Valerie-June-Issue-No27VALERIE JUNE

HOMETOWN: Humboldt, Tenn.
INFLUENCES: Wanda Jackson, Dolly Parton, Nina Simone
ALBUM: Pushin’ Against a Stone, out August

Valerie June showed off her vocal chops by singing in church as a child in West Tennessee, where she soaked up the region’s rich musical culture. She landed her first gig as a teen with the help of her father, a promoter for gospel musicians. “It was and still is hard to go anywhere without hearing country and blues,” she says. “It always reminds me of home. It’s the place in art where the color lines of the South seem to blend.”

Later, June performed across the state, holding an array of part-time jobs to make ends meet. In 2009, she landed a break when she was featured on MTV’s web series $5 Cover. Two independent albums followed, both harkening to the past. “I just love old records,” she says, “the crackle, the gritty sound. So do a lot of other people—we just want to hear real music alongside the modern beat machine.

For a while it was only moving in a new direction and people started missing the old stuff.” That respect for tradition has paid off. June’s upcoming album, Pushin’ Against a Stone, was co-produced by Black Keys’ guitarist Dan Auerbach at his Easy Eye studio in Nashville. She explains that the album’s title holds meaning to her and the music she loves.

“I feel I’ve spent my life pushing against a stone,” she says. “The jobs I’ve had have been fitting for getting a true feel for how the traditional artists I loved came home after a hard day to sit on the porch and play tunes until bedtime. That’s one reason why they were older before anybody cared.” June underscores her retro style with a bold flair for the unexpected. “If I want to put out a punk rock record next week,” she says, “that’s me.”

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