Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

Welcome to B&S

BRINGING YOU THE STORIES BEHIND MUSIC + ESSENTIAL NEWS, REVIEWS AND INTERVIEWS...

Feature

Valerie June: Flaming June

Valerie June @bluesandsoul.com
Valerie June @bluesandsoul.com Valerie June @bluesandsoul.com Valerie June @bluesandsoul.com Valerie June @bluesandsoul.com

Valerie June hears voices all the time. She is sure itâs the spirits talking to her. She hears these voices day and night, awake and asleep. Sometimes âan old black man,â sometimes women and even children.

Is she crazy? Scared? Not at all. Because 31-year-old Southern Belle singer- songwriter Valerie doesnât challenge or judge what she is being told, what she hears and what she dreams. She writes it all down and out it comes as songs. Stacks of âem all the time.

If it works for her, she sings it. Sometimes it is not her style, so she bags it up along with hundreds of other song ideas and saves it for the day sheâll find the perfect artist for her orphans.

Valerie is a very spiritual person. It comes out in her unique voice and her unique musical style. She is very much an old head on young shoulders. She recalls her parents being surprised when they first heard her talk as a child, remarking later that she sounded like an old man rather than a youngster. âBecause my voice was so strange for my bodyâ¦...â

She first came to these shores last year, when she blew the roof off of BBC TV centre with a stunning appearance on âLaterâ¦â¦â¦with Jools Holland,â and wowed audiences at Bestival. She was back recently for a UK tour as support to Jake Bugg, and a sold out headline London gig. Sheâs back this month for a string of UK and Irish shows, ending at Dingwalls in London on 16th May. Then a coveted slot with The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park in July, and several other festival appearances.

Valerie is originally from small town Humboldt, Tennessee, the eldest girl of five kids. She sang almost as soon as she could talk and at four wrote her first song - about the rain. She first got the buzz of excitement amid a sea of nerves at 10, when she sang to the class at school and discovered that applause was addictive.

Despite lack of self confidence, singing became as natural as breathing to Valerie and she began to perform, to write and to learn to play several instruments; guitar, banjo, ukulele and lap steel.

She eventually moved to Memphis and busked in subway stations, sang in bars and restaurants and sold her own handmade soap. She first began performing at 19, with her then husband in their duo Bella Sun. When the marriage ended she went solo. In Memphis she worked daytime at a variety of jobs, and then played solo gigs at night.

She dreamed of making a record. Eventually picking up slots at various US folk and blues festivals, making enough money for three low budget CD recordings she sold at gigs. Through word-of-mouth, top producer Kevin Augunas heard Valerieâs music and loved it so much, he flew into Memphis the following day.

Valerie previously rejected several record deals from major and independent labels, as she felt theyâd want to mould her into something she wasnât - until she was spotted at a European gig by Radio 1 DJ Rob da Bankâs boutique UK label, âSunday Best,â and told she could make the record she wanted to make and theyâd get behind her bigtime. She did and they have. That record is the awesome âPushinâ Against A Stone.â released just a few days ago.

It really is something very special indeed. Recorded at The Black Keysâ studio in Nashville. Produced by Black Keysâ star Dan Auerbach and Kevin Augunas (Florence & The Machine.) 11 tracks, co-written by Valerie and one cover. It is totally faultless and my tip for her first Grammy. Booker T. Jones makes a guest appearance, but Ms Juneâs voice is the true star here.

The biggest challenge she has faced in her career to date is to stay true to herself. and not be swayed to change styles. She seamlessly mixes the blues, folk, gospel, soul, Appalachian and bluegrass, somehow making it appeal to the hippest of youngsters and sound as relevant today as it could be. She calls it simply: ââorganic moonshine roots music.â I call it wonderful.

Valerie has cover girl looks and a voice that doesnât quite fit that head and frame! On record sheâs fab, but live she is something else. Mesmerising. I caught up with her on the Jake Bugg tour in Birmingham, in the dressing room, at soundcheck with her band and for her set.

I asked if her voice had changed as she got older. âMy voice now was me when I first opened my mouth when I was a kid. My mother told me when I first started talking; they thought it was like an old man; because my voice was so strange for my body. The challenge is how strange and different my voice sounds, so I have tried to sound like other people and tried to be something I wasnât. I have tried to be a soul singer, because someone else thought that a good idea. Not because I did.â

âBut the way I sing is more like Memphis Minnie than Aretha, a very raw roots kind of voice. So, I had to stop being something Iâm not, and enjoy this rawness, this roughness, the uniqueness of it all.â
Her look is unique too. Valerie defied her familyâs objections and changed her hair style into the amazing dreadlocks she has today, some 12 years ago. But people can sometimes judge a book by its coverâ¦.

âMy music confuses people, because they think I will sound a certain way because I look a certain way with the dreads. My voice is who I am, who I was when I was 3 and who I am going to be when I am 90 years old. When I hit the stage and people do not know who I am, they automatically assume before I open my mouth, I am going to sing a Bob Marley song! I must stay true to myself, and take my own path all the way. Itâs all coming to me in its right time.â

Valerie June's single "Wanna Be On Your Mind" is out on May 20th - new album "Pushinâ Against a Stone" is out now on Sunday Best.

YOU CAN READ MORE FROM OUR INTERVIEW WITH VALERIE JUNE IN OUR PRINT EDITION, STOCKED IN ALL GOOD RETAILERS (INC: WH SMITH & JOHN MENZES) NOW - YOU CAN ALSO GET YOUR COPY NOW FROM THE B&S SHOP BY CLICKING THE BUY NOW BUTTON BELOW.

IMAGE: SIMON REDLEY
Words SIMON REDLEY

BUY NOW
From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

Join the B&S Mailing List

Blues and Soul on Twitter