Joseph: Kicking on the Lights

Justin Jacobs on October 23, 2023
Joseph: Kicking on the Lights

Normally, you shouldn’t judge an album by its cover—but there are exceptions even to that golden rule. Stare straight at The Sun, the fourth release by indie-pop vocal trio Joseph, and a few key factors reveal themselves. You’ll see the three members of Joseph—Natalie Closner and her younger twin sisters, Allie and Meegan—staring straight back at you. It’s impossible to tell exactly what they’re about to say, but you know that something’s coming. They’re not smiling; they’re not here to show off, to look pretty, alluring or mysterious. You know you’re about to hear something real.

The creation of The Sun was a journey for each sister and for the trio together—through heartbreak, COVID-19, doubt and anxiety—to understand what felt true to them and to learn how to express that in a universal way. Listen in and you’ll hear a 10-track folk-pop confessional with all three sisters offering songs about self-realization and self-love. It’s a record full of deep, personal discovery, born out of the trio’s individual and shared experiences—and by their account, it’s the most authentic representation of the Closners ever caught on tape.

Now, compare the cover shot to their last album, 2019’s Good Luck, Kid. It’s a sleek, stylized photo of Natalie at the wheel of some speeding vehicle, her sisters gazing ahead at some unknown road; it could just as well be a movie poster for a getaway flick from the ‘70s. However, on the cover The Sun, the Closner sisters are huddled together, staring right at you, the album title scrawled across their faces. They’ve got nowhere to hide and nowhere else to go.

“On our last album, we gave our team full power. We said, ‘Make these songs sound cool.’ And they did amazing,” Meegan says. “But every detail of this album was us being the truest version of ourselves. And so the photo you see, it’s just us—our clothes, our makeup. A friend took that photo when we were down to the wire, on deadline to print the vinyl. It was our last-ditch effort to be the most us we possibly can.”

Natalie and Allie nod in agreement. The sisters are sitting all together in a hotel room in Fort Wayne, Ind., before a big festival show. Meegan breaks into a gentle laugh.

“I look at it now and think, ‘Wow, my eyebrows aren’t even plucked in that photo,’” she says disarmingly. “But it’s us.”


The Sun was released on taste-making indie label ATO in April 2023, and the band hit the road right away. They’ve gotten used to dedicated fans—but those f irst shows still hit the sisters by surprise.

“The album had been out for a day or two, and we saw people singing every word—to track five!” Natalie says. “We’ve been selling more tickets in each city than we’ve ever sold. And audiences are singing along louder than they have before. There’s just no feeling quite like it for us.”

That the album is striking a chord with post-COVID America is, frankly, not surprising. The band’s core audience, along with so many others and the members of Joseph themselves, emerged from the pandemic with a newfound sense of urgency to find what feels true. People left jobs they hated, relationships that were unhealthy, friendships that felt more draining than nourishing. But The Sun isn’t just another post-pandemic album. Its story goes back way further.

The Closners grew up in a religious, musical household in the Pacific Northwest; their father worked as a jazz musician. Four years older than her twin sisters, Natalie left home and chased her singer songwriter dream, but she struggled to lift off. She invited Allie and Meegan to join her on harmonies and to contribute to the songwriting, and the sisters’ gorgeous, powerfully intertwining vocals created a sound that was more than the sum of its parts. Joseph’s debut, Native Dreamer Kin, came out in 2014; two years later, they signed with ATO and released their alt folk hit album, the beautiful and billowing I’m Alone, No You’re Not.

By the time Good Luck, Kid dropped in 2019, Joseph had evolved into an established touring force, festival favorites and TV-performance darlings.

Up until that point, the music on each Joseph album had been constructed through collaborations with trusted musicians, building on Natalie, Meegan and Allie’s songwriting and vocals.

“We bring a tricky set of factors to the table. We’re a vocal trio, and the songs are about our vocal arrangement,” says Natalie, who also plays guitar. “So we rely heavily on our collaborators to create from scratch what the hell each song is going to be.”

“On our first studio album, we went in and really said, ‘Do whatever you want,’” Meegan adds. “That record is completely [producer, musician and Bright Eyes member] Mike Mogis. We didn’t have the skills to express ourselves back then.”

Since the spring of 2020, there has been a new, tricky set of factors on the table. The Closners were ready to begin working on their next project, but it took months to push past their resistance and start songwriting via Zoom, as they were separated by COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns. Add the uncertainty of those early pandemic months, the dissolution of Natalie’s marriage and Meegan’s recovery from a deeply unhealthy relationship—all of which meant Joseph could no longer exist as it had for years. In the parking lot of an Oregon burger joint in 2021, tensions came to a head.

“We had this big fight, all of us, about even being in the band. And we all chose to stay in the band. We chose each other,” Allie says. “But that fight outside this greasy burger stand off the highway—it freed us to be more open with each other. It freed us to be here because we want to be here.”

“That moment allowed us the power to say all the things we say on this record,” Meegan says.


Quickly, the sisters’ songwriting ascended from artistic expression to a new form of therapy—and the material that poured out was the most honest of their lives. On The Sun’s title track, you can hear a different type of ascendance.

