All in the family: Joseph

From left, Natalie Closner Schepman, Meegan Closner, and Allison Closner

Unlike books, it’s a perfectly fine practice to judge bands by their covers.

Joseph, a musical trio of sisters from Portland, Oregon, has a knack for covering classics that showcase their shimmering vocal harmonies and old-school, jingle-jangle indie guitar riffs.

On their 2017 EP Stay Awake, the sister act debuted new tracks while tackling a few standards from the Saturday night Jello-shot songbook. On that album, they filter The Rolling Stones’ “Moonlight Mile” through a country gauze, and their take on “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” Tears for Fears’ 1980s anthem to nuclear anxiety, delivers an acoustic retrofit for our age of melting ice caps and border walls.

“That one is one of my favorite records we made,” says Meegan Closner, who along with her twin, Allison Closner, and older sister, Natalie Closner Schepman, make up the band Joseph. “We had been touring our record I’m Alone, No You’re Not for a while and we just wanted to put out some music. We made that whole EP in just two days.”

The Pacific Northwest sister act plays Friday, Feb. 28, at Meow Wolf.

Formed in 2012, the band began to make waves in 2016 with the release of their sophomore album, I’m Alone, No You’re Not. The album cracked the top 10 on Billboard’s indie and rock charts for the United States. The record’s lead single, “White Flag,” hit number one on the Adult Alternative chart later that year, and the band made appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and NPR’s highly regarded Tiny Desk Concerts series.

Joseph is a family affair — even down to the band’s name, taken from a tiny town in the mountains of eastern Oregon where their grandfather lives. Nonetheless, the sisters never thought they would be in a band together.

“Natalie, my sister, had been writing songs for 10 years. Then one day she was like, ‘Why don’t you guys write a song with me?’ She was on tour and she texted us, ‘Do you want to be in a band with me?’ ” Closner says. “We thought, Oh cool, we’re going to sing backup for our older sister Natalie who we adore.”

Natalie, though, meant forming Joseph as a band of equals — a task for which neither their upbringing nor their musical training had prepared them.

“This band has really forced us to break open our family roles. In the beginning, Allie and I really relied on Natalie to do everything,” Closner says. “Growing up, she really was a mentor figure to us. We are like the babies of the family. We kind of had this attitude of everybody just takes care of us, which doesn’t work in business, and which doesn’t work as you grow up in general.”

Some of their songs refer to personal growth and sibling strife. On their most recent album, Good Luck, Kid, released in 2019, the lead single “Fighter” alludes to a rift between the sisters: “You think you’re keeping the peace/While you creep, creep away from me.”

In an interview with the online magazine Paste at the album’s launch, the sisters recounted the song’s inspiration. While wrapping up a tour, an argument between the sisters led to a minor car accident. Flustered, Natalie retreated to the house where the band was staying. Family intervened, and the eventual reconciliation powered one of the band’s most memorable shows.

“It’s been a lot of work. And it’s been a huge part of our growth. We have each other forever. Unless you want to be this totally unhappy for the rest of your life, you have to work through stuff growing up,” Closner adds. “It’s that longevity. Our family has always been really supportive of us as a band. We are in this for the long haul.”

Family issues aside, the band still loves a good cover song. In November, they joined Aimee Mann, Rosanne Cash, Patty Griffin, and other prominent female artists for a tribute album of Tom Waits’ covers called Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits. The Portland trio took up the album’s title song, trading Waits’ gospel dirge for a more somber effect of strings and slowly plucked piano keys.

Eight years into it, Joseph has proven that the family that covers songs together, stays together.

“I think it was massively cool and humble that [Natalie] allowed us into that writing process when we knew nothing,” Closner says. “It’s been such a fun ride. She has done a really good job being an ally and creating as much space in the band for me and Allison as for her — which is nuts, because she didn’t have to do that. She really wanted it to be all three of us.” ◀

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