Interview: Valerie June’s ‘The Moon and Stars’ Is a Cosmic Blueprint for the Dreamer’s Life
Valerie June has always been a dreamer. Dating all the way back to her mainstream breakout album, 2013's Pushin' Against a Stone, the singer has juxtaposed dreamy, sweeping, head-in-the-clouds imagination with grounded, familiar folk melodies.
On her just-released new record The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, June puts the importance of dreaming front and center, drawing from the singer's own experience of a lifetime of dreaming to lay out a blueprint for anyone else who wants to follow their own dreams.
"And really, just to remind them of the blueprint they already have for their life path. Because we all have it," the singer points out while speaking with The Boot about her new project, released on Friday (March 13). "Even if your dream is something like my mom's: Her dream was to be a mom. She told me, 'I don't know, I mean, there's other things I could've wanted to do, but I really wanted to be a mom!' So that was her dream, and she was able to see it through."
June cites personal heroes -- her mom, as well as historical dreamers whose dreams have shaped the evolution of our society -- as influences for The Moon and Stars. "You could have dreams like Harriet Tubman, which were to get off her plantation and free her people. Or Dr. King," she says.
"Whatever that dream is that you have, what is the prescription? What's gonna keep you on your way along the path?" June continues. "Because the path gets hard. It gets real hard."
For the singer, part of that prescription is getting comfortable with other people not always seeing her vision the way she does. That's the central message behind "Call Me a Fool," one of the standout tracks on The Moon and Stars.
"In life, we all hit this point where we have a dream -- we have something we wanna do with our lives," June says of the thought process that led her to the song. "We may or may not be supported by our friends or our family along the path of what that is.
"If you wanna be, like, a doctor, you're probably gonna get support," she points out with a laugh. "But if you wanna be an artist, you might not! So "Call Me a Fool" is a song for dreamers, and it's a song that says, 'I don't care what the world tells me that I have to do. I'm gonna do what I wanna do.' The dreamer goes for it."
June enlisted another hero of hers -- singer Carla Thomas, known as the Memphis Queen of Soul -- to join her for "Call Me a Fool." Not only do June and Thomas share a home state, but June says that she's inspired by Thomas' musical range and diversity. Though the singer is best known for her work in the soul genre, cutting iconic songs in the '60s at Stax Records and Atlantic Records, she also studied classical music and opera while she was a student at Howard University.
Like Thomas, June doesn't easily fit into one genre -- and that's by design. It's important to her, especially as a Black artist, to show listeners and younger women coming into the music industry that Black women aren't limited to just one stylistic niche.
"I hope to leave some seeds of sweetness for girls coming up after me, that they would be able to say, 'Well, there's no limit,'" June explains. "I can sing opera if I want to. I can do soul if I want to. I don't have to just do soul because I'm a Black person. I can do country if I want to. Carla really does that for me."
The singer mentions Thomas' 1963 Atlantic Records recording "What a Fool I've Been" as one of the songs that's in heaviest rotation at her house. When asked if the use of the word "fool" in her own "Call Me a Fool" is a nod to Thomas' song, June says it certainly could be a subconscious reference.
"I gotta say that it's probably just naturally ingrained by listening to it so much. But I didn't sit down and consciously write a song to be a sister song to hers," she replies. "And there's so many 'fool' songs! The fool gets a lot of attention in music."
But for June -- and, perhaps, Thomas -- being a fool isn't necessarily a bad thing; in fact, June says, the fool is probably "the main character in the dreamer's journey," and the possibility of being seen as a fool comes along with the territory of being open to new experiences.
"When you do Tarot cards, and you learn about The Fool card, the fool represents new beginnings, a new start. It's usually a being who's on the edge of a cliff, and they're holding a white flower, and they're going to take that leap," the singer explains. "They might soar, and they might be flying over luscious greens and beautiful rivers, just be alongside eagles and be ethereal and magical and beautiful -- or they might fall."
June isn't afraid of the possibility of falling. That's why her song "Fallin'" comes right after "Call Me a Fool" on The Moon and Stars, she says, and after "Fallin'" is "Smile," a song about shaking off the bruises from that fall and remaining optimistic about life.
Does June think her musical image of the fool applies to the world at large: that, one year into the COVID-19 pandemic and during a galvanized Civil Rights movement, we're all standing on the edge of a metaphorical cliff, poised either to soar into new cultural era or to fall back into old patterns?
"I use the word 'portal' a lot," the singer says. "We're at this place now where all this systemic racism and systemic injustices are at the surface, and people's hearts are open to creating a new reality. The way we create that new reality is to see something new in our mind's eye. And the way we see something new in our mind's eye is to use radical imagination."
Once again, June's musical message illustrates the importance of dreaming.
"I also know that everything that we search for -- once we follow the fool's path or the dreamer's path, all of the things we're looking for, we already have those things inside," she adds. "I think the goal of the life experience is to shine and be loving. You always have the stars with you, because that's what we're made of, anyway, you know? Star stuff."
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