Following the desires of one’s heart can often be a risky business, but in trusting your own instincts, your choices can never be wrong. Just ask Valerie June, whose intuitions led her away from home and into a life of music.
Clash called her at home in New York, where she moved from Tennessee in the name of love, to learn more about her natural impulses. “I didn’t really pay attention to the fact that Johnny Cash was playing on the radio at the old country store where we went to eat,” she begins, “but when I got older, I started to study that kinda music, like old music and the music of my region and of the Mississippi Delta and different areas, the Appelachian Mountains, Southern music, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been listening to this my whole life and I didn’t even know what it was!’”
In the wake of this realisation, Valerie dedicated her life to keeping American roots music alive. She’s recorded three albums, each a collection of raw, stripped-down songs that encompass folk, spirituals and soul-stirring blues, but now finds herself signed to Sunday Best, with a ‘proper’ debut due in 2013, co-produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.
Clutching one of her beloved guitars, banjos or ukuleles, she unveils a voice that’s warm, honey-sweet and countrified, yet playful: “Voice is like my number one thing to have fun with, so I like to try to sing in many different ways in one set, because to me it gets boring hearing just the same thing.”
As her seven-year voyage of discovery comes to fruition, Valerie is still keeping her eyes wide open. “I’m on this exploratory kind of path where I just wanna explore and learn more about music and sounds and instruments,” she concludes. “There’s no structure, there’s no path; it’s just like being out in the woods and cutting down the bush and making my way.”
Words: Simon Harper
Photography: Cameron Alexander
WHERE: New York, Via Memphis
WHAT: Organic moonshine roots music
GET 3 SONGS: 'Workin' Woman Blues', 'I Will Not Be Blue', 'You Can't Be Told'
UNIQUE FACT: Valerie started growing her dreads twelve years ago: "I'm sure glad I did because it saved me a lot of time. I just get up and walk right out the house!"