Q&A: Valerie June performs at Three Rivers Arts Festival on Fri., June 8 | FFW>>
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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Q&A: Valerie June performs at Three Rivers Arts Festival on Fri., June 8

Posted By on Wed, Jun 6, 2018 at 4:51 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF JACOB BLICKENSTAFF
  • Photo courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff
Valerie June's distinct timbre and energy has earned her the adoration of fans around the country. It's been a little over a year since her last release, The Order of Time. The Americana-Rock with folk and blues/roots performer will be bringing her magic to the Three Rivers Arts Festival, so City Paper hopped on the phone to talk with June about her writing process, Pittsburgh and what she's been up to lately.


In the time since it’s been released, has the meaning of The Order Of Time changed at all for you?

We performed it for a long time. We started before it was released, and I've been playing some of these songs for years before I actually recorded them. It’s nice to watch a song grow and be and exist in different venues with different musicians. [You can play a song] in so many different configurations, so watching the song grow is a joy for me.


You've spoke before about how you hear the songs when they come to you — what does that feel like for you?
I hear the beautiful voices singing from an imaginary world and I bring it to our beautiful physical world, from a world where you couldn’t put your fingers on it or hold on your hands. To bring it to the physical realm is a fine way to live life.


I was thinking about my job and that I’d speak to you today, and I thought about how wonderful work can be and how purposeful it makes our lives. Do what you love in life; I’m slowly getting to doing what I love. In the order of time.


Since you love songwriting so much, does writing music ever feel like work?

It usually doesn’t, and if it does, I walk away from it. I was working on a song earlier and we were playing it for a few hours, and I was like, "Let’s have lunch and walk away from it," and my bandmates were like, "No! We’re staying and writing it right now." They opened a different way from me.

When it's just me, I write while I am doing other things. When I start hearing the voice, I try to stop what I'm doing and focus on it; I’ll get it written out real quick. I just keep it on my mind. Once I sit down to hear the rest of the song, if the rest isn’t coming, if I don’t hear anything, I get up and leave and start doing a task, answer emails, take a walk, run errands.

If I try to force the voice, it gets to where I don’t hear anything at all. And sometimes it doesn’t come back. And sometimes other writers may have the missing piece three or four years later. I have pieces of songs where I’m still waiting for the rest of the song. The melody and song I have so far is beautiful, but I don’t have the rest. I'm like "I want you to get out in the world!"

But then there's even more to it than just writing the song itself. All the layers. Okay so now you have gotten down the paper and pen and have the complete songs. Now what instruments, which player, which producer, who will put it out? All that is in order of time, and it’s a beautiful process when you’re an artist and a creator. I still have to pinch myself about it!

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF JACOB BLICKENSTAFF
  • Photo courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff

Does it ever get frustrating to have a piece of a song you love but not the missing parts yet? That must require some patience.

It’s certainly frustrating, but you get addicted to when it all does line up. For example, if I was waiting on the rest of a song for three years, when we leave the session of completing it, I’m so high, like, "FINALLY THREE YEARS LATER! Look at this song!" And then it's, "When’s the next one? When’s the next one!" It feels like soaring when it comes together.

What have you been working on lately?
There was a new release Universal Love: Wedding Songs Reimagined. It’s all songs for same-sex marriages, done by myself and other artists [like Kesha, St. Vincent, Bob Dylan, Kele Okereke, Benjamin Gibbard]. It’s a different style for me, working with jazz and big band sounds.


What was it like the last time you performed in Pittsburgh?

Last time I was there for WYEP Summer Fest and there was a terrible thunder storm that night, but it had been a beautiful day before. I walked through Schenley Park. Pittsburgh, it’s so cool and it surprises you. You don’t realize if you’ve never been it’s so artsy and green, and going through that forest, this forest in the middle of the city? I look forward to that when I get back. That’s my time to meditate.

The park you're performing in is right by the rivers too, so you'll have lots of exploring opportunities!

In every town I’m usually trying this summer to do walks by the river. When you go to the river, you can put any wish or worry in it. If you put in a wish, it’ll go far, it’ll take it for you. And if you leave worry, you won’t have to carry it with you anymore, because the river has taken it.


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