An Interview with Valerie June

Sean Reiter
Valerie June @ the Mill Valley Music Festival (Photo: Sean Reiter)
Valerie June @ the Mill Valley Music Festival (Photo: Sean Reiter)

The temperature was way down and the wind was way up when I interviewed Valerie June on Day 2 of the Mill Valley Music Festival. Where the day before had seen a sunny and still 85 degree Saturday with no breeze, Sunday brought a thick fog and the temperature had dropped to the low 50’s with high winds. In fact, the winds were so high that we were unable to use the tents that had been set up for interviews and instead found shelter in between tour buses backstage. Despite the fact that she had spent the last 90 minutes feeling the wrath of Marin County’s intense natural air conditioning, she was kind enough to stand with me to discuss where she’s been and where she’s going next.

Sean Reiter:  How was today? You got Mill Valley’s coldest and yesterday we got Mill Valley’s hottest?

Valerie June:  It’s so bizarre. I drove back through here after visiting the flower farm (yesterday) and it was perfect weather. I think this weather is nice, it’s just COLD. I came out with just this pink sweater, but as soon as I got on the side of the stage, I was freezing and I said “I’m not going to make it through the show” and went back and put this fuzzy sweater on too.

Valerie June @ the Mill Valley Music Festival (Photo: Sean Reiter)
Valerie June @ the Mill Valley Music Festival (Photo: Sean Reiter)

Sean Reiter:  You’ve been everywhere this year. You just got back from Italy. Tell me about your travels this year.

Valerie June:  In the last 12 months, I’ve been to Bali, Italy 3 times, France and all throughout the United States and I’m going to Kenya this year for my first performance in Africa. I’m checking off all the places I want to go. I want to go to South America, India. I still have a lot of places I want to go. I’ve been to Australia, all through Canada and Europe playing music, but I have I haven’t played in South America, India or Africa, yet.

Valerie June @ the Mill Valley Music Festival (Photo: Sean Reiter)
Valerie June @ the Mill Valley Music Festival (Photo: Sean Reiter)

Sean Reiter:  As a kid you were hanging posters for your dad (Tennessee concert promoter Emerson Hockett), how did the experience around that impact who you are?

Valerie June:  The biggest impact to who I am was working with my father and having him be a music lover, but not a player. I understood that business side is hard and to understand what it is to succeed, but also what it is to fail. And how it is ok. So many people are afraid to dream and climb the mountain that they have in their heart. But we have to do it. It’s ok to fail, but the thing to say is that “We F’ing tried” and just let that be that. And I learned that from my father.

I’m studying the art of success and failure and I love leaning on the pushback – the times you roll down the hill – examining them. Because when you sit with them for long enough you get the energy to go soaring above. So, it’s been really good to have that upbringing and be raised by a music lover.

Valerie June @ the Mill Valley Music Festival (Photo: Sean Reiter)
Valerie June @ the Mill Valley Music Festival (Photo: Sean Reiter)

Sean Reiter:  You were by no means an “overnight sensation.” You’ve worked your butt off, can you talk about your climb?

Valerie June:  Wow! When I think about the climb, it’s really one day at a time. I put out a book Maps for the Modern World around my last record The Moon and Stars and there is poem in there called “Tiny Steps” and it says that by the time you get to where you are going, you’ll realize it was always just a series of tiny steps. It’s always seemed bigger than me. It’s like when Amanda Gorman did the inaugural poem and she was speaking about “The Hill We Climb.” It’s always going to seem bigger than us, but we came to share this light and that’s what we have to do. I’ve sold out Carnegie Hall and toured all over the world. I’ve done Montreux Jazz. I’ve done Montreal Jazz. I’ve played with Willie Nelson and Mavis Staples and all these people that I love and admire. But, I know that I still have more on the hill to climb. I’m in it and I’m grateful. I’m excited and I’m feeling it all.

Sean Reiter:  International travels. A Grammy nomination. South by Southwest featured speaker, what’s next for Valerie June?

Valerie June:  Rupi Kaur is the largest selling, living female poet. She outsold The Odyssey. I put something out to the universe a few years ago and said “I love Rupi and she is a great inspiration. I love how she draws and does poetry like Shel Silverstein. I want to do that.” But after I had the kid’s book done, I asked the universe to send me Rupi’s publisher and I connected with Andrews McMeel, who are connected with Simon & Schuster and so I have my second book coming out on September 19th. This one is for adults and it’s called Light Beams: A Workbook for Being Your Badass Self. It’s going to be so cool to have it in the world.

Sean Reiter:  We're already looking forward to it and wish you the best of luck! Thanks for making the time to speak with us and for playing the Mill Valley Music Festival!

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