Johnsen's influences range from the eccentricities of bands like Radiohead and Pink Floyd; to classic, folk and indie-rock vocalists such as of Eva Cassidy, Nicole Atkins, Florence Welch and Brandi Carlile - all artists with a flair for the dramatic in their delivery. "From a melodic standpoint, I have a hard time writing songs that don't build to an epic moment. As a naturally a loud singer, it is really fun for me to play with intricate melodies that reach a point where I can just belt it out with a big lunged chorus, taking the song in a direction the listener wouldn't expect it to go. I visualize my songs in a linear way when I write them, but imagine the places where the song needs to rest, climb, and then soar - sort of like a journey to a destination."
The final result of Johnsen and Daiker's collaboration is a seven song EP Through the Blue written by Johnsen, arranged and produced by Daiker and recorded with guest instrumentalists including drummer Joe Mengis (Priory, Climber, Casey Neill and the Norway Rats). It serves as a personal reflection upon this season in Johnsen's life - the transitions she faced, the relationships that were impacted, and the lessons that came from her experiences. "What I have discovered in writing these songs is that there is peace in struggle. As I grow, I am learning to accept the ambiguity of life."
Monday, 17 June 2019
Tuesday, 18 June 2019
Wednesday, 19 June 2019
Thursday, 20 June 2019
Friday, 21 June 2019
Saturday, 22 June 2019
Sunday, 23 June 2019
Monday, 24 June 2019
Tuesday, 25 June 2019
Wednesday, 26 June 2019
what you got