On a first listen, it sounds like a challenge, or a flushed warning: I want to fight her. The lyric is actually “I want a fighter,” and though the play on words was unintentional, the misheard version of the phrase swings closer to the tumultuous heart of “Fighter,” which folk-rock trio Joseph wrote after the sister act came dangerously close to splitting up.
“Our family communication style is, we let things lie for a long time,” says Natalie Closner Schepman, who found herself at frustrating odds with her sisters, twins Allison and Meegan Closner, when creative urges pulled them in different directions in the wake of their 2016 album, I’m Alone, No You’re Not. “Fighter,” the first single off their sophomore album, Good Luck, Kid (out Sept. 13 on ATO Records), doesn’t let the tension simmer: the sisters plead, “Don’t leave me in the dark,” in between the song’s cloud-grazing crescendos, but they’re begging each other to stay in this, even if they have to fight in order to do that.
“That shift that happened when all of that went down was basically deciding that we were not going to let anything stay under the rug,” she says. “We were committing to each other to always bring it up, always be willing to fight through stuff instead of keeping it close to the chest and growing further apart from each other. It’s exactly what it says — like, okay, we’re gonna fight stuff out now.”
The “Fighter” epiphany is the emotional backbone of Good Luck, Kid: hurt feelings and misunderstandings are well worth working through when the good stuff is on the line, whether it involves a family band, a relationship on the brink of collapse, or a better world. It ushered in a new sound for Joseph, too, as 'folk' is a descriptor far removed from the grittier, plugged-in and amped-up instrumentation of this new beginning.
Below, Joseph reflect on Good Luck, Kid’s most vulnerable moments, writing love songs and lullabies for our place in modern history and more.
What was your reaction when you heard the final mastered version of “Fighter,” and how did this condense the tension that brought about a breakthrough with Good Luck, Kid?
Natalie Closner Schepman: We were auditioning a bunch of different producers for this project because of exactly that. We’re a trio; that’s who we are. Making albums is such a feat because we have to hire someone to essentially be this landscape creator. We did a song with three different producers, and when we heard this one, with Leggy [Christian "Leggy" Langdon], it was like, whoa. It unlocked this hole. It broke through a ceiling for us. At first we were nervous about it and uncertain, but then we really warmed up and then it set the tone for the entire album because it was the first one we did with him.
There’s so much movement on this album: so many of your lyrics throw to physical and internal journeys, from long drives to emotional escapism to plowing through a tough situation and coming out the other side. Was there a new urgency for the three of you to turn to songs that put movement and getting through it at the focus of that?
Allison Closner: Absolutely. it’s just one of those things where everybody’s kind of feeling it and thinking it. Part of it was eking out into our writing sessions and stuff, this sort of subconscious feeling of, “Wow, it’d be really nice to have something to feel good about, some words to yell at the top of your lungs to kind of combat this feeling of doom a little bit, or a lot a bit” (laughs). A lot of it ended up being subconscious and just because it was all what we were thinking about without having to really to talk about it.
NCS: The short answer is yes. You wake up every day in this world and you know more about the shit that’s going down than ever before, I feel like. I wrote [“Good Luck, Kid”] entering my thirties and feeling that I truly had arrived at this upper echelon of adulthood but also felt totally out of my depth, kind of like, “Wow, the trail has not been blazed, I don’t understand the Internet, how do we get here, and we are the people that the world is getting handed to, and what do we do with it?” So yeah, absolutely.
That gives “Room For You” layers of meaning, too. At a recent show in New York, you mentioned that you wrote this for a friend’s baby.
NCS: Yes, that was spurred on by my best bud having a baby, and I held him, and I just had this rush of emotion of, “Wow, I never want you to hurt ever.” But then, in the process of that, I realized, oh, someone held me and thought that at one point. It’s honestly taken talking about the album to realize how much of a theme that feeling of the inner child essentially exists within us, and being kind to that person. When I recognize that as far as I know, I didn’t ask to come here, it’s like, and yet, here I am, and here we all are doing our best. I have so much more compassion for both myself and everyone else. We wanted to send everyone off on the album with that sort of blessing and sort of like, we believe in you and we hope the best for you and we never want you to hurt.
What was your most vulnerable moment in the studio, and when was a moment where you saw one of your sisters reach a new level in their artistry while you were writing or recording?
Meegan Closner: “Revolving Door” is a really vulnerable song and I think at first, [I was] going, like, “Do I want to release this song?” I believe in it and it’s so frickin’ gorgeous, but I’m also sharing a story that doesn’t just belong to me. It belongs to other people. It felt extremely vulnerable, just in the sense of how do I feel about releasing this song, and singing it and letting myself back into that space. I think you can hear it on the album when I yell at one point. Everyone created a really sacred space for me to enter back into that. I had to sing it at least six times. By the end of it, all I wanted to do is cry. That was probably the most vulnerable moment. And then I would say the moment that I felt like I saw someone enter into a new plane was probably Alli and this huge moment in “Half Truths.” It was just next-level. I love when her voice cracks, it’s just really moved me.
That song is what inspired the question, actually.
AC: Really?! I really love Paramore (laughs). I’ve always wanted to have a note on a song that’s like Paramore’s song “All I Wanted.” I was like, “I want to sing a note like that so bad,” because in college I remember hearing it and going home and blasting my speakers and being like, I THINK I CAN HIT THIS! and nailing it, which was awesome. I was waiting for a moment, and the girls were like, “We gotta get you that moment! We have to get a moment!” That “Half Truths” note feels like my Paramore moment, which is kind of fun.
NCS: That was an amazing moment. Every single album we learn more. I think it’s just really exciting because we each sing four songs on this album with the exception of “For You.” We each had our different stories. The album is about getting in the driver’s seat of your life: we had such different experiences in our lives the last couple of years. It’s just really exciting to me to have this three-dimensional body of work that talks about that experience, of moving in that seat from three different people in three different stories. It’s cool to see the girls’ stories being told like that.
AC: The song “In My Head” was a really vulnerable thing for me because I previously hadn’t led a lot of songs on the albums — on [I’m Alone, No You’re Not] I had like two or something like that, which I don’t mind at all; I think all my harmonies rule so much that it really doesn’t bother me. I really connected with the song “In My Head,” and I I really wanted to lead that one. I communicated it really poorly initially, but basically, by the time we got to recording that song, I was like, “Oh man, I feel embarrassed about the way I communicated this, I should back out; somebody else sing it, it’s weird now.” I took a moment and I thought, “No, I had said that weird and I was insecure about it, but it is true, and I really do want to sing it, and the girls are giving me the opportunity to at least try it… I need to step into this with confidence, even if I didn’t initially and give this my best shot, because that’s the only way to really find out if I can lead this song or not.” It was a big moment for me. I think a lot of times it’s easy when you feel insecure or dumb about the way you’ve approached something that it’s easier to just back out and be like, “Forget what I just said!” Believing the girls when they said, “Yeah! Let’s give this a shot!” and actually getting myself in the right head space for it and everything, that was a really big learning moment for me, both in my communication for when I want something and afterward when I really go for it to really have the confidence to do it rather than botch it because of nerves or something.
Joseph kick off their tour in support of Good Luck, Kid on Thursday (Sept. 12) in Vancouver.