November 23, 2010
Folk, Blues, Country, and Gospel with Valerie June
Valerie June is a singer-songwriter based in Memphis who conjures an enchanting sound that she calls “Organic Moonshine Roots Music.” Cole Stryker talked with her about her musical heritage and her Medusa-like tangle of hair.
CS: Tell us a bit about your background.
VJ: I am a singer-songwriter from West Tennessee. I have been playing guitar for 5 years and banjo for 2 years. I got my first guitar at the age of 15 from my Grandfather. I promised him I’d learn to play. I spent a few years singing and writing songs for my husband-wife duo, Bella Sun, in Memphis, TN. We divorced. I lost my guitar player, and I began to take time to really try to play the guitar.
CS: I heard your music before I saw photos of you. I was expecting an old white lady. Are people commonly surprised when you first begin to sing?
VJ: Old white lady huh? Yes, I suppose you might say so. I sing like I sound speaking. When I speak, I sound country. I just sound like the folks I was raised around. I tried to make myself sing soulfully in the band, Bella Sun. It goes against my nature. I believe voices change with age and I am certain mine will as well. Maybe as I get older it will be easier to sound “black.” I like to think music is a universal language, and at the core, color is irrelevant. I certainly am aware I am black in the sense that folks like you ask me this question. I also feel it would be easier for the world to accept my music and voice if I was white. The world has a bit of a challenge with changing its view of what a person should and should not be doing based on color. No trouble there. I sing because I don’t have a choice, and I appreciate the folks that just listen and love it! I could not imagine not singing. I have been bellowing since before I spoke a word. I’m going to do it no matter what happens to my career. It’s my joy! Besides, African-Americans had a hand in what one might call country or Americana music.
CS: What is Organic Moonshine Roots Music?
VJ: Organic Moonshine Roots Music is a blend of folk, blues, country, and gospel music. I feel there is an underlying common thread at the root of these genres of music. Moonshine Roots Music captures that thread, takes the genres as patches and makes a nice patchwork quilt.
CS: Your hair is the coolest. When did you start wearing it like that?
VJ: Thank you! I have been wearing my hair this way for 9 years. It makes my life easier. I just can get up and go.
CS: There seems to be a rebellious strain in your music. Where does that come from?
VJ: I must say, I really don’t feel rebellious would be a word I would use to describe my music. Many of my songs just tell stories. Storytelling is ultimately what it is about. Tell one story and move on to tell the next. I am constantly writing songs regardless of whether or not I perform them for others. I just get a hold of a good story and try to tell it as best I can.
CS: How does your geographic background influence your sound? Do you think you’d be a different sort of artist had you grown up in a big city?
VJ: I am certain that I would be a different artist if I were raised in a big city. Lately, I have been traveling quite a bit and missing Tennessee. Many of the songs I am writing now make mention of rivers, cotton fields, or the flatlands I grew up around.
CS: What’s next for Valerie June?
VJ: I have a host of shows on the schedule to perform in the near future. At the shows, I am promoting my song collection called Valerie June & The Tennessee Express. I’m headed to Budapest, Hungary to perform at the Palace of Arts. I decided to finally embrace the idea of asking for help and guidance by accepting donations for a new record through the online fund raising website, Kickstarter. The goal will soon be met! So the record will be released, I will send it to a few labels, sell it at shows, and sit down with my banjo to study and write. I’ll quickly move on to the next project because it’s a journey!
For more, visit ValerieJune.com