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For fans of: Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, Luke Bell, Tyler Childers
Paul Cauthen remembers sitting alone in an Austin house after a weekend-long bender. A life making music seemed to be slipping away. Wide awake with nothing to lose, he fell on his hands and knees right there, bowed his head, and threw down a divine gauntlet.
“I dared Him,” Cauthen says, recalling his desperate challenge to God. “I said, ‘Use me. I’ll be a rag doll. Just put me out there, let’s go. I dare you.’”
Most people don’t plead in the form of a dare. That blend of vulnerability and brash confidence is part of what makes Cauthen and his music — which often hinges on the same paradox — so compelling. Whether it was by heavenly intervention or sheer force of will, Cauthen emerged with My Gospel (Lightning Rod Records), his mesmerizing full-length solo debut. Produced by Beau Bedford, the record is both an artistic and personal triumph. My Gospel captures a young artist in full possession of a raw virtuosity that must sometimes feel like a burden: If your singing takes listeners on white-knuckle rides and you write like a hard-luck Transcendentalist poet who abandoned the East Coast for the desert, you’d better do both. Anything else just wouldn’t feel like living. “I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do in life,” Cauthen says. “So I just kept on working. Even when I didn’t hardly have money to eat, my songs allowed me to get into the studios. I wrote my way into this thing.”
The album is called My Gospel, but make no mistake: These are songs about Earthly struggles to love, connect, and just get by. “I’m not super religious,” Cauthen says. “I don’t believe God is this guy wearing a white cloak who comes down with wings and beautiful sandals. I do believe that people are put into other people’s lives for reasons, and those reasons are unexplained. I believe that is God.”
Americana music fans will remember Cauthen’s name from Sons of Fathers, the raucous Texicana group he co-founded in 2011 with bassist David Beck. The band earned glowing praise from Rolling Stone, NPR, and others, thanks to two albums that climbed into the Top 10 of the Americana Music Chart. “We had just played a show with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, playing for 7,000 people,” Cauthen says. “And I quit. I just knew it wasn’t where I was supposed to be anymore.”
That was three years ago — and the impetus for ending up in that apartment in Austin. Cauthen has since learned to channel his racing mind and rumbling baritone into the blues, gospel, and rock-and-roll that fuel My Gospel with gale-force power. Over the course of three years, Cauthen recorded the album in several different studios across the country: Willie Nelson’s Arlyn Studios in Austin; FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals; Sargent Recorders in Los Angeles; Modern Electric Sound Recorders in Dallas. The result is a quintessentially American album unlike anything in recent memory. “We were going for timeless. We were going for righteous. Those were the two words that we focused on while we were recording,” Cauthen says. “That’s it.”
Cauthen has been the strongest, loudest singer in the room for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Tyler, Texas, where his grandfather — a songwriter and gospel song leader originally from Lubbock who worked with artists including Buddy Holly, Sonny Curtis, and other Crickets — taught Cauthen and his two sisters to sing harmony. “He threw us all in the bathtub because it sounded really good in there,” Cauthen says with a laugh. Sundays and Wednesday evenings were spent at the Church of Christ, singing a cappella in the choir. “My granddad was all about music. He’d always ask people, ‘Can you sing? What songs do you know?’” Cauthen lovingly imitates his grandfather as he shares the memory, changing his inflection to sound both excited and earnest.
When his grandfather died, Cauthen was 10 years old and heartbroken. He abandoned the guitar he’d taught him to play. “It made me too sad,” he says simply. But his grandmother pushed him to pick it up again, and she handed over his grandfather’s ’58 Gibson acoustic along with Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger as she told him, “Learn every bit of Willie’s licks. Then you’ll be a guitar player.” She also put plenty of Elvis, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, the Everly Brothers, and more in his hands.
As a teenager, Cauthen got into more trouble than most. He got caught with weed and did a little time in jail, then got kicked out of college. “You have to get kicked out of something in order to be a true songwriter, whether it’s kicked out of school, or kicked out of your house, or kicked out of a marriage, or kicked into jail,” Cauthen says, only half-joking. “I got all those on my résumé.” He started working in oil and natural gas to make ends meet, surveying land and enjoying being outside. But all the while, he never stopped singing.
