Brooklyn-based, Tennessee-raised singer/songwriter Valerie June Hockett (who tours as Valerie June) relishes each opportunity she gets to visit Chicago. As a performer, she’s enjoyed the warm reception the few times she’s played here. She also recalls visiting last summer for her cousin’s wedding.
VALERIE JUNE When: 8 p.m. Feb. 20 Where: Park West 322 W. Armitage Tickets: $20 Info: parkwestchicago.com
“We stayed right downtown and there was a jazz festival going on that was free in the park. It was so great,” says June. “We went out on Lake Michigan and I got to be a tourist.”
For Hockett, every moment has a purpose in her life journey. It’s a sentiment that’s evident on her new album, “The Order of Time,” due out March 10.
“To me it’s the only title that really made sense, with writing the songs over the course of a decade,” she says. “The whole journey of my past as an artist has had a beautiful order of time to it. Everything in a person’s life does.”
One of the precious elements of Hockett’s life is family. In fact, album single “Shakedown” features backing vocals from her brothers and father (in addition to fellow songwriter Norah Jones). The idea to have family members sing on the track came to her after inviting them on stage and sensing the need to get that dynamic on tape.
“We had such a great time that [when] I was going to record ‘Shakedown’ [the single released in January] I was like ‘I’ve got to get them to sing on this,’” she says. “And they were game. My dad’s not really a singer but we made him sing. And now he’s gone. He passed away in November. But I still have his voice. So that means a lot to me.”
“After my dad passed, we came home to my brother’s house and the same night I helped him with his baby who is a month old,” she continues. “And I was like ‘Well, that’s kind of the order of time.’ There’s a journey of a life of something and that thing passes and the other thing grows. The Order of Time seems reasonable when thinking about these songs because they go on a journey from happiness to sadness to longing to dancing. To all the different things a person might do in a lifetime. It’s kind of a world of its own, the music is.”
Producer Matt Marinelli helped Hockett record an album highlighting the songwriter’s diverse sonic influences. Add her distinctive voice and detailed lyrics, and the result is proof of her versatility as a songwriter. The song lyrics reflect on love, family, struggle and the passing of time. She says her songwriting process is very natural.
“I’m just doing the thing I’ve been doing since I was three years old,” she says. “I’m hearing songs and writing songs. So I don’t think it’s changed [from the last album]. I just hear it and write it.”
Unlike her previous album, Hockett says she felt more confident in the recording process.
“Just having a little experience under the belt, you can be like ‘Okay, I know what’s going to happen,’” she says. “Before I was so scared, timid, and nervous.”
Hockett says that she writes a lot of songs, many of which haven’t been recorded yet. For some songs, she’s waiting until the right moment arises to record them.
“[Each song] has its own life and plan,” she says. “And all you can do is have hope. I had hope for one song but it didn’t fit. It’s not time for it. It’s one of the best songs I’ve written and nobody’s heard it yet in a recorded capacity. So as much as I can have a plan for something, it ends up being out of my control. I can control only certain parts.”
While talking casually or seeing her perform, it quickly becomes evident how charismatic and down-to-earth she is. During the phone conversation, for example, she was at her small Brooklyn apartment packing clothes and instruments for the current tour.
“I’m trying to do this interview and climb over all these suitcases in high heels,” she says, laughing, and singing, “It’s rock and roll and I like it.”
Joshua Miller is a freelance writer.