Interview with Valerie June
You won't know exactly how to label Valerie June's sound - and that's a good thing.
Since the release of her 2013 breakout Pushin' Against A Stone, June has been patiently at work in the garden of song, nurturing seedlings with love and care into the lush bloom that is her stunning new album, The Order Of Time.
Some songs grew from seeds planted more than a decade ago, others blossomed overnight when she least expected them to, but every track bears the influence of time. See, time has been on June's mind a lot lately. It's the only constant in life, even though it's constantly changing. It's the healer of all wounds, the killer of all men. It's at once infinite and finite, ever flowing with twists and turns and brutal, churning rapids that give way to serene stretches of placid tranquility.
Fight against the current and it will knock you flat on your ass. Learn to read it, to speak its language, and it will carry you exactly where you're meant to be. The Rock Hall asked Valerie for her thoughts on the current state of music, what she admires and whether or not a venue can change your sound during a performance. Read on for more of our interview below.
Rock Hall: Do you see music and/or rock evolving? How?
June: First of all, thank you for the diversity of this interview. While I respect the tradition of American music, based on the array of songs I've received over the years, I know my path is to invest my time as a servant of song rather than the mastery of tradition and it's preservation.
I have always viewed rock music in this way. To me, it respects and extracts from the root of all core genres like folk or blues, but it's the prodigal child who keeps the values of its elders at heart while fearlessly daring to venture within the soil and elements that form the foundation.
In doing so, it is crossing into some pretty rocky landscapes and has yet to fully complete its journey back home. And that's where it's magic lies. It's an ever-forward adventure into the unknown that emerged from fertile roots into a truly jungle-like entanglement of sounds. Much like a labyrinth.
So I don't know where it's going.
RH: What are your views on the current country musical landscape? What is it lacking?
June: People from so many backgrounds contributed creatively to make country music what it is as a powerful and relatable genre. It´s beautiful to me to watch many of those people being recognized for their contributions through modern day art. It´s a slow awakening.
I also love the idea of a musical landscape. The music that moves me most is music with an excellent story or distinctive voices. The best country song can also be the best pop song or soul song or blues song and on and on...It is a root.
Musical landscapes might change from fields to parking lots, but isn´t music still just a vast universal language that transcends our genre boundaries? With technology allowing us to access any type of music at any time with the touch of a button, we are able to see just how universal music really can be.
Country music is finding its audience to be culturally vibrant! It´s bigger than one town. It´s bigger than one organization. Its stories are global.
RH: What songwriters and producers do you admire?
June: The songwriters I love are ever-changing, but Leonard Cohen has always spoken the truth. I'm a student of Neil Young. I am inspired by the transcendence of Dolly Parton. I love her honest lyrics that defy genre. Anyone can relate to her songs. That was proven by "I Will Always Love You" being sung by Whitney Houston.
Carole King is prolific! Joanna Newsom is a word weaver. Tracy Chapman-does storytelling get any better?!! There is pretty much an infinite list because I feel like every person has at least one good song in them! So it really could just be any ole body! As long as it's honest and has a story, it has a chance in my list of faves!
RH: What are your biggest inspirations? In music? In life?
June: I love Oprah. I love Michele Obama. Thich Nat Hanh. Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. John Lennon. Rumi. Frida Kahlo. Pink Floyd. Paulo Coelho. David Bowie. Wendell Berry. Joan of Arc. Basquiat. Syd Barett. Zora Neale Hurston. Alan Lomax. Nirvana. All old time blues and country singers. Elvis. Tina Turner. Fela. Nick Drake. Karen Dalton. Tom Waits. Mother Theresa. Willie Nelson. Carl Sagan. Bob Marley. Josephine Baker. Etta James. Esther Hicks. Stevie Nicks. Kahlil Gibran. So so so many more. I like to stay inspired!
RH: What do you want to contribute in music or through your music? Your goals?
June: I can only contribute my individuality, because everything has been done under the sun. That only leaves enough room for me to do me!
RH: What is the most important thing people you want people to know about you?
June: I'm a singer songwriter who will serve the songs and follow my heart straight into the stratosphere or beyond...
RH: What’s the one song that you’ve recorded that you’d want everyone to hear? Why?
In fully shining, you are contributing something no one or thing can ever do in exactly the same way at the same time. So it's a special thing. It takes moment-to-moment effort. It's delicate. And we need each other’s light more than we realize.
RH: How does a setting effect the sound or its interpretation? Do certain sounds or songs sound better in certain locations? Do you alter your set for certain settings – festivals vs. club shows, venue to venue, etc?
June: I do agree that a setting affects the sound. Singing in an acoustically sound bathroom or cathedral is different than singing while walking down the street. Just as humans have light, places do too.
I've been known to wait until I get to the venue and feel the space in the room before making the set list.
RH: Can you speak to any of the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees - Joan Baez, Tupac Shakur, Yes, Pearl Jam, ELO, Nile Rodgers?
I got to meet and sing with Nile Rodgers in the Netherlands at a festival. Honestly, I didn't know who he was until my band told me all of the songs he's written. I was blown away to see how his songs had crept into my life. Now, he is a blessed songwriter! His songs hit me in a different place than many of the writers I named before. I think that place also has immense importance for our heartstrings.