Cauthen delivers the songs on My Gospel with the tortured showmanship of Jerry Lee Lewis and seductive ease of Elvis. The idea of a life-affirming power found in the connectedness of people courses throughout the record. The album kicks off with “Still Drivin,’” which calls up the swampy finger-picking of Jerry Reed as it proclaims survival. “It’s my don’t-give-up anthem,” Cauthen says. “Keep on truckin.’” As he thunders, “Still drivin’ / when’s this break gonna come?” the word “break” points to both a career breakthrough and the universal need for rest. “I love to leave the plots of songs open-ended,” he says, enjoying the different possibilities for interpretation the track allows.
Cauthen co-wrote all of the songs on the album with his motley crew of “favorite songwriting buddies” save two, “I’ll Be the One” and “Grand Central,” which he wrote alone. As Cauthen begs for a chance in “I’ll Be the One,” he swivels between cocky self-assurance and humble beseeching, crooning, “Oh, I could be your kind of guy / whatever that is, cold, sweet, shy.” It’s a signature Cauthen vocal performance: playful but also masterful. “Grand Central” uses crying steel to capture the loneliness of rock bottom. Written in about seven minutes not long after he left Sons of Fathers, the song offers a moving portrait of a man who’s running out of options but remains proud as he mulls over self-inflicted wounds, confessing, “The only one that’s hurting is me.”
“You’re as Young as You’ll Ever Be” has assumed deep personal significance for Cauthen. He wrote the song with his dear friend Victor Holk just four months before Holk died after suffering third-degree burns in a house fire. Holk, who was a sound engineer for Sons of Fathers and Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, came to Cauthen with the line that became the song’s title and heart. The two had never written together before. “It’s a haunting song for me. I don’t…” Cauthen trails off, then adds, “It’s hard to play. It’s a song I’m blessed with because Victor was a selfless human being that was all for music and the arts.” The track is one of several on the album that urges listeners to seize the day. Smoldering, piano-laced “Let It Burn” lingers in regrets and memories as it elevates the seemingly mundane. “I’m just really trying to put somebody into a place where they can take it all in and totally comprehend what happens around them,” he says. “These little moments that we have with somebody that were super beautiful that we take for granted.”
The sauntering “Saddle” utilizes guitar, horns, percussive shakers, lush background harmonies, wolf howls, and Cauthen’s vocal prowess to conjure up imagery fit for a John Ford film — and sweep his target off her feet. The American West is one of the ever-present undercurrents on My Gospel: “Marfa Lights” compares a romance to the famous, sporadic heavenly light show in West Texas. “It’s a mysterious, cosmic love song,” Cauthen says.
Cauthen soars when he explores that conflicted space of crying out for help and demanding it. “Hanging Out On the Line” is one of the most stunning examples, enriched by gospel harmonies courtesy of Muscle Shoals veterans who contributed to landmark Aretha Franklin and Etta James albums. The same gorgeous harmonies flood the title track, which also serves as the album’s show-stopping closer. Cauthen launches into “My Gospel” starkly alone before being joined by the otherwordly chorus. Started with Owen Temple and finished in Muscle Shoals with Bedford and guitar player, Nik Lee, the song is a tender acknowledgement of weariness and an invitation to rest in truth, sung with empathy and love. “You have to give up everything, forfeit yourself to the situation, and hope to God that your talents are good enough,” Cauthen says of the recording process. “That’s how great records are made.”
Ultimately, Cauthen is on a mission: to make music he can be proud of that also serves a higher purpose. “On this album, I wanted to push a message that tells people that life’s short. Love the ones you’re with. Just take any opportunity to run with it — don’t think twice.”
For fans of: NE-HI, Big Thief, & Frankie Cosmos
Whitney make casually melancholic music that combines the wounded drawl of Townes Van Zandt, the rambunctious energy of Jim Ford, the stoned affability of Bobby Charles, the American otherworldliness of The Band, and the slack groove of early Pavement. Their debut, Light Upon the Lake, is due in June on Secretly Canadian, and it marks the culmination of a short, but incredibly intense, creative period for the band. To say that Whitney is more than the sum of its parts would be a criminal understatement. Formed from the core of guitarist Max Kakacek and singing drummer Julien Ehrlich, the band itself is something bigger, something visionary, something neither of them could have accomplished alone. The band itself is something bigger, something visionary, something neither of them could have accomplished alone.
