Valerie June started performing in the Memphis club scene when she was still a teenager. She’s a New Yorker now, with a vocal style that takes traditional blues, country and soul and pushes them into another realm.
On her new album, The Order of Time, she takes other voices to that world with her: Her brothers, Jason and Patrick Hockett, provide background vocals, as does her late father, who was a gospel and R&B promoter involved with one of Prince‘s first shows in the 1980s. June says that it’s far from the first time her family’s sung together.
“I come from a singing family and we all sang around the house, and I never thought about it,” she says. “People would ask me, ‘Are you from a musical family?’ I’d be like, no, because we didn’t play instruments. … We just sang everything and we sang all together and all different styles and ways.”
Having grown up in a singing household, June says her songwriting process is centered around the voice.
“It’s similar to the way that composers hear a symphony in their head: They hear the strings, they hear the bass, the horns, everything,” she says. “With me, it’s usually not instruments that I hear. It’s usually voices, and it usually starts with one voice. … And as soon as I hear one, then 500 more come in and surround it, so it begins to sound a lot like a choir or a chorus in my head.
“Sometimes when I do receive a song, I do feel like I’m going to the place where that song was originating from,” she adds. “Like with ‘Astral Plane‘ … I do feel like I escaped and I was in this very iridescent space. … The voice came and it took me to wherever it was.”
Hear the rest of June’s conversation with NPR’s Scott Simon at the audio link.
Radio producer Peter Breslow, web producer Jake Witz and web editor Rachel Horn contributed to this story.