Valerie June, the self-proclaimed purveyor of “Organic Moonshine Roots Music,” had her fans in sheer disbelief, while the rest of the audience was wondering, “Who is this astounding singer?” when she unexpectedly appeared on national television singing an intimate, stripped-down version of the song “Like Jesus Does” with Eric Church at the ACM Awards a few weeks ago. The internet is still buzzing with country fans trying to put a name to her face, as Valerie is in the midst of a European tour ahead of the release of her album Pushin’ Against A Stone out on May 6th in Europe, and August 13th in North America.
She was kind enough to take time from her tour schedule to answer some questions about how the Eric Church performance came about, and her unique place as an artist in the greater country music world.
Trigger: How did your involvement in that performance come about?
Valerie: Eric’s people chatted with my people and proposed the idea of me singing with him on “Like Jesus Does.” I listened to the tune and said absolutely yes! Then they mentioned that I would need to wear that gorgeous red dress…now just twist my arm! I love clothes, so it was an all-around win for me!
The performance itself came across so seamless, yet unscripted. How much did you rehearse before the performance? How nervous were you? And did you have a sense at the time that you were participating in audio magic?
Eric and I only rehearsed once. At the rehearsal, we only did the song two times. I was very nervous the day before the show and asked him if we could schedule another rehearsal. He never had time. I thought it was because he’s in high demand, but on the day of the show as we were getting dressed he asked me if I felt I needed to do that rehearsal. It was 20 minutes until stage time and I looked at him and said, “NO. Let’s do this thang.” He said that’s exactly what I intended the entire time. He said I want it to be based on “feeling.” That’s when I knew without a doubt that I was in the best musical company possible. I sing what I feel. It’s so nice when you are with superstars that do the same. He was so kind and just a true gentleman to share the stage with. His whole team and family were all so sweet. We had a fine time talking about our part of the world, West Tennessee. As for the magic, if we’d rehearsed the song to death, the feeling would have been gone like B.B. King’s thrill. It was a magical day for me, that’s for sure.
It’s hard not to look at your performance on the ACM’s, and wonder if we will look back on that moment as a career turning point. Many folks considered it the best performance at this year’s ACM’s, and one of the most memorable in ACM history. Have you felt an elevated interest in your voice, your story, and your music since the performance?
This performance most definitely has elevated my career to another level. I’m a HUGE old country music fan. Often times, it can feel like the world is not ready to hear me on a stage like that. This experience surprised me in many ways. We live in a beautiful time. After seeing some of the buzz around our performance, I am moved to trust that world a bit more instead of judging it. It was lovely how everyone at the ACM’s welcomed me!
You upcoming album Pushin’ Against a Stone is already receiving a lot of buzz. The title appears to be metaphor for working very hard to get somewhere in music, but being hindered by adversity. Are you finally beginning to feel the stone move?
Yes, it’s turning into a rolling stone!
Do you consider yourself country music, and if so, what do you feel is your unique contribution to the genre?
I really had to think about whether I’m a country musician as most of the world views country music today. While it’s awesome how popular country music is, I tend to love old country music. Being at the ACM’s showed me that there’s been such a massive evolution in country music that if I tell someone from France that doesn’t listen to old country that “I’m a country music singer,” then they look at me like I’m crazy. Why do they look at me like that besides the color of my skin? I think because the country music they are familiar with is a long cry from Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family or Kitty Wells. I have mad respect for entertainers in the new country world, but it’s not what I do. So it’s hard for folks who don’t have a sense of traditional country music to get why I’d say I’m a country music singer, but I am!
I can contribute a new story to country music. I love country music because of the stories! “Like Jesus Does” is an excellently written song. I’ve always been a sucker for a good story from Aesop’s Fables to the Velveteen Rabbit. I love country music’s stories because many times they have a moral message.
What do you value more, your hunger and perseverance, or your talent?
I value the journey the most. The journey has a bit of all of those in it.
What is the best part about being from Memphis?
The rich musical history of Memphis is recognized worldwide. It never hurt a musical conversation to name drop Elvis!