Ehrlich had been a member of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but left to play drums for the Smith Westerns, where he met guitarist Kakacek. That group burned brightly but briefly, disbanding in 2014 and leaving its members adrift. Brief solo careers and side-projects abounded, but nothing clicked. Making everything seem all the more fraught: both of them were going through especially painful breakups almost simultaneously, the kind that inspire a million songs, and they emerged emotionally bruised and lonelier than ever.
Whitney was born from a series of laidback early-morning songwriting sessions during one of the harshest winters in Chicago history, after Ehrlich and Kakacek reconnected – first as roommates splitting rent in a small Chicago apartment and later as musical collaborators passing the guitar and the lyrics sheet back and forth. “We approached it as just a fun thing to do. We never wanted to force ourselves to write a song. It just happened very organically. And we were smiling the whole time, even though some of the songs are pretty sad.” The duo wrote frankly about the break-ups they were enduring and the breakdowns they were trying to avoid. Each served as the other’s most brutal critic and most sympathetic confessor, a sounding board for the hard truths that were finding their way into new songs like “No Woman” and “Follow,” a eulogy for Ehrlich’s grandfather.
In exorcising their demons they conjured something else, something much more benign—a third presence, another personality in the music, which they gave the name Whitney. They left it singular to emphasize its isolation and loneliness. Says Kakacek, “We were both writing as this one character, and whenever we were stuck, we’d ask, ‘What would Whitney do in this situation?’ We personified the band name into this person, and that helped a lot. We wrote the record as though one person were playing everything. We purposefully didn’t add a lot of parts and didn’t bother making everything perfect, because the character we had in mind wouldn’t do that.”
In those imperfections lies the music’s humanity. Whilst they demoed and toured the new songs, they became more aware of the perfect imperfections of the songs, and needing to strike the right balance, they eventually made the trek out to California, where they recorded with Foxygen frontman and longtime friend, Jonathan Rado. They slept in tents in Rado’s backyard, ate the same breakfast every morning at the same diner in the remote, desolate and completely un-rock n roll San Fernando Valley, whilst they dreamt of Laurel Canyon, or maybe The Band’s hideout in Malibu, or Neil Young’s ranch in Topanga Canyon.
The analog recording methods, the same as used by their forebearers, allowed them to concentrate on the songs themselves and create moments that would be powerful and unrepeatable. “Tape forces you to get a take down,” says Kakacek. “We didn’t have enough tracks to record ten takes of a guitar part and choose the best one later. Whatever we put down is all we had. That really makes you as a musician focus on the performance.” The sessions were loose, with room for improvisation and new ideas, as the band expanded from that central duo into a dynamic sextet (septet if you count their trusty soundman). And that’s what you hear — Whitney is the sound of that songwriting duo expanding their group and delivering the sound of a band at their freest, their loosest, their giddiest.
Classic and modern at the same time, they revel in concrete details, evocative turns of phrase, and thorny emotions that don’t have exact names. These ten songs on Light Upon the Lake sound like they could have been written at any time in the last fifty years. Ehrlich and Kakacek emerge as imaginative and insightful songwriting partners, impressive in their scope and restraint as they mold classic rock lyricism into new and personal shapes without sound revivalist or retro. “I’m searching for those golden days,” sings Ehrlich, with a subtle ripple of something that sounds like hope, on the track “Golden Days”. It’s a song that defines Whitney as a band. “There’s a lot of true feeling behind these songs,” says Ehrlich. “We wanted them to have a part of our personalities in them. We wanted the songs to have soul.”
