Four years ago, Meegan Closner, of the folk-pop band Joseph, was fresh out of college, living back home in Portland with her parents and working at LA Fitness, with no clue what to do next. Now, strangers are getting a phrase she wrote in her journal—I'm Alone, No You're Not, which is also the title of Joseph's new album—tattooed on their bodies.
"Someone just sent us a picture of it," she says. "'I'm alone' on their left wrist, and 'No you're not' on the other one. It's so crazy."
She should start getting used to such displays of adoration. In the two years since Closner and her sister-bandmates self-released their homespun debut, the trio—named after the small Eastern Oregon town of Joseph—has become darlings-to-be of the New Americana scene. They've got a deal with Dave Matthews' ATO Records and a sophomore record helmed by the producer of Bright Eyes. NPR has glommed onto them, and in June, they played The Tonight Show. So yeah, expect more fan tattoos in their future.
It's been head-spinning for everyone, but particularly for Meegan and her twin sister, Allison. None of this was their dream, exactly. Natalie, the eldest of the three, was the one with designs on a music career. She went to Nashville on a break from college and made some solo recordings, but the results underwhelmed her. So she asked her sisters if they wanted to start a band.
"I had obviously no idea what that meant when she asked that," Meegan says, "and I was like, 'Yeah, sure, I'm literally not doing anything important.'"
It was, to be truthful, a puzzling request. Neither Meegan nor Alison played instruments. And beyond spontaneous carpool karaoke sessions growing up in Estacada, they'd never sung together before—a fact that makes their immaculate harmonies seem even more like the product of some preternatural sibling ESP. "It feels like cheating sometimes," Meegan says. "We didn't hone this and practice it to sound so perfect. It just is."
In just about every other respect, though, they've had to learn on the job. Going into the recording of I'm Alone, No You're Not with producer Mike Mogis, the band had lyrics and melodies but little idea how to fully realize them in the studio. "We basically came to the table, like, 'Here are these vocal songs, create the landscape for them,'" Meegan says. Mogis kept their pristine vocals front and center while dressing them up in bold, sweeping arrangements. It is a much bigger record than 2014's Native Dreamer Kin, but it still sounds natural—the result, perhaps, of their organic and unlabored songwriting process. For Meegan, that involves singing words directly from her journal, often while plucking a single guitar string. She admits it's kind of silly. But, like everything else with Joseph, inexperience seems to be working in their favor.
"I still have zero idea what I'm doing," she says. "But I'm writing songs and they're on a record, and people are listening to it and singing them."
SEE IT: Joseph plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., with Duncan Fellows, on Friday, Sept. 9. 8 pm. $18 advance, $20 day of show. All ages.