Three years on from their last release, Portland-based Joseph return with the dazzling Good Luck, Kid. We caught up with the band ahead of their UK tour
When sister trio Joseph describe their third record Good Luck, Kid as 'a road movie in album form', they're not far from the truth. That's not just because we're speaking to Natalie Schepman and her sisters Ali and Meegan Closner from the back of their tour bus en route to Vancouver. But because there were times over the last three years where they struggled to see a future for the band, let alone a new album on the horizon.
Lead single 'Fighter' is testament to the trials Joseph has faced as a band. Doused with the kind of pop production you'd find with electronica trio MUNA, the single is the story of three sisters wanting different things, dealing with that conflict and ultimately deciding to keep going. 'Our family is realising that sometimes we try and let things roll off our shoulders but obviously that never works especially in a small environment like this,' Meegan explains, gesturing behind her on Skype to the confines of their tour bus. 'The band has really forced us to let the laundry out more frequently than what we are probably used to.'
So while there might have been three years since their last release (2016's I'm Alone, No You're Not), the break from songwriting was more than deserved. 'Two of those years were spent really going at it [on the road],' eldest sister Natalie explains. 'But I think we needed a year off and space from each other,' Meegan concludes.
It's not just the band that's had to adapt though. The whole landscape around Joseph, particularly in the States, has changed. We're all having to grapple with the idea that, in the current political climate, a dystopian novel might be closer to our future than we might've hoped. In title track 'Good Luck, Kid', the trio sing acutely about how 'it's all bad news' and the rising anxiety that 'you thought you'd have the answers when you'd grown'. It's the perfect dichotomy of pop power alongside some pretty frank lyricism. But while it's easy to feel defeated, Natalie insists there's real strength in this new release.
'Going beyond 30, you realise that you've officially made it into adulthood, whether you feel that or not. I just imagine that I'm supposed to have four kids and a mini-van around me right now,' she laughs. 'Especially in the times we're in. It's easy to feel like "What is this mess and what can I do to help?" I was explaining that feeling to my husband and he's a little further down the line – he's 35 – and he said "Yeah, it's like the universe just stopped the car, got out and tossed you the key and said 'Good luck, kid'" and I just felt this lightning bolt over my head because that is it,' she says. 'That's the thing. It's both a hint of sarcasm because it all seems so beyond repair but it's also this wink and nudge of confidence sending you out the door.'
Confidence abounds in Good Luck, Kid, from the tunnel-reverb brilliance and fuzzed-out undertones of 'Without You' to the huge riffs on a track like 'Presence', and it's something the trio attribute to one of our own, in fact. 'We worked with this guy "Leggy" Langdon from Leeds. He really blew our minds,' Natalie beams. Christian Langdon, as his mother calls him, is also behind the chart-topping behemoth X by flame-haired, festival field favourite Ed Sheeran, so no stranger to having a big hit on his hands. '"Presence" was the second song we did and he just took this song's heart and expanded it. I was like "This is beyond what I could've imagined" with that guitar part,' she continues.
Good Luck, Kid is a marked transition from their sophomore I'm Alone, No You're Not or, Natalie considers as the Tennessee countryside speeds past her, a subconscious response. 'It's funny because I had someone point out to me recently that a song like 'Hundred Ways' [from I'm Alone, No You're Not], 'Good Luck, Kid' is almost the more evolved, grown-up version. I re-listened to that song and it is similar. 'Hundred Ways' is this moment when you're saying I don't know, I don't want to fake it. It's essentially sitting in this confusion and feeling lost but 'Good Luck, Kid' activates. It says "OK, all of this seems completely impossible but you are in the driver's seat, whether you like it or not". It takes it that one step further.'
She continues, leaning into the analogy: 'I'm Alone, No You're Not really explores and sits in the feelings of the complexity of life and what I hope is true about Good Luck, Kid [as an album] is it's this picture of us getting into the driver's seat of our lives and being activated to respond to the insanity.' Much like our alpha male-type battling with an existential crisis, Joseph's road movie finds them grappling with a new reality. Good Luck, Kid spurs them on down the route to self-discovery; a new record, a new sound and a new way of collaborating together. There's sibling synchronicity still very much at the heart of Joseph's dazzling technicolour.
Following an enormous string of US dates, Joseph head to the UK this November. Even the prospect of a month in the tour van doesn't seem to dampen their spirits. 'We keep looking at each other – especially because this is our first bus tour – and being like "This is just insane! We made something up and people liked it enough that we can be on a bus to travel to shows now",' Meegan jokes. 'To support other people's livelihoods, it's just crazy,' Ali laughs. 'After all, our road movie isn't confined to the back of the bus. It's night after night of highway motels, snatching a few hours kip and then hitting the road again. With just enough time to air out that inter-band laundry.'