For fans of Delta Spirit, The Cave Singers, White Denim, The Donkeys, The Dig
Listen to LoveJoys, the sophomore release from Seattle, WA’s Pickwick, and you’ll hear a band that has pushed aside external pressures and expectations, overcome internal demons, and plugged directly into their own creative center. Slinky, sinewy, and articulate, the record pulses with a palpable confidence. Hypnotically intricate, just-right sonic ornamentation shimmers around a thick, undulating bed of propulsive rhythm. Submit willfully, give yourself over to Pickwick’s practiced ministrations, and you’ll find yourself exhausted and deeply satisfied, slick with a sheen of glitter and sweat.
Following the breakout success of 2013’s self-released Can’t Talk Medicine (which WXPN lauded for its “wonderfully engaging lo-fi rock and soul”) the band found themselves on national tours with Neko Case and Black Joe Lewis, performing on the main stage of the Sasquatch Music Festival, headlining the Capitol Hill Block Party, and performing alongside with the Seattle Symphony. They holed up to begin work on what was to be the follow up release, and things got complicated.
As the band was forty songs into writing a pop R&B record, they became deeply unsatisfied with the direction the music was taking. Tensions boiled over, and they lost a member in 2016. Walking away from a mountain of music, the group was able to tap into the joy of writing for themselves. “We rediscovered what we do best by not overthinking what we make, and learned to love the process of creating again” relates vocalist Galen Disston. “LoveJoys is a specific type of euphoria,” says drummer Alex Westcoat “a liberating feeling of inspiration that can only be achieved through the sacrifice of one’s own ambition. It is the shedding of expectations; an uninhibited escape into a world of child-like infatuation and wonder.”
After an intense three month writing session the band – Disston, Westcoat, guitarist Michael Parker, bassist Garrett Parker, and keyboardist Cassady Lillstrom – turned to producer Erik Blood (Shabazz Palaces, Tacocat and Moondoggies) for guidance in putting the music to tape. “We are huge fans of his, and a mutual friend made the introduction” says Disston. “Erik requested we go out to drinks together every couple weeks for a four month period; he wanted to get to know us before we got too deep into working together. The first time he came to a practice I kept my back to him the whole time because I was intimidated, and after we’d played him all our demos, he picked them apart and pushed us into a new and better sound.”
LoveJoys was recorded at “Chemical X” and “Black Space” (February – May 2016), Blood’s studios in the basement of the old Rainier Brewery building in Seattle. It features performances from: Tendai Maraire (Shabazz Palaces), Sean T. Lane, Marquetta Miller (Breaks and Swells), Taryn Rene Dorsey, and the Black Space’s in-house horns and strings – Alina To (Passenger String Quartet) and Jeremy Shaskus (Breaks and Swells).
Written in the midst of personal and political turmoil, lyrically and sonically LoveJoys became an escape somehow, a place for the band to purge all their deepest concerns while somehow also being relieved of them. LoveJoys embodies the relationship between inspired creativity and the use of escapism as a way of getting there. Like little fossilized explorations of his own greatest fears and anxieties, Disston’s lyrics bury themselves into the band’s bright new sonic landscape, both contradicting their collective fantasy and reminding them of why they chose to construct it in the first place. “This record is an escape toward love and joy in the face of uncertainty” says Westcoat. It’s a sonic sanctuary built from unrestrained creativity, and a potent tonic; undiluted joyful creativity, guaranteed to transport the listener to a place of ecstatic release.
Tearing out of Buffalo NY, rock/groove powerhouse Aqueous has built a name for themselves nationally, following years of touring and high profile sets at festivals like Summer Camp, Peach Festival, Moe.Down, Catskill Chill, The Frendly Gathering, and countless others. Aqueous has built a reputation for bringing high energy and tireless effort to their craft, and fans rave about the uniqueness and power behind every performance. Featured as one of Relix Magazine’s “On The Verge” artists and having shared the stage with the likes of Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, Papadosio & more, there seems no limit to the quartet’s journey to the top.
With three studio albums under their belts, and their critically acclaimed live collection “Live Nugs”, Aqueous is as strong in composing as they are at communicating and improvising during their shows. Their onstage persona is infectious and undeniable; their lifelong friendship stands as a testament to the tightness of the music. While the band is relatively young, they are polished – check them out as soon as you can, and discover firsthand what the buzz is all about.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong brings end-of-the-world enthusiasm to their high-energy psychedelic funk. Their infectious electro-funk grooves, undeniable live energy and contagious smiles have their rabid fanbase “the Flock” growing exponentially. Based out of Baltimore, MD, this animated quartet has been scorching up the country with their explosive performances and danceable peaks… and they’re loving every minute of it.
