Valerie June met The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach in New York, and after a joint songwriting session, he offered to help her record what would become her breakthrough 2013 album Pushin' Against a Stone. They co-wrote several songs for it and recorded it at his Nashville studio, not far from where she grew up in central Tennessee. But for her album, The Order of Time, due March 10, June knew how she wanted to capture her unique mix of folk, country, blues and soul.
"Pushin' Against a Stone was my learning experience, my school," June says. "I had the best teachers. With (The Order of Time), going in, I knew a lot about being in the studio, and I felt very confident because I had been to the school. I walked in like the professor. Each person brought their doctorates and what they do — the guitarist Andy MacLeod, the organ player Pete Remm, Norah (Jones), producer Matt Marinelli. We all created something that we love."
Two of June's brothers also lend vocals to a couple of songs, and one of them may join her on stage Thursday at Republic New Orleans, she says.
June wrote all of the songs on Order of Time, and many of them she started writing long before she released Pushin' Against a Stone. The two albums have similar gentle tones, but the new album is much more of a showcase for June's songwriting and singing, which has a distinct twang.
"Songs always tell you what they want," she says. "I am not really a recording person. I am not really a musician, but I play three instruments. I am really a songwriter. I listen to songs and honor songs and serve them and let them tell me what they want."
June says she doesn't sit down to write music. Instead songs come to her while she's cooking, traveling and doing mundane things. But she's wanted to be a singer since childhood, and moved to Memphis at 18 years old to pursue a music career. She had spent almost a decade there, gaining some exposure on MTV's $5 Cover. She suffered a setback when she was diagnosed with diabetes, and it physically exhausted her for a few years.
But with the release of The Order of Time, she's both content and grateful.
"I live a life of complete and total gratitude in the midst of gentleness and grace," June says. "It's pure grace that I am able to wake up and do what I want every day. In any second, anybody's luck could just change. We were on the road last year and we played a show in Roanoke. On the way home, this deer jumped out and we totaled the car. ... It was so scary. We both made it through, but I thought, 'Oh my god, it's just in a couple of seconds that all of life changes.'
"When you are in a moment when your life is in complete and total alignment with all of the things you had been wishing and hopeful for, you don't question it. You just live in complete and total gratitude. That song 'Slip Slide On By' (on The Order of Time) touches on that a little bit, where you are in a place where you can see that everything that you have ever done and all your intentions are all in the right place and all gracefully fell in this beautiful way."