WATCH: Valerie June Needs Her Songs—and Her Life—to Have Soul
Episode Six of the Mighty SONG Writers Video Series
This episode continues our video series to benefit the wonderful Mighty Writers, a Philadelphia-based non-profit that teaches reading and writing to thousands of low-income and marginalized students every year and is seeing more need than ever during the pandemic (head here to learn more). We’ve been asking singer-songwriters about their writing and reading lives—their influences, writing habits, favorite books—and while they’re at it, to play us a song or two. Check out episode one, Amanda Shires with Jason Isbell, episode two with Marcus Roberts, episode three with Jewel, episode four with Phil Augusta Jackson, and episode five with Devon Gilfillian.
Today’s episode features Valerie June. June is a Tennessee-bred singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who weaves electric blues, African rhythms, and cosmic atmospherics with delicate soul, and has been hailed as “one of America’s most intriguing, fully formed new talents” (New York Times). June plays us a rainy day song, and discusses how she uses songwriting as an uplifting tool.
From the episode:
I always like to use nature and things in my songs—they are so singable. Rivers, rain, the sky, clouds. Some of the best writing advice I have ever gotten actually came from teenage poets at the Library of Congress. I was invited there to judge a poetry contest, and it was just a group of amazing poets. I thought to myself, these students are just brilliant. Hearing them read made me so hopeful for future writers.
One of the poets there, when I asked how poems come to them and how they get started, she said, “To me, poems always start with one sentence. So if you can just write one line, then the rest will come.” I took that and I said, okay, I can see how that could be applied to anything. To a story, a poem, a song, anything. Thinking of writing a whole song or a whole book, that can feel too big and too much. Breaking it down to one line, one sentence, that’s how to start.