Part of the Miller High Life Concert Series
For fans of Black Tiger Sex Machine, Zeds Dead, Kill The Noise, Feed Me, ATTLAS
Though young at 22 years of age, REZZ is anything but an amateur as a producer of genre bending works, striking a sharp balance between bass heavy and minimal tech composition. With less than a handful of EPs under her belt, she just returned from her first solo headlining tour which saw sold out shows across the board.
Having gotten her start in music as a local DJ in her hometown of Niagara Falls, she was still a teen when she decided that production was the path she would take. After studying sound design extensively at home and psychology as an aid to her creative process, her experimentation, dedication and hard work have paid off in paving a way for a long career ahead as a producer of downtempo soundscapes.
With a strong vision and no two ways about it, REZZ’s headstrong decisiveness is arguably the key to her success so far. She began to build a following on SoundCloud with a series of free releases which in a short time inevitably caught the ears of EDM golden boys Skrillex and Deadmau5, who helped bring her out to the masses with near back-to-back releases of a three-track Insurrection EP on OWSLA’s The Nest imprint in 2015, followed by the Serenity EP via Mau5trap in 2016.
Since running laps through festival circuits around the world and the release of the Something Wrong HereEP in October 2016 on Mau5trap, her ever-evolving and idiosyncratic electro sound is only getting stronger. With a full-length album scheduled to drop in the fall and billings on a slew of major festival lineups including Tomorrowland, Ultra, EDC, Electric Forest, Shambhala, Electric Zoo, Mysteryland, and HolyShip! amongst others, REZZ is on track and gearing full steam ahead for another big year.
For fans of FIDLAR, White Reaper, The Orwells, L.A. Witch, Jacuzzi Boys
together PANGEA do rock ‘n’ roll as it was meant to be – raw, unpredictable, and probably dangerous, but also blazing with intelligence, emotion, and edgy experimentation. The Los Angeles-based trio made their bones as purveyors of post-millennial punk, but with their third full-length release – and Harvest Records debut – BADILLAC, they pay their debt to the supersonic 90s rock that first inspired them. The band has not sacrificed a spurt of precious energy, instead integrating nuance and dynamic momentum to songs like “No Way Out” and the undeniably badass title track. The volcanic riffs and massive melodies are matched by an equally provocative lyrical stance, with songs like “Sick Shit” and the album-closing “Where The Night Ends” casting an acerbic eye over the wreckage of the party they helped start – it’s 3am and the drunken fun has given way to sexual panic, anxiety and self-doubt. Slightly stoned but by no means slack, BADILLAC reveals together PANGEA to be both confident and surprisingly committed, their audacious ambition already impossible to contain.
“It might be confusing for people, assuming we’re like this garage punk band and then hearing this record,” says singer/songwriter/guitarist William Keegan. “But we really don’t want to get trapped at all.”
Keegan first started writing and recording in his Santa Clarita bedroom, his teenage tapes eventually coming to full flower with the aid of bassist Danny Bengston and drummer Erik Jimenez. Known then simply as Pangea, the band played countless beer blasts in and around CalArts, their boozy mayhem and breakneck pop hooks quickly earning them frenzied crowds throughout the Southern California DIY scene and beyond. A string of seven-inches, cassettes, and LPs – including 2011’s ace second album, LIVING DUMMY, released by Burger Records and The Smell’s Olfactory label – followed, as did gigs alongside a veritable who’s-who of like-minded rockers, including Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin, Wavves, and The Black Lips (not to mention 2013’s epic “Burgerama Caravan of Stars” US tour).
BADILLAC was recorded with their longtime producer/engineer Andrew Schubert over three intensive sessions at his Tarzana studio, their roster augmented by second guitarist Cory Hanson (of the electronic pop outfit, W-H-I-T-E). While many bands in their position would have simply continued banging out the party punk, together PANGEA decided to throw a curveball at themselves and their fervent fanbase.
