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Valerie June Retraces Her Steps On 'The Order Of Time'
Country singer/songwriter sand multi-instrumentalist Valerie June has traveled a winding road.
Relocating to Memphis in 2000, and again to New York in 2011, June orbited the fringes of Nashville gospel/folk scene for several years while gigging the club circuit between the city and New York, first performing in the two-piece outfit Bella Sun with her ex-husband Michael Joyner, then appearing on MTV's online series "$5 Cover" and recording an EP alongside Old Crow Medicine Show. In late 2010, she put together a Kickstarter project to help raise funds to record a new album. The fruits of that labor became her debut album as a signed artist, 2013's Pushin' Against A Stone, which was co-written and co-produced by June's recent collaborator Dan Auerbach.
Now, June is back with a brand-new LP, The Order Of Time, and awakening to growing acclaim — she's been featured on Rolling Stone's list of "10 Country Artists You Need To Know," and June was even name-dropped by Bob Dylan in a recent interview during which the legendary songwriter was asked for some young artists who'd caught this ear.
June took some time to share her personal journey that brought her from small-town Appalachia to the world stage, her favorite tracks off of The Order Of Time, and how the songs she collected for the record — written and recorded across the span of more than 10 years — speak to and are influenced by her personal journey.
It seems like a big part of your story, so to speak, is your journey. Going from being a young songwriter, working the club scene, to rubbing elbows with Robert Plant and getting name-dropped by Bob Dylan. How do you think that journey you've been on has expressed itself through your music?
I'm shocked. (laughs) I was thinking about Bob Dylan today because I love him so much, and I was just singing along with one of his songs while I took a shower, and I just can't believe it. I had to go like this (pinches herself): Bob Dylan, Robert Plant — [these are] good people!
My new record is called The Order Of Time and the first song's called "Long Lonely Road," and it deals with the journey. And then, "Astral Plane," is about dealing with the journey when you leave the body — you just go through a spiritual journey on that [song]. It really feels like all these songs have like a spiritual journey to them. So it could be a journey of a physical body, a person going through life or it could be the journey of a spirit moving through time.
Can you choose one song off the album and give us a little bit of the backstory to it or where the inspiration came from?
"Astral Plane": Massive Attack sent me a track and said that they loved my voice and that they'd like me to write to the track. I had a really fun time listening to it, again and again, all day for a couple of days, waiting on something to come to me. And nothing came, so I turned the track off and I went to cook in the kitchen. When I turned it off and I was chopping up onions and garlic to put them in the frying pan and get that sautéing, I heard this voice singing, "Dancing on the astral plane/Holy water cleanse and rain." I was like, chop, chop, chop. "Flooding through the stratosphere /Blind, but yet you see it's all clear," and I was like, "Whoa, that's really pretty." And so, then I said, "Well, I think I'm getting a song." And I got the whole song; all the lyrics, the melody, all of it.
I sent it to them and they were like, "Ahh, that's not really what we were thinking for this track." (laughs) My ego was like, "No!" But then I said, "You know what? I love this melody. I love this song." And I sat with my guitar in the living room and I just started to play chords to fit the melody, and then [producer] Matt [Marinelli] got home, and I was just like, "Yeah, this song is definitely one that I want to put on my record. It's one I have to share with the world."
Have you ever had a moment when you doubted that you were going "make it"?
I never had that moment. (laughs) Every day I get up and I get myself into alignment with the things that I came here to do. You're always walking into it, following a practice of calling forth what you came to be. … For me, the journey is a practice and I have to do it every day. I have to get up and dust off and say, "OK, I'm ready. I'm ready to shine again. I'm ready to shine again. I'm ready to shine again."
The songs on The Order Of Time were written over the course of more than a decade. How do you think gathering that collection of songs speaks to your personal journey over the past 10 to 12 years?
Well, it certainly does speak to it because there've been so many different versions of some of the songs. Like "Front Door," I did that [song] years ago with my first band — [with a] guitar player, a cellist and myself, and that was the magical moment for that song. The same with "Just In Time," except back then I didn't record it. I wanted to for years and years and years … but it wasn't time for it. So the songs have spirits and they have a life like anything else. Some songs want to be huge, other songs ... they're made for an individual's heart to turn them on. They're medicine, these songs.