Making ‘Time’ with Valerie June
Valerie June grew up in Tennessee. The 35-year-old singer/songwriter was influenced as much by the gospel of her church as she was helping her music-promoting father hang posters for the likes of Prince and Bobby Womack.
She relocated from the outskirts of town to Memphis and honed her craft by playing in bands, performing alone, and writing down the songs that constantly made their way into her imagination.
But it wasn’t until she moved to Brooklyn and was introduced to the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach that things really started to take off.
Despite having already self-produced an EP and a pair of LPs by then, 2013’s Auerbach-produced “Pushin’ Against a Stone” was a hit, garnering rave reviews from a wide range of outlets from Rolling Stone to the New York Times.
June returned this last March with “The Order of Time,” her first full-length for Concord Records. It not only continues the diverse collection of traditions from her 2013 breakthrough, it refines and expands them as well.
PACIFIC recently spoke with the dynamic artist ahead of her San Diego show at the Belly Up on Thursday.
PACIFIC: First, congratulations on “The Order of Time.”
VALERIE JUNE: Thank you.
Although the record just came out, you’ve been playing these songs live for a while now, right?
Yes. We’ve been playing it since February. It’s been really fun. So many people have told me they enjoy hearing the songs at the shows because they’re so different from the record. And I appreciate that because I think songs are living things - they breathe and have lives and grow with each room and musician. In front of each audience the songs grow and change.
A lot of these songs have been kicking around for some time. Had any of them made their way into the set before February?
Some of them I’ve been playing for years. Others, I’d never played live. I just let them be and let them live on my computer until I get with the musicians in the studio. And that’s a fun thing for me - to watch how a song may have grown from many years ago until now, how it changes and develops.
It seems like a lot of artists rush to release their music these days, while you have a much more meticulous pace. Is that deliberate or by default? And do you think it’s better when an audience knows what’s coming?
I don’t know. But I do think audiences can actually help develop a song. It’s great to be able to go to a safe place and play a song I’ve been working on and maybe have something like seven frickin’ verses (laughs).
I’m always trying to decide what to cut and playing it at public place like that, when I haven’t even tried it with the band, is a great thing. When people start pulling out their cell phones or start talking to their neighbor, you know that’s a verse that can go. Because, some times, when I get on a song, it just keeps going and going and going.
I have to go back and ask things like, “Am I saying this more than once? How many times does it need to be said?” That’s where my real job comes in. The rest is just getting the song.
As a songwriter, my job is to keep this and lose that, keep this and lose that. I just hear the voice singing me the song. But, to answer the question, I think it’s cool both ways - my way, where it takes a long time, and the more modern way. And I think it’s so neat to think about it like that.
I was just reading an old interview with Leonard Cohen where he was talking about the process of songwriting and that it does take a loooong time. And I agree with him. I think it does. Some songs come fast, but for me, most of them take a while.
When: 9 p.m. June 8
Where: Belly Up Tavern, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach
Why go to Vermont to make a good chunk of this record?
I think it was essential to the musicians and producer that I worked with. Matt, who produced the Vermont sessions, just wears so many other hats. And the musicians I play with all play in other bands and they have children, husbands, wives. And, it was in the middle of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
So, in order to take people out of their busy New York lives, and say, “Ok, we’re closing the doors, we’re going to make some excellent food, and we’re going to hang out here on 500 acres in the middle of nowhere and make this record,” was essential.
We did record some in New York at Brooklyn Recording, Seaside Lounge, and Reservoir Studios. But those days, I don’t think we could’ve gotten a chunk of time where someone didn’t have to go pick up the kids from school or go to a family event or had a gig that night.
In Vermont, nobody was going anywhere for a couple of weeks. We were just hanging out with friends, having fun, and letting all the kids run around. I actually wish my whole life was like that - where I just get to live all the time on this beautiful farm.
Well, you never know, right? Maybe that is in your future.
That sounds good!
You already incorporate so many different styles and traditions into your music, but do you see the pallet expanding even further?
I think it does go further. I can’t really tell you how, but I know it does. I just feel like it does, you know? I feel like I could collaborate with anyone from a rapper to a jazz musician to a rock and roller. And everything that I do is going to be touched by that collaboration. It’s not me alone when I make a record. I’m always feeding off of the other talent that I’m working with and every time I make a record, it never turns out like I thought it would. Whatever I think it’s supposed to be goes out the window. Instead of trying so hard to steer the ship, I just have to surrender to it.
“The Order of Time” is officially your second album. But I know you’ve been doing this for far longer than that. Has it fully sunk in that this is really your full-time job now?
Oh, there are always moments in the day when I’m like, “wow!” and I have to pinch myself. But then, I was always going to write songs and I was always going to sing. But setting out to manifest it into reality each day and not working other jobs was something that I wanted to do as a spiritual journey, so to say.
To be able to say that I’m going to take this thing that’s part of my imagination that I really enjoy and bring it into fruition in my lifetime? That was something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do. I had to work with a lot of elements greater than me and call on people for support to help me all along the way.
I’ve learned so much about myself through the journey as a creator. I just feel like this is what my life needed to be about. I could’ve just kept doing the jobs I was doing. But I wanted to see what it would take to have something in your hands from the imaginary world and bring it into being, give it life, and share it with people.
I feel like if we can manifest some of these things that are beautiful in our imagination, and we can learn the formula for how to do that, then we can make the world that much more beautiful.
I think about it in the small way that I’ve done it in my life, but I also think about it in terms of a creating a greater earth and a better place for the children that are being born today. That’s the dream for me.
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.