“We wrote like 30 plus songs for this record,” Bengston says, “half of which have the same punky bubblegum vibe of our last record. Then we had this other batch of songs, a little more melancholy, a little heavier, a little darker. I think in the end we just decided to try to not make the same record twice.”
“When I write, there are certain songs that I feel fit the band,” Keegan says, “and then there are songs where it doesn’t feel like they fit. At some point, I was like, maybe we should try some of the songs that don’t necessarily fit. Because I realized that they do fit – they’re just different.”
Though Keegan cites such unexpected heroes as Pete Seeger and 21st Century K Records artists like Little Wings and the Microphones, he fully fesses up to BADILLAC’s most primal inspirations. Indeed, songs like “Why” and the cello-laced “No Way Out” fuse classic post punk ambivalence with fist-pumping stadium rock, their neurotic hooks, throat-rending vocals, and fat, distorted riffs hearkening back to the glory days of the alternative nation.
“To me, the album is so obviously influenced by the shit that I was listening to when I was 16,” Keegan says. “Growing up in the 90s, all that stuff – Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer. It wasn’t conscious, the album just sounds like that. It feels like that music is etched in deeper that music I’ve listened to as an adult. For whatever reason, the music you listened to when you’re confused and young gets in deeper than anything you might listen to later.”
BADILLAC also sees together PANGEA stepping away from their association with a much-hyped scene they believe too often revels in its own idiocy, Keegan’s wry lyrics pushing both their music and subject matter towards unsettling themes of impotence, fear, ennui, and detachment.
“We think less and less about how we fit into this garage punk scene that we never even technically felt a part of,” Keegan says. “We just kinda get lumped into that. I’m not really stoked on what a lot of those bands are saying, there’s a lot of misogyny and stuff I’m not into.”
Like any angst-ridden tunesmith worth his salt, Keegan also directs his gaze inwards, coming to turns with his own cynical view of relationships on songs like the mordant “Offer,” their cracked melodies and jaundiced skepticism fueled by his recent romantic struggles.
“I went through a really difficult relationship where we were breaking up every three months for four years,” he says. “At the end of it, I was just like, “This is never gonna work.’ It was pretty intense and I think that informs a lot of the songs on the album.
“It’s kinda funny,” he adds. “As soon as we finished this record, we broke up for good.”
BADILLAC will drive together PANGEA through 2014, their imminent plans essentially consisting of touring until they drop. Nevertheless, the band finds themselves in the unprecedented position of having to ponder the future.
“We’ve been discussing where the next record is gonna go,” Bengston says, “we still haven’t put our finger on it yet.”
“It’s weird,” Keegan says, “because we never had to have those formal discussions, like, ‘What should the next record sound like?’ It’s always been pretty natural. Hopefully that’s what’ll end up happening again.”
For fans of Ookay, Slushii, Alison Wonderland, Slander, Odesza
Whethan is the moniker of the 18-year-old Chicago-bred fast rising producer Ethan Snoreck, who first made a name for himself as a SoundCloud producer, remixing tracks for Louis The Child (“It’s Strange”), ZAYN (“Pillow Talk”) and Ty Dolla $ign (“Blasé feat. Future & Rae Sremmurd”) which all surpassed 2.5 million plays; before releasing a groundbreaking original cut – “Savage” (feat. Flux Pavilion & MAX)”- having amassed over 25 million streams worldwide. “love gang” (feat. Charli XCX) was the next chapter in Whethan’s already ground-breaking discography. The track kicks off with clanging, discordant synths transposed with Charli XCX’s dazzling vocals, before exploding into an ethereal, hook-laden chorus – LISTEN HERE.
Whethan recently opened for The Chainsmokers on their “Memories Do Not Open” US arena tour, on top of many major festival performances including Coachella, with appearances at DoLab & Heineken House, and will also be performing at Lollapalooza, HARD Music Festival, and Electric Forest.
Gaining early attention from the likes of Skrillex and Flux Pavilion, Whethan continued to rise through the ranks building a loyal fan-base into 2017.
For fans of First Aid Kit, Johnnysim, The Lumineers, and Judah & the Lion
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.”