Valerie June’s new songs offer musical balm for 2020

Valerie June says she doesn’t play piano well. But back during sessions for her 2017 album, “The Order of Time,” June had a melody and a few piano block chords running around her brain. That scrap of music would become “Stay,” the singer and songwriter’s triumphant cap to 2020 and a song the world desperately needs now.
“We had so many songs going into the studio for ‘The Order of Time’ that it took us several months to narrow down what we were going to record,” June said. “You don’t have an endless budget or endless time so you have to pick 12 songs to do, but songs just kept coming to me in the studio. Matt, the producer, told me, ‘That’s a beautiful song but we can’t do that on top of all the stuff we are already doing.’”
But “Stay” remained. She had her piano player riff on her simple chords. She added the rest of her backing band to the track. But she heard more in her head. Eventually she handed the draft to producer Jack Splash.
“I loved his work with Alicia Keys on ‘Teenage Love Affair’ and what he did with Tank and the Bangers on their last record,” June said. “I felt he could hear all the voices in my head and help get them out without them sounding polluted and he was able to carve out the song and make it into something beautifully symphonic.”
“Stay” and companion track “You and I,” which both came out earlier this month, take the symphony-in-a-song model pioneered by Motown and re-envisioned them for June’s artistic voice. “Stay” begins with that piano melody and June’s vocals, somewhere between Billie Holiday and gospel, then rolls toward a crescendo of marching drums, jazzy flute and uplifting strings. “You and I” blooms with a chorus of overlaid vocals, letting them wander for a minute before a soundtrack kicks in underneath with an indie-folk-meets-Ghanaian-highlife aesthetic.
“I met Jack and let him loose on the demos,” June said. “He put me with all the right musicians to get the right colors on the canvas. Like that flute player, I was on the floor in the studio when he started playing. I described to him what I was thinking and then Jack told him, ‘Just go to Japan in your mind, to a Japanese botanical garden,’ and he was able to do it.”
“That’s how it happens,” she added. “You meet the right people, have a magical moment and try to capture it.”
It also happens through constant work.
June hasn’t released a record since “The Order of Time” but she writes songs and poems constantly. During the pandemic she actually put an eight-hour cap on her work day so she didn’t spend all her time writing. Recording has been trickier, but she has plenty of songs ready to go. While it might take time to release those, she said she needed to deliver “Stay” and “You and I” to her fans to add some light to the end of 2020.
“This year has been so challenging for so many people across the planet,” June said. “I wanted to give my audience a few little moments that are uplifting, moments of peace, something that inspires people to keep hanging on.”

Discover more music at valeriejune.com.

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