While on tour in Europe, we were lucky enough to have an international exchange with Natalie Closner of indie-pop trio Joseph for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. We discussed the wonders of a European continental breakfast, the dynamic shift between full-band and acoustic trio performances, and the deeper draw of their “White Flag” anthem.
NoiseTrade: First off, how has your European trek been so far? How are the crowds, the sightseeing, and the food?
Natalie Closner: To be honest, there isn’t much sightseeing on a tour like this. It’s mostly just venues and highways and hotel continental breakfasts. That said, European continental breakfast! Sigh… It’s gorgeous. It puts your average U.S. Holiday Inn to shame. We’re talking huge spreads of charcuterie, pickled vegetables, soft boiled eggs, fried eggs, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and all manner of cheeses. Spectacular. I do miss pour over coffee though because it’s all about espresso over here. Also, the crowds have been incredibly warm and we’ve had to talk about politics a lot.
NT: Fallon, Conan, Ellen, CBS This Morning… you guys have been popping up all over the place recently. What’s the first thing you say to each other when you get off stage after these exciting TV appearances?
Closner: We smile and high five and hug our team who is there to support us. It’s a pretty existential experience and we learn so much every time. I love realizing that these people with mega celebrity status are truly kind and down to earth.
NT: I’ve really been enjoying the gothic folk cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” that you guys are offering on this EP. What inspired you to first start covering this song a few years back?
Closner: It’s not a very good story, I’m afraid. One of my voice students showed me a performance of it on a singing competition tv shows and I loved their approach. I think it’s a fantastic song and at the time, we were doing a lot of three-hour cover sets at bars and restaurants. So we needed something like that. When we started playing it in our club sets, it acted as a reprieve from our original songs that tend to be… emotionally demanding. I think people really appreciated hearing something cheeky.
NT: Your song “White Flag” has resonated with so many people in so many different circumstances over the past year. How has playing the song – specifically during a turbulent political season – changed and evolved for you and the reactions you have seen from your fans?
Closner: We live in a culture that makes money by scaring us. We are constantly being reminded of what peril lies ahead if we don’t buy this thing or move to this place or choose this particular news source as our primary doom sayer. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to be concerned about! We are a polarized country and there is more division than ever right now, so I have marveled at how much I need “White Flag” more and more.
I read a statement by CS Lewis – “On Living in An Atomic Age” – when everyone was terrified of atom bombs dropping at random. The quote in its entirety is quite pertinent but I’ll just include the last bit to explain what “White Flag” means:
“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”
It’s a decision to defy fear. To never surrender. In a world where hate and darkness – while being the minority – are quite loud, “White Flag” is about making love louder.
NT: Your recent NPR Tiny Desk Concert stripped away the layered bombast of your album and beautifully highlighted what you guys can do with just three voices and an acoustic guitar. What do those types of performances draw out of you in relation to your other full-band shows?
Closner: With our band, we can dance and lean back into the music. The dynamics are deeper. But playing as a trio is our backbone. We can hear the nuance of the vocals more, so it’s usually a better blend. It’s also a little more subtle but requires more spitfire.
NT: Finally, as far as sibling vocal groups go, who do you find inspiration in and what is the first song you remember singing together as a trio?
Closner: I wish we could point to any one band. We’re not cool enough to know many inspirational bands from the past. We listened to a weird cornucopia of jazz music, pop country, and CCM, so it’s taken us awhile to educate ourselves.
The first song we did as a trio was probably one of my syrupy love songs I was singing at the time. Meeg and Al started out as my BGVs, but that changed quickly once I realized exactly what they could do.