‘I still haven’t decided how I feel about that.’ Valerie June, the Tennessee songstress, is a reluctant rising star. Having been raised in a musical family in Humboldt, June’s passion for music stemmed from the Gospel she heard at Church and her father’s passion for R&B and soul. Having relocated to the big lights of Memphis at the age of 19, June started performing alongside her ex-husband as the duo Bella Sun. The collapse of her marriage also caused the musical partnership to break down, with June opting to continue following her musical passion solo. After releasing her solo dÃ©but, The Way Of The Weeping Willow in 2006, June’s popularity steadily rose. While it took a further two independent releases before a record deal landed in her lap, June, whose sole focus is the music, is still uncertain about the dynamic change in her career.
Having relocated to Brooklyn in 2011, June was introduced to The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach by record producer Kevin Augunas – an introduction that would be instrumental to the changing direction of her musical career. While June has clearly relished the collaboration, she describes the whole process as ‘accidental’, though this is far from a negative. She continues, ‘Sometimes I like trying different ways. There are a billion different ways to do what I do, and every time I have made a record I have done it differently.’
‘My job is really just to write or to sing,’ confirms June. While many a musician these days craves the perks of the public forum, June has always been happy to just be able to play. However, she does concede that there are perks to her privileged position of a signed artist. ‘I know how to sell my records myself, I have done that before. I thought it would be good to see how it goes if I try getting some help.’ While she is clearly aware that with a raised profile comes the pressures of attention, she is hoping that the release from doing the promotional aspect will allow further time for her creative juices to flow. ‘There is lots to do, from booking shows to sorting promotion. I used to have to do all that myself, so it is good to try having a team. It has good point and bad points, but I know what to expect. It is all just different experiences in life.’
With June preferring not to talk too personally, our conversation returns swiftly from spotlighting on her position to her musical output. ‘Many musicians will tell you that when you have an idea – whether in a studio or not – at that point, you don’t know what is happening.’ A real musician to the core, June’s latest release, Pushin’ Against A Stone, may have propelled June to a new audience, but she admits that she never has any real expectations or control when it comes to creating a record. She continues, ‘you just can’t plan these things. It’s like when someone goes to the doctor to see if they are having a boy or a girl. Till they have an Ultrasound, they just won’t know. These things are out of our control. Music is a magical place.’
Though she may not plan out the content of her record until her songs are already created, June is able to define their root. ‘My love and passion for American music’, cites June as her greatest influence. Having immersed herself in music as a child, June lives and breathes every moment of her musical journey. Meeting Auerbach and Augunas may have been accidental, but their shared passion certainly created sparks. She continues, ‘There is nothing musicians like more than exploration and involving other people. Together we’re joining every edge of the world.’
‘With Kevin and Dan I felt a real connection. Whether they would describe it as that, I can’t say. But for me, I felt a big connection.’ With a real joy stemming from the creative process behind her latest release, Pushin’ Against A Stone, it is obvious that June feels she has already learnt a lot from the changes to her career approach. ‘Dan and Kevin work in a very different way. They come in with a set direction. They’ve often found something on YouTube which they think is really cool for me to see. It is totally opposite to the way I work.’ With her collaborators approach clearly feeling far more calculated than her own, June advises that her own is less easily defined. ‘As I said, music is out of my control. When I receive songs, I receive them in many different ways and voices. Then I look at my collection and ask ‘what do I want out of this? What can I sing? What do I feel? What is touching my heart?”
Though Auerbach and Augunas are far more constructed in the influences to their creativity, June is aware that her influences impact her but her connection to those sources is only evident afterwards. ‘I am very influenced by Maya Angelou and Zora Neale Hurston. It was Hurston who said ‘woman is the mule of the world’, which relates to ‘Workin’ Woman Blues’. I didn’t realise it at the time. I’m inspired by lots of things – colours, vocal art from the South, old recordings of country and Blues. But that was not one that I was moulding.’
With Pushin’ Against A Stone having already lead to appearances on Jools Holland and a support slot of real music proprietor Jake Bugg’s tour, 2013 is set to be a big year for the reluctant rising star, who closes our conversation with the simple admission. ‘To keep making music is the big thing for me. It’s not always easy but this path is to be enjoyed. Something came to me this morning on my walk – I am, I know who I am as a woman, a musician but I’m still becoming who I’m meant to be.’