August 24, 2019, 7 pm
Santa Fe Railyard Plaza, Santa Fe
The celebrated roots musician Valerie June has become one of America’s most critically acclaimed and widely loved songwriters. Despite her rising star, she’s still beholden to something: her own songs.
“I let the songs tell me what to do. They’re the boss,” June says with a warm Memphis accent that years of international touring have failed to compromise. “Whenever I’m making music, I go to this other world. Music should be spiritual if it’s to be our universal language. And not spiritual like religious, but mystical. The places my songs take me can be iridescent and magical, or they can be dark and heavy. My songs are portals.”
June’s startling humility and fascinating musical perspective are born out of a creative philosophy that the singer began developing as a child growing up immersed in gospel church music in Jackson, Tennessee. The daughter of a builder and part-time music promoter, June was also exposed to soul and R&B at a young age. Today, she describes herself as being “in the spirit” instead of spiritual or conventionally religious.
Both earthy and transcendent, June’s 2017 album The Order of Time masterfully showcases her own take on Southern mysticism with songs that embrace New Age spirituality, filtered through timeless blues and Appalachian musical trappings. With a rich, emotive voice, June sings about “dancing on the astral plane” and her father, who passed away in 2016: “Pops earned his bread in dust/But his hard-working hands fed us/Sun up till sun sank down/His body worked to the ground.”
To me, the root of music is like the root of a plant. You can’t have a garden without a strong musical foundation. I want to start in the world of roots, but I don’t want to stay there forever
It’s clear that, like her late father, Emerson Hockett, June possesses a tireless work ethic. She wrote over one hundred songs for The Order of Time before narrowing them down to the twelve that were eventually featured on the record. “I’m making music all the time,” she says. “Going into a room, writing, and entering the worlds of these songs is my favorite thing. It’s what keeps me going.”
These days, when June isn’t writing or touring, she’s reading things like Sun Ra’s book of poetry, The Immeasurable Equation; work from American music critic Peter Guralnick; and anything she can get her hands on about new recording technology. “My mind isn’t technology-based at all, so to just get on a computer and learn things like how to get my microphone hooked up is such a new world to me, but it makes me feel really smart.” June’s style might not make her seem like the sort of musician eager to use technology to her creative advantage, but it’s something she’s embracing in her current musical explorations.
“To me, the root of music is like the root of a plant. You can’t have a garden without a strong musical foundation. I want to start in the world of roots, but I don’t want to stay there forever,” she says. June describes her current musical mindset of being in an “exploratory place where all things are possible,” that simultaneously honors the musical ancestry of folk, blues, and bluegrass while embracing new ideas. She points to a current wellspring of creative inspiration that comes to her from a disparate set of interests, including everything from philosophy texts to the latest digital recording plugins. June hasn’t announced plans to record another album, but between her prolific songwriting habits and an irrepressible creative impulse, it’s safe to assume she’s up to something big.
Valerie June will perform at the Santa Fe Railyard Plaza at 7 pm on August 24 as part of the 2019 Levitt AMP Santa Fe Music Series. The concert is free, but attendees should register for tickets at ampconcerts.org.