June West grew up in Missoula and has pursued music in Tucson and New York and back again, all of which can be heard on her serene self-titled debut album.
West's music pulls in shades of country, folk, pop and soul, with the latter feeling coming mostly clearly in her voice, the music's focal point, which has a high range and smooth delivery without much in the way of rasp.
The backing is more rooted in country and folk, with a warm, hazy atmosphere that seems more Southwest than Northern Rockies, with touches of the tropical ("Island of Women") and soul horns.
One track, "Game to Claim," scored her a review on NPR from All Songs Considered's Lars Gotrich, who also tweeted a link to the full album with the admonition, "Listen to June West."
Here in Missoula, she helped start the Best Westerns, a loose country-rock band led by Izaak Opatz, and had a darker-tinged country-folk band called Death Moth. She moved to New York to study for her master's in transdisciplinary design at Parsons School of Design, and linked up with an indie-rock band, Quilt, and toured with them in Europe.
You can hear her album at junewest.bandcamp.com or Spotify. She's been on tour around the country this fall, with a homecoming stop this Saturday, Dec. 1, at Wave & Circuit, 829 S. Higgins Ave., with Marshall Granger and Hermina Jean, accompanied by live visuals from Chris Powell. Doors are at 7 p.m., music at 7:30, $5 cover, all ages.
She answered some questions via email while she was out on the road.
Q: The last time we talked at the end of 2016, you were raising money to record. Did the set of songs you had in mind change at all between then and your studio time?
A: When I started crowdfunding to make an album, I had some songs already written that I wanted to share. Others were conceived after the campaign succeeded. I’m always writing and I knew I could make better recordings if I could invest some money into producing them. That’s exactly what I was able to do with help from my friends and family, including many generous supporters from the Missoula community.
Q: Besides playing a lot of the instruments yourself, you've got a great band playing with you. How did you go about assembling this group and arranging/recording the songs?
A: The band had a huge influence over the sound of this album, though surprisingly this critical decision was made very easily. I chose to record with a band in Tucson, where I felt rich with creative resources. I reached out to a couple friends who I had played with before; they were already backing another musician and jammed well together. I asked if they wanted to record an album with me and they said yes.
Connor “Catfish” Gallaher (guitar, pedal steel), Grant Beyschau (bass, sax) and Adan Martinez-Kee (drums) are comparable to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section of Tucson. They can pick up a song and run with it, as if they’ve always played it. Along with Julian Neel (keys) and Lori LeChien (back-up vocals), I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter group of people to make music with.
Q: Every good album is a concept album in its own way. As songwriter, performer and producer, what were the concept or concepts you had going in? (Related question: How does that transdisciplinary design training figure into the way you approach your music?)
A: I see my music project as the heart of my design studio, within which I design daily healing rituals. For me, this record is designed as a ritual for self-reflection and healing. That is what it means to me personally, though I know as soon as it's put out in the world, people will associate their own meanings. Hopefully everyone can use it as an example of how we can create the personal space needed for self-transformation with ordinary objects. Besides kicking back and putting on my record … in what ways do you find your own ways to heal?
Q: There's tumult and conflict in these songs but the ultimate feeling is positive and resolved. Does that description square with the way you look at the world?
A: I do my best to move through the world by finding the underlying peace within chaos. There will always be tumult and conflict, but resonant feelings of hope and equanimity may help us be more courageous about continuing on, ultimately supporting our resilience as individuals, and even as a society.
Q: Overall, the album has a country-plus-soul feel. The vocals in particular sound like there's a soul influence. When did you connect with those two genres as a listener and musician?
A: I resonate with many genres, especially as a listener, so it is hard to feel adequately summed in those two categories. However, the simple answer is I love soul music and learned to play in bands with country musicians. (Does the pedal steel not cry country?) In addition to soul and country, my music also folds in pop, psychedelic, rock 'n' roll, gospel, R&B, blues and spiritual music.
Q: "A Cold Wave" closes everything out with an extended jam that hints at different directions for your sound. What are some avenues you want to explore next?
A: Since I've been performing mostly solo lately, I've been writing my own beats to accompany me, which also frees me up in terms of movement on stage. The way the music is evolving, I'm headed in a more deliberate soul and R&B direction as I hope to grow into the role of an independent producer.
Q: You've done a lot of traveling. How did living in very different places (Montana, New York, Tucson) inform your music?
A: Places usually leave me with a resonant feeling. I often try to capture these feelings in a song, almost as if a song could transport me into a moment or mindset I've lived before. On the flip side, many records I listen to have taken me to places I’ve never been. I do travel a lot, so my music is a mish-mash of all these different places, experiences and memories that make up my identity as a human being. In that sense, my music is me. This particular record archives my journey into womanhood, and has Montana, New York and Tucson in every bite. It's like a stew — the ingredients can't be separated once you integrate them all, but once in awhile you get a big chunk of what you can identify as a potato.
Q: How is the tour and the reception for the album thus far?
A: The two-month-long tour I just completed was wonderful! People have been receiving the album well, and it's affirmation to keep pursuing my path. Every show has led to many great conversations, connections and friendships. For the most part, I enjoy how I spend my time each day. It's an incredible feeling.