Valerie June’s highly anticipated second album, The Order of Time, is set for release on March 10th via Concord Records, and is an enthralling and illuminating leap forward.
The Tennessee-bred, Brooklyn based songwriter weaves electric blues, African rhythms, cosmic atmospherics and delicate soul into an inventive and wholly original rumination on love, family, struggle and the passing of time. Produced by Matt Marinelli, The Order of Time includes twelve original songs all written by June and features appearances from June’s family, her father, Emerson Hockett and brothers, Patrick and Jason Hockett .
Musically, June has refined and expanded her sound on the new album finding space from her previous work in its artful, self-assured restraint and overall cohesion. The collection’s finely sketched character studies brim with richness and detail while June’s ethereal, wide-open soundscapes provide a sterling backdrop for her remarkable Southern gospel and honey voice.
In our new interview, June details the making of The Order of Time, what it was like collaborating with the likes of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, and Norah Jones, singing with her family, and more!
You have a very unique voice, one that seamlessly moves between soft and powerfully raspy. Where did you learn to sing?
Nobody to give credit to, they were just these people who went to church with me. Because we went to a church that there wasn’t a choir and it was just about 500 members in the congregation. And everybody sang altogether from the same book, there was no leader and we liked what we sang, everybody just sang together. So I heard so many types of voices and I attended every morning and Sunday night and every Wednesday night for 18 years. And so I learned from all kinds of people. People who normally think that ‘Oh they can’t sing’, haha. But to me, everybody can sing, so I learned from every single voice. The one’s that sound like people can sing according to what, you know the world thinks is a great voice. And people who… just amazing to me or whoever, you know.
Your father worked as a concert promoter for Bobby Womack. Was that your first intro to the music industry?
Industry wise, yes as far as the introduction was through my father.
What was that experience like?
Well it worked for him, umm… he would have artists like would send him their press kits and stuff, send their records, pictures, and a bio. he had all of that stuff all over his desk. So I was able to see that and in the end when he would have a show that he’d go to, print out flyers and posters and then we would go to the radio station and promote the shows and stuff. So, I learned a lot while watching him about promoting shows and getting the music out there.
Some of the songs on The Order of Time are ten years old or more. What was it like to revisit them?
I wouldn’t say it would be weird to revisit them over the years; it was like ever present the songs were. They’re ready here to go, songs are living so…
A song that I like today is just living, a song that I wrote ten years ago to me, you know. They like vibrate; they don’t die or get old. They age but they don’t get old.
What kind of lyrical themes did you focus on with this album?
I didn’t really focus on any lyrical themes, what I did was just wrote songs as they came to me over the course of the year. So there was not a focus of any sort, at all, ever haha. It was like ‘Oh I’m getting a song and I’m going to write it’, you know. And ‘Oh I’m getting another song, I’ll write it’.
There’s no focus, it’s just like the song that came that day, you know. No theme, no purpose. It’s just like you go through your life and a song comes to you, just kind of like in your life when a song comes on the radio. Only with me it comes on the radio in my head, it’s just like come on here, and I’m like okay I guess I’m getting one and I write it and that’s that.
I don’t think about it very much and I don’t after I’ve written it I’ll think about it. But like ‘hmmm is this song for one thing or what does this song mean? Where does this song come from?’ That’s after I’ve written it and I’ll start to think like that, I don’t think about it when I’m writing songs, you know.
So it’s very in the moment?
Yeah, it is.
I first heard of your music through Dan of Black Keys. How did you guys meet, and begin collaborating on Pushin’ Against a Stone?
We met through this guy Kevin Augunas who was also a producer on the record. He mixed the sound and had been working on some material with The Black Keys, and he wanted to introduce me to Dan because he asked me who I’d like to work with and I told him that I really liked the work that The Black Keys did, and that I liked how they were influenced by the roots music and blues music itself to where they took it to where it was their own. Same way that Hendrix did or the Stones did, or Robert Plant did, Led Zeppelin did, you know, to like not regurgitate the same thing from the tradition. But they were inspired by the tradition and growing from there. I really liked the way they did that. And Kevin was like “I know him… so let me introduce you. ” And he did. And we enjoyed working together for the first record that I was linked through a label.
On the new album, Norah Jones is featured on two tracks. How did that collaboration come about?
She sings on “Love You Once Made” and “Shake Down”, and it’s because she’s a longtime friend of the producer of the record, his name is Matt Marinelli and they’ve worked together on a few things over the years. And he introduced me to her and we just had a kindred respect for each other’s music. And we needed some beautiful female vocals on this record, so we asked her if she was interested. She was like “Oh yeah” so we went from there.
With the track “Shake Down”, it features vocals from your dad and brothers. What was your relationship with singing and music growing up?
Growing up we all sang, but nobody played an instrument, so we used our voices as an instrument. So I grew up singing with my family. And so I felt like if I ever get the chance I want to sing with them on a record, haha. So it came up and we packed up the recording equipment and set it up the living room and got my brothers and dad to sing on them.
Many of the songs on The Order of Time incorporates several different genres like blues, folk, and soul, along with a variety of different instruments like horns, and keyboards. How do you keep songs from feeling too crowded?
That’s all the producer. Matt Marinelli produced it and it just has this way of keeping space without clouding the song. I just appreciate it so much because I feel like it’s very easy to have a song overplayed, and just too much action happening. And there’s just such a beauty and delicacy to saying “okay where going to have ten instruments on this song and 15 different vocals” but it’s still going to feel like an open space like you’re in the middle of a meadow, you know. You’re going to be able to dance to the songs or laughing down or pinning you in a certain place. That’s another thing about the genre thing which you were just saying earlier, I feel so free in some of these songs but it’s just like I can’t even imagine thinking about one specific direction at all, it’s just open landscape of sound and atmosphere. You know?