“Don’t try to tell me how I’m feeling/ I’m done playing a game that can’t be won/ Now I’ll rewrite what I believe in,” Meegan sings. “I thought I was the light switch you turned on/ But I was the sun.”

Read one way, the tune is about self-empowerment, a lesson anyone can benefit  from. But the writing actually comes from a more urgent place—Meegan clawing her way out of a years-long relationship that made her feel small, unseen and insignificant.

“When I finally walked away, I felt like a piece of shit. But therapy saved my life. I used to find it impossible to share my feelings—but now I know I can be so much more than what that person said about me. Me living my life every day, experiencing joy and being happy is a direct ‘The Sun’ moment,” she says.

With acoustic ballad “Slow Dance,” Meegan takes a hard look at the relationship from her newfound place in the sun. “At long last, we ended the slow dance/ Guess it took you with me for us to see/ The joy pains made us more human/ And we just needed room to see both sides of the truth,” she sings.

“We wrote a lot of songs with the theme of, ‘You suck, and this was your fault,’ as you do after a break up,” she says. “But with time, I knew that wasn’t the spirit I wanted to embody each night onstage. So one night, all three of us had this amazing conversation. I expressed how I really felt. And I realized that what I wanted to sing was: ‘I did the best I could.’”

Each member of Joseph was experiencing her own rebirth—through talk and somatic therapy, personal exploration and songwriting.

“I had this misconception about myself,” Natalie says. “I thought that being an artist, and being creative, meant that I was already so embodied. But when I’d express anxiety to my therapist, they’d say, ‘Let’s locate this physically. Where does this feeling live?’ And I realized just how cerebral I am—as if my body was operated by a puppeteer pulling strings. I learned how to drop in physically to my body to understand my own emotions. Like, what’s truly going on here?”

That process birthed the song “Kicking Up the Lights,” an ode to long, sleepless nights where we don’t run away from anxiety, but rather lean into it, feel it, give it compassion and let it disappear. The anthemic cut finds Natalie proudly commanding: “Shake the walls and dance.”

Joseph tackles anxiety and self-doubt most directly on “Nervous System,” an anthem celebrating the power of understanding yourself. “No, it’s not selfish/ If you save yourself/ Don’t feed the paranoia, that won’t help/ It’s in your head and it’s under your skin/I know that you can calm the storm in your nervous system,” Allie sings.

By the end of 2021, Joseph had a collection of demos ready to be recorded. The sisters sent an email to their producer, Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, The Avett Brothers) with a list of reference points—songs they loved, feelings they wanted to capture, specific guitar tones and drum sounds to create—titled “A VERY BIG EMAIL WITH LOTS OF THOUGHTS!” The list included tracks by Sharon Van Etten, Brittany Howard, Moses Sumney, Olivia Rodrigo and others.

For the first time, Joseph trusted themselves enough to express exactly what they wanted. They recorded for three weeks and wrapped the sessions feeling just OK. Being honest in their songwriting was one thing, but being honest with their beloved collaborators felt like a new challenge.

“It’s hard as a human, and especially as a woman who grew up being told your voice doesn’t matter, to say what you really need when you know you’ll be making more work for other people,” Allie says.

A 2022 breakfast with former tourmate and folk star James Bay helped the sisters stand strong.

“He said to us: ‘The best thing you can do for yourself and your art is to know and trust what you feel, and do it quickly,’” Natalie says. “For me, that’s the major work of my life—to understand my own personal truth. James said it’s a gift to everyone around us. It was a lesson in the recording process, but it is also something I’m trying to do every single day.”

With compassion and gratitude, Joseph got back into the studio with their band and creative team.

The trio tore some songs down and started from scratch. They wrote new tracks on the fly, truths that needed to be expressed. And their team responded with love, support and excitement—Joseph hit a groove and ran with it. Recording sessions lasted on and off throughout 2022; when they needed more studio time, they asked for it. And when a song was finally done, they knew it.

“On this album, we spoke up when things didn’t feel right. And by the end, the music was exactly what we wanted it to be,” Allie says.


The finished product, featuring work from Martine, producer/musician Christian “Leggy” Langdon, Joey Burns of Calexico and others, is a bright, shimmering indie-pop album centered on the vocal harmonies of Allie, Natalie and Meegan. The music built around their voices feels natural—warm piano tones, patiently plucked acoustic guitar and soothing electric percussion that gallops along when the Closners burst into a sprint.

The songs feel as much diaristic as they do pop-radio ready—meaning that it’s easy to see yourself inside them, and it’s even easier to sing along.

For Joseph, The Sun is a document of personal growth—one they get to revisit onstage every night. There aren’t any “you suck” songs to be found, but plenty of “you are strong,” “you are loved” and “you are worthy” selections.

“We’ve all been through a lot with our different shit,” Natalie says frankly. “But getting to witness this whole narrative arc in these songs—an arc that somehow ends with the three of us onstage together and Meegan singing, ‘I am the sun’— is just stunning for me. As if we’re in a movie, we’re standing side by side claiming our truth. Who gets to do that?”