Valerie June will use her set at Hangout Fest to introduce many to her “organic moonshine roots music.” This beautiful siren’s sound truly puts her in a category all her own.
June effortlessly mixes a variety of Americana styles, ranging from blues to folk. She lays claim to her music by lacing her songs with old school soul vocals and a variety of instrumentation.
Her sound was enough to attract The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who produced her latest album “Pushin’ Against a Stone.”
When Lagniappe spoke with June, she was recuperating after a world tour, which finished at the Byron Bay Blues Festival in Australia.
SC: I think the first time I ever saw you was a couple of years ago at Juke Joint Fest in Clarksdale, Miss. Now, I’m going to get to see you at Hangout Fest. It’s such a contrast, so I have to wonder how does it feel to be playing a world class festival like Hangout Fest?
VJ: I’m truly honored and so excited. I just got back from the Byron Bay Blues Festival. That was a big time journey for me to play at that festival. It was so funny, because I got to sign autographs and say, “Hey” to everybody. I had four or five people who came up wearing the Clarksdale shirts, and they were like, “We saw you at the Juke Joint Festival several years ago. We are so glad that you made it to our part of the world.” I just wanted to cry, because I think it’s so cool to say that I was playing in Clarksdale, now I’m playing in Australia, and now I’m going down to the Gulf Coast to play at the Hangout.
It’s just really, really cool, because it’s been such a great journey. Sometimes, it’s slow. Sometimes, it’s really busy. It’s just like any other business in a lot of ways, but I have my whole heart in it. It’s so rewarding and exciting for me. It’s also exciting for people who saw me when I was busking, and then they see me playing on stage. They’re excited, because they’ve been a part of the whole journey. I’m thrilled! I’m looking for a bikini, and I’m looking forward to it. If it rains, then I’m gonna be mad (laughing)!
SC: You came up in the Memphis scene. From my experience with Memphis, there seems to be two groups. You’ve got the extremely traditional blues bands, and then there’s the underground/alt rock scene. You don’t really fit into either, so I have to wonder what was it like for you coming up in the Memphis scene?
VJ: I feel like there was times when I was in Memphis, and I was like, “How in the world do people get their music out to the world, living here on this grind.” Then, I would meet somebody like Joyce Cobb, who is a major celebrity in the Memphis music scene and teaches music classes at the University of Memphis. She would give me guidance, and she would say things like, “Come here, girl, I gotta tell you something. Get out of Memphis! You are great, and you will go far. You can leave Memphis, and you can always come back. It’s a good place to be from!”
That was about six years before I left Memphis, but it was really cool to have people like Joyce Cobb and Craig Brewer, who is a filmmaker, and so many Memphis musician friends and creative friends and poets. They gave me so much fuel for my art and my things that I wanted to do and so much guidance. I didn’t need anybody to tell me to leave Memphis. What she said was great advice, in a way. Memphis is an incubator for musicians, in a way. It’s a great place to be born as a musician.
I did not play any instrument. I sang, but I didn’t believe that I was a good singer. I sang around the house and as much as I could possibly could, because I love it. It was very difficult to shut me up. Memphis took me in, and it said, “OK, you’ll get there one day. Just keep at it. We’ll give you a gig at the library or on Beale or a restaurant residency.” As I got better, I got better gigs. Then, I was welcomed to play the Emerging Artist stage at the King Biscuit Blues Festival. Then, Roger Stolle at Cat Head Blues invited me to play the Juke Joint Festival. Memphis nurtured me when I was just hanging around on the guitar and trying to learn.
SC: What was it like working with Dan Auerbach on your new album?
VJ: It was really cool in a lot of ways, as far as the songwriting part. The actual recording was hard for me, because I had never worked with producers before. I hadn’t really worked with too many musicians either. I played with the Old Crow guys and tried to get a band around Memphis, but I had never really worked with people. So, I was definitely in a shell. They helped bring me out a little.
SC: The Black Keys are going to be at Hangout, too. Any chance Dan will sit in with you, or that you will sit in with them?
VJ: I don’t think so. I’m just getting back home. I’m managing myself and just getting back from a whirlwind tour from all across China, France and Australia. I just got back two days ago. I haven’t had any time to think about calling Dan and seeing if they’ll do anything with me. What will happen is that I will hang out and see their show and give hugs and kisses and move on.
Date: Friday, May 16, 2:45 to 3:45 p.m.
Stage: Palladia Stage