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Pilgrimage Q&A: sister act Joseph

Vision Arts and Entertainment Editor Sara Scannell sat down with the sisters of the band Joseph, Allison, Meegan and Natalie Closner, before their performance on the main stage at Pilgrimage Music and Culture Festival.

What are you guys excited about for Pilgrimage?

Allison: Oh my god, we are playing on a huge stage — it’s so crazy. And we’re playing a bunch of new songs today which feels really good. I’m very excited about it.

Natalie, you started with a solo career in music. What caused you to bring your sisters in?

Natalie: The classic story. I was touring on my own, and I really was just trying to make music like what other people make. I was writing songs that sounded like Ingrid Michaelson or Sara Bareilles, and I had a friend who sat me down and very frank said, ‘I don’t think you believe in this. I feel like you’re just writing these songs and hoping that people will like them, but you don’t really like them yourself.’ He asked me, ‘what do you need to do to believe in this and be passionate about it and want to race it into people’s hands?’ That’s when I texted Meegan and Allison and said, ‘do you want to be in my band?’ And I don’t think that any of us knew what that really looked like.

Did you guys grow up planning to do music too?

Allison: Never. We were thrown into it. Our mom taught theater at our school, and it was a really small school. She wanted to do a musical, and our art class was the only one that had singers in it. We sang because she wanted to do a musical, but we never would have done it other than that.

Meegan: So that prepared us a little bit, but then we were pretending to be somebody else.

What gave you the courage to go with her?

Meegan: I think it happened slowly. We had different points of deciding if we wanted to do it. I had a bunch of conversations with my dad and wondered if I was missing out on something else that I wanted to do. So he asked me, ‘well, what do you want to do?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ So he said I should go and do this.

Allison: Honestly, it was a weird decision for Meegan and I, because we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know the business or anything about it, but we have learned a lot. It has become such a place of growth for both of us — emotionally, and communication-wise and as sisters. And getting the opportunity to be around each other and to be this close is pretty special. We are four years apart, so I don’t know if we would have ever had that otherwise. It feels really important.

Tell me about the family significance of the name Joseph?

Allison: We named ourselves after this town in eastern Oregon, called Joseph. Our grandpa Jo would always take us there to swim in the lake basically every summer. We would go on a big camping trip and everything, so it was an important place to us.

Natalie: It is still a really grounding place. It is amazing. There’s mountains and a lake, and it’s this kind of end-of-the-road kind of town, and you go there and just feel it. I can’t even describe it — it’s special.

Your debut album, “I’m Alone, No You’re Not,” was released in 2014. Three years later, you’re playing the main stage at huge festivals. Tell me about the journey?

Natalie: It’s crazy. I couldn’t book us a club gig anywhere for so long. So it started out with us doing little open mics or songwriters in the round. And then other local artists in Seattle started inviting us on their bill. And then when we released the album and did a campaign on NoiseTrade, and so we gained all of these emails and area codes. We emailed everyone and said, ‘who wants to host a house show?’ We found out later that people in the industry had been talking to each other about it, and so then we quickly learned what a booking agent was, what a manager was, what a label did, somehow we got the most incredible team with Red Light Management and ATO Records and High Road Touring. They have just worked their asses off. They have treated this project like they made it themselves. It is such a privilege to work with people that passionate. So it has been a crazy journey to get here, when a few years ago we had to play a pizza place where they didn’t even have a sound system for us.

Meegan: They paid us, like, a hundred bucks and a pizza. And they ended up making us pay for the pizza. We were just, like, singing in the corner.

Natalie: So to go from that to playing Jimmy Fallon is insane. Somehow we are here and we get a chance to say something to people. We get a chance to do this, and it is just mind blowing every step of the way.

How does the songwriting process work with the three of you?

Natalie: Someone will just come to the table with an idea. Whether that’s a melody or a lyric or whatever, and then we flush it out together. And we democratically make decisions of how should we build it. So we do it all together.

What’s the best part of touring with sisters?

Allison: Honestly I think it is that thing where we will have these memories forever. And when we are all old, and gray and whatever, we will remember all of this. It is really, honestly, pretty incredible that we get to do this together.

Natalie: We share clothes a lot, so that’s also a perk.

What’s next for the band?

Allison: We are stepping into writing season and are writing a new record.

Do you guys have a timeline for that?

Natalie: It depends on when the songs are done. It’s really loosey-goosey right now. We have a lot of songs already, so it could happen, but I know we still have some in the canon coming up, so we will see when we get here and when we know it’s right.

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