It’s hard to assign one genre to Valerie June’s music. The musician, who grew up in West Tennessee, has an unmistakeable voice (raspy with a Southern twang), and has embraced styles ranging from Appalachian bluegrass to soul to rock throughout her decades-long career. June’s most recent album, The Order of Time, is as much a reflection of her diverse repertoire as it is a tribute to her Southern roots. June chatted with Washingtonian before her performance at the Birchmere in Alexandria this Thursday.
You’re currently on tour promoting your new album, The Order of Time. What was your vision for the album when you first started working on it?
All I really envisioned was being able to capture some songs that I’ve written over the course of years. The songs are just everywhere, and they’re what they want to be. I didn’t want to force them to be only the country ones, or rock ‘n’ roll, or blues. The songs have come to me over the course of time, over the last decade. Some of them came before Pushing Against a Stone, some of them came just before I went into the studio. So time had its hands on every part of it.
Once we got to the mixing process, I said, well, it has been time spent, so let me just name it The Order of Time. That to me shows how creative processes happen, in the same way that a plant grows.
What’s a standout song for you on this record?
I really loved being able to do a song like “Astral Plane.” That one was a marriage of the spirit world and the world we live in, and how we wake up sometimes and say, “I want to do this with my life,” but we get a little hint of fear or doubt that comes in there.
The goal for me as a creator and all of us as creators is to shake doubt off, and say, “No, I’m going for it, I’m going to soar and I’m just going to do it.” I know I needed to hear that, and I think people really connect to that song on my record because they really need to hear it too.
Your father was a music promoter in Tennessee. How did he influence your career?
The biggest thing my father taught me was how to promote my music, and how to be fearless in that. When I was living in Memphis just starting to play at coffee houses, I knew (because of watching my father) how to put together a quick little bio with a press kit and some pictures, and take the burned CD down to the local paper, and say “Hey guys, I’ve got a show at this bar! Y’all write about it if you like the music.” He helped me be fearless in promoting my music. It’s a hard thing to promote yourself. Because you want to stay in the creative bubble, and it pulls you out of your bubble of creativity. He taught me how to do that.
Do you have any survival techniques for staying fresh while you’re traveling all over?
Usually I’ll do meditation while I’m walking just to get my mind ready for this day. I dance, and I do yoga and try to have quiet time in the day because I hear so much. I was performing at a blues fest this weekend, and I had so much fun, and the headliner was Snoop Dogg, so after we performed, I stayed onstage and listened backstage. I woke up the next day and my ears were just ringing. I was like, no listening to music today. I need quiet moments, because I hear so much music!
What albums do you turn to when you’re on the road?
I dance every day and I put on something new every day. Oumou Sangaré is one of the musicians that I really enjoy dancing to right now, and then I enjoy listening to Spoon, they have a great record that’s out right now. I’m a huge Dolly Parton fan; I dance to her sometimes.
It’s really all over the place. Fever Ray—I dance to their music when I really want to get down. There are just so many different genres that I love listening to. I love the singer-songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, and Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday, and David Bowie. There’s really a long list.
What are you looking forward to in the next year?
I’m really focused on the present, and enjoying it so much. I have a show coming up that I think is going to be a new type of venture for me, working with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in March. I got on the phone with the composer the other day, and he said, “It’s going to be all strings…” and I said “Oh my god! I’m so excited.” I think it’s going to be fun.