Friday, June 9
Emerging Artist Stage – 7:50 & 9:55 p.m.
There’s a sound that hasn’t been heard on country radio in quite some time – the sound of organic, three-part female harmonies, ringing strings and stories that speak the language of modern women everywhere. It’s a sound that was the backbone of a little group known as The Dixie Chicks, and now it’s making a comeback through a vocal trio called Runaway June.
Rootsy, brightly colored and mixing bluegrass tradition with dusty desert cool, Runaway June is comprised of three very different women who fuse their own influences to create a style country fans have been craving.
Lead singer and guitarist Naomi Cooke grew up in Florida enchanted with the other-worldly vocals of Alison Krauss, then made her way to a stage in Nashville’s world-famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Singer and mandolin picker Hannah Mulholland was raised in Malibu, Calif., a nature-loving hippie chick who latched on to the liberating messages of Sheryl Crow and began writing her own music at 6 years old.
And singer/guitarist Jennifer Wayne – another California native – is a Garth Brooks lover so dedicated to country music she gave up a pro tennis career to write songs in Nashville (like Eric Paslay’s “She Don’t Love You”), and happens to be the granddaughter of Hollywood legend John Wayne.
Each of these talented young ladies were unsurprisingly Dixie Chicks fans, and each could have been a solo artist in her own right. But after forming a friendship and discovering their shared love for acoustic soul, soaring vocals and do-it-yourself positivity, Runaway June was born – a name that nods to their common bonds. Both Jennifer’s grandmother and one of Naomi’s sisters are named June, and Hannah completed a life-changing 25-day, 220-mile hike in the month of June. Plus, they all felt pulled to “run away” from their homes and toward their dreams.
Part of the Wheelhouse Records imprint of BBR Music Group, the first thing listeners will notice is the trio’s obvious musical connection, and their stunning three-part harmonies – natural and effortless in feel.
“I grew up in choirs singing low harmony, Jen naturally sings high harmony and Naomi has this perfect mid-range voice,” Hannah explained, surrounded by her bandmates in a Music Row conference room. “If we all switched positions, it wouldn’t be the same.”
Just as impressive is their musicianship, a modern twist on a way-back sound that sets Runaway June apart from the pack as a true, self-contained band.
“We’ve always had a Western feel to the music in some way, and kind of a cowboy feel,” Jennifer said. “But not rhinestone-y — rough and leather-y.”
“Our brand of music is tied to country’s roots in that it’s all real instruments and real sounds,” Hannah added. “But I feel like we have a modern take on it lyrically.”
Indeed, as strong women who are not afraid to take risks in achieving their goals, empowerment is a recurring theme for Runaway June – and not just female empowerment.
“We want to be including,” said Naomi. “We want to sing to everybody, so we steer away from being super negative to either gender.”
“We don’t do man-bashing songs,” Jennifer said with a laugh.
In a time when female voices have been squeezed into a few narrow categories at country radio – the bad girls, the good girls, the crusaders – Runaway June want to break the mold. They know women’s lives are far more diverse, and even though their sound is rooted in the past, their stories are very much of the here and now.
“You won’t hear a lot of synthetic anything in our music,” said Naomi, “but we’re modern women living in a modern world, so what we say and what we want to write and sound like is modern, without even trying.”
“Everything we write is what we know – it’s from the heart,” Jennifer said.
Case in point is Runaway June’s debut single “Lipstick” – a breakup song that’s actually upbeat and positive. Its central idea is that sometimes breakups ARE for the best, and that a girl should be with someone who ruins her lipstick, not her mascara. But holding true to their promise not to be man-bashers, the girls barely even mention the heartbreaker in the story, instead focusing on the good guy who’s still out there.
“It’s not preachy,” said Naomi. “But it’s something I would want to say to my little sisters.”
With their high-voltage harmonies kicking the song off, “Lipstick” (produced by Mickey Jack Cones) is the perfect intro to this new group.
“It’s like ‘Here we are! We’re a vocal trio. It’s gonna be harmonies,’” said Jennifer. “For some reason, whatever we have together really works. I feel like what I’m lacking they have and what they’re lacking I have. We’re great individually, but we’re the best together.”
“Without planning it, we all have the same taste in music and the same feel for it, and the same things we want to say,” Naomi agreed. “You can’t really design that.”
With that, the new trio lock eyes and smile, sharing a silent moment of realization before Jennifer sums up their happiness: “I think we all know we have something special.”
Some of Runaway June’s hit songs: