In Conversation with Valerie June

To be expected, another stellar Austin City Limits Music Festival brought dozens of equally stellar artists to Austin’s backyard in Zilker Park. One of those artists was Valerie June.

Story by Onaje McDowelle

Photos by Miranda Chiechi

In March, Valerie June released her fourth studio album, “The Order of Time.” With the project, June walks the lines of soul, R&B and alternative fusions, driven by powerful songwriting to back it. This year, she has also embarked on a world tour, hitting stops in Tokyo, Australia and the US in addition to her album being named to Rolling Stones’ “50 Best Albums of 2017 So Far.”

Between sets during weekend 2, we got a chance to dodge the Texas heat and have a sit down with June.

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Earlier this year you released “The Order of Time.” What was it like working on that and what were some of your creative visions behind the project?

Well, I started working on it with Matt Marinelli, who produced most of the work. I did two songs with Richard Swift. So, those two guys were the dudes you know? Matt and I just gelled because he was tour managing with me for a while and I’d be playing some of my new stuff while I was on the road. He picked up an instrument and started playing alongside me and it sounded so good that I was like, “We gotta record this.” I just collected songs and…  sent him 100 songs. He listened to all of them, which takes time. Then he chose his top 20 and I chose my top 20. We compared our two lists and had a lot of the same ones.

A Lot of time went into it. A decade of writing, the time it takes to sift through them and decide which ones you wanna put the budget and energy behind and then the actual time of recording. We recorded over the course of many seasons and we finished it up in spring. In doing that, I just thought about my whole path, creativity and life in general and how time is the ruler of your life here on earth. There’s just a certain order to it. It seems that if you plant a seed for something, tend to it and give it the energy and nutrients it needs, then over time, it will flower into something you can appreciate. So, I feel like that about my life path as a musician and there’s just a beautiful order of time.

There are times where some of my plants pass away, but that’s just part of the process. And you have to be ready to let go too. I just had a beautiful spiritual experience before I went on stage today, by just seeing the cycle of life and death and birth and life and death and birth on and on. I just, it was so great. It felt like I had been existing for an eternity just in different forms.

You performed last weekend as well, would you say the energy was the same or different? What are you doing each night to get there with the crowd?

I was so happy with the crowd both times. This crowd is so loving, open and ready for great music and a good time. And you can feel that when you go on stage. I went on stage so many times and felt a heavy energy and said, “Okay, I gotta pick ‘em up.” But y'all are already vibin’, y'all are already motivated: floatin’ on the astral plane in the stratosphere. I’m just like lemme get on there with you. So we had fun. And I was so jetlagged when I flew in last time from Australia. I had done about six shows there and then we did about 18-19 hours of flying. Then we took a day off, flew to ACL and I feel like we did a great job! But, I was a zombie energetically.

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You also released a shorter EP this year that had a full band, instrumentation. How was that different than recording in a studio and which one do you prefer?

I like both. So cool. Both are freaking great. I feel like when I’m in the studio with the full band, it’s just personal. There’s something really ethereal and magical that happens at that time and I just get excited about being able to go to that place. It’s that soft place where the songs come from, but after the song’s already born, then I’m in a different space. I’m in the world and I’m more on earth then.

Do you have a favorite song on the album?

It’s different all the time and I don’t like to choose favorites because they (my songs) get mad. Right now, I really enjoy listening to “With You,” because it’s such a love song and so ethereal. That’s what I like about it, how dreamy it is. It’s kind of like rose colored and fuschia, with little edges of stardust around it.

You talked about touring. How has that been and what are some of your tour must-haves?

My journals. I take about four journals with me and I don’t leave the house without them. They have the pieces to songs that are finished, but also songs that I’m working on. I’m writing them all the time, even if I’m just writing thoughts. I love number two pencils, and that feeling of touching them to real paper. I love it!

Sometimes, I go around and I say to the universe, “I’m feeling like shit today and I don’t know about the direction of such and such. Please send me a sign.” And I’ll go and find a four leaf clover or a fall leaf. I’ll look down and grab it and it goes in the journal. So it has pieces of things that I’ve collected from all over the world and drawings and fun stuff. Those are the things I have to have.

While traveling the world, what is the biggest thing you’ve learned?

We are one, as humanity and as beings They say, “Be the change in which you wish to see,” and so that means we have a vision of what we hope the future looks like. And that we would start to really live that vision, and walk back from where we are. I think right now and over the years, there’s been a lot of separation, but we’re slowly starting to realize we’re one. I think that’s amazing because once we realize, once it fully clicks that we are one, think of the places we can go in the galaxies, in studies and in education, with knowledge.

Listen to “The Order of Time” here.