Sister Act

By Lia Calabro

Closer Still finds kinship in music

Closer Still performs live, photograph by Ben Addonizio

Closer Still stayed optimistic even though The Lost Horizon appeared nearly empty. The place looked like a deserted Mexican cantina; a mere twenty people had shown up to see them play during a snow-swept January storm. But, as they say, the show must go on.

Maggie, Maynah, and Millie Goble took the stage with confidence and performed an intimate and simplistic show. These three sisters — two of whom are twins — make up the majority of the band. They prefer a coffeehouse vibe and three-part harmonies accompanied by acoustic guitars. They write songs about love, friendship, and life experiences — songs that could play on the soundtracks of romantic comedies.

And then there’s guitarist Jason Checkla, Closer Still’s newest and only male member. He doesn’t mind all of the estrogen. He joined the group last fall and believes they are the most talented band with whom he’s worked.

“It’s mostly because this is the first band that I think is actually good,” Checkla said in front of Maggie, Maynah, and Millie. “I think we have a good sound, and [the girls] are pretty fun to work with.”

On cue, the Goble sisters rang out a synchronized, resounding aww. All three girls’ eyes focused on Checkla. He blushed slightly, gave a hint of a smile, and shrugged his shoulders modestly. Checkla embraces the girly songs and giggling, the rehearsals at the Gobles’ family residence, and being the butt of jokes.

On the Lost Horizon stage, Checkla stood silently behind the sisters, who were front and center, his guitar stringing their voices together. Later in the night, he wove solo instrumentals throughout the sisters’ three-part harmony and performed a folk cover of Timbaland’s “The Way I Are” while the Gobles gazed at him admiringly.

Maggie joined Checkla on acoustic guitar during several songs throughout the show, and occasionally stepped in on tambourine. Maynah played the triangle for “Big Mistake,” chuckling every time she tapped the miniscule instrument. The Gobles’ soothing vocals undeniably drive Closer Still’s sound. Their voices, led by Maggie, meld together to create a pseudo-lullaby effect.

The girls smiled as they performed, clearly pleased with the sound of their music. They swayed in sync, looked to each other for guidance, closed their eyes, and scrunched their brows when hitting the high notes. Checkla stayed hunched over his guitar and remained mostly stationary, engrossed in his sound.

“We apply the intricate guitar lines with the three-part harmony, and that’s what really gives us our sound,” said Millie, the youngest sister. “That’s the key to what makes us work.”

The Gobles started harmonizing as kids. On family road trips, they sang along to the radio. With practice, the sisters began to sound more cohesive and less like individual singers. In 2003, they finally dubbed themselves Closer Still after transporting their act from the backseat of a car to a real stage.

The twins started writing their own music in high school. Maynah composes the lyrics while Maggie and Checkla write the music, and the three sisters collaborate to develop the harmonies.

“We’ve had a lot of interesting life experiences,” Maynah said. “We’ve lived in a lot of different places in different parts of the world, which kind of fostered a unique appreciation of life and what motivates people. That kind of motivates me to write.”

These shared moments have made the Gobles’ ties even stronger; they finish each other’s sentences and use funny nicknames. They live together at their parents’ home in Oswego and at college as roommates.

All the members of Closer Still have attended SUNY Oswego. Maynah, who graduated this past December, is moving to China in the spring to teach English. Maggie, Millie, and Checkla are graduating in May, and each have career goals outside of music. But they still dream about making it big.

“We talk about moving down to [New York City],” Millie said. “We played a show there just last week, and it went pretty well. There’s a lot of opportunity there — a lot more than in this area.”

Closer Still is releasing a new EP soon, and, in the meantime, does studio work and backup harmonies for friends recording albums in Rochester and Skaneateles.

“I think the studio work is something we can really get into,” Maynah said. “When you like writing harmonies, being creative for other people and helping them sound good is really fun.”

Yet Closer Still’s plan to move is still just an idea, and a record deal of their own will have to wait until after graduation. As Maynah leaves for China, Millie, Maggie, and Jason will have to readjust.

“We aren’t necessarily looking for this to take off,” Millie said. “We’re not looking to be the next Lady Gaga.”

“Speak for yourself,” Checkla said, grinning. As the girls crack up, that familiar red hue fills his cheeks once again.

Photographs by Ben Addonizio