There is something undeniably magical about how Tennessee-born genre-bending artist Valerie June approaches music. Proof of this cannot be seen. Rather, it is best heard on June's career-changing The Order of Time released last year. A favorite of Bob Dylan's, The Order of Time is a treasure trove of her Memphis roots, gospel upbringing, and her many spiritual findings from the astral plane she frequently refers to in both song and in waking life.
Her voice follows suit in a celestial dance of tones, heights, and colors. A range that dissolves nasally timbre into soaring runs that call to mind a conjuring — as if June herself is a conduit to a force that speaks only through her. Call it bluegrass, folk, gospel, Americana, or just plain old tunes — June doesn't much care just as long as she's able to share her world with you.
Whether it is a higher power or simply an internal one, June's gift is one of love, light, and trust in the process, however it may come. For June, though, it usually starts with home.
Metro Times: Your late father, Emerson Hockett, was a promoter, working with Prince and Bobby Womack. How did that structure your perception of pursuing a career in music — was there any hesitation in making your passion your livelihood?
Valerie June: There's always hesitation when you're following the path of a dream. One of my favorite writers, Joseph Campbell, says "If the path before you is clear, you're probably on someone else's." I believe that to be true.
When you're making your way through a thicket, you know you're one of the first to travel that road. My father was a dreamer. The reality that he was a small-town man with big dreams and was able to bring stars like Prince and Bobby Womack to Jackson, Tenn., was something that helped me to be fearless in reaching toward my highest potential. There are no limits. Anything is possible.
MT: Last year you discovered that Bob Dylan was a fan of The Order of Time, and Rolling Stone named the record one of the year's best. How does that feel?
June: It felt badass, and I currently feel like moonwalkin'!
MT: Do you feel a pressure in 2018 to maintain the momentum of last year, or has your success granted you some breathing room?
June: Hell naw, I don't feel pressure. Each year starts with a single word that I try to use to keep myself growing spiritually. For as high as I might soar, and for all of the success that could ever come my way, I always have to come back to this simple, present moment. Something like the pink clouds I just saw in the sky as the sun was setting tonight on my walk home ... Something like taking out the trash, watering the plants, paying a bill, washing the dishes. Something like those simple things that add up in the order of time to be what somebody might call a "life." If I can just celebrate the highs while still seeing the magic in the mundane, then I think I can call it a "good life."
MT: You've said that you've felt as though you're the protector and servant to the songs on The Order of Time — and that you don't write songs, you "receive" them. What are you protecting and how do you receive a song?
June: The songs are alive ... like plants. They have a desire to reach their full life and move toward their light. If you put a plant in too much sun, it can dry out and die. If you give it too much water, it will wilt and die. You have to watch plants and learn their language so that you know what they need. You have to protect plants from too much of this or too little of that. Songs are the same way. Some of them just want to be simple ... only voice and a guitar. Others want to have a full-on symphony behind them. They tell you what they want. Just like plants, some songs are for the world and other songs are for the writer's heart. But all songs are medicine.
MT: Your voice is remarkably unique and dynamic and difficult to force into a genre. Having been raised singing in the church, did being surrounded by all of those voices, not backed by instruments, help you identify your voice and sound? Do you build songs around your voice?
June: Yes, the church voices were my teachers. Songs usually come to me as voices first. Sometimes I'll hear an instrument, but usually voices singing, humming, chanting and moaning! Sometimes just baby talk!
MT: You've described unfinished songs as skeletons and you've said that sometimes songs will remain as skeletons for months to years. Is it difficult to remain patient for the right pieces to come together?
June: Yes! It's like an itch you can't scratch.
MT: At what point do you know the song is finished?
June: It's never finished. Think of all the versions of your favorite traditional song that are being sung long after the writer is gone, like "You Are My Sunshine." The songs are alive and oftentimes will outlive the writer.
MT: What goes into writing a Valerie June song?
June: A whole lot of lovin'!
MT: What are your favorite love songs?
June: "Harvest Moon" by Neil Young — what a pretty picture it paints. And "I Put a Spell on You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins because I'm witchy.
MT: You've been known to have songs come to you in dreams. What do you dream about when you're asleep?
June: Everything and anything.
MT: What do you dream about when you're awake?
June: The Multiverse. The possibility of other worlds and unity of humanity.
MT: What are you hoping to manifest in 2018?
Valerie June will perform at the Majestic Theatre on Tuesday, Feb. 13; 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; majesticdetroit.com; Doors at 7 p.m.; Tickets are $25-$30.