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TC in Conversation with Runaway June

The ACM Award nominated trio Runaway June first burst on to the scene in mid 2016 with their debut single “Lipstick” which the all female trio followed up with a self-titled debut EP 2 years later. Between this release and their first full length album “Blue Roses” in June last year, the guitar and vocal group who unite the west coast of California with the east coast down in Florida, made their maiden voyage across the pond to play the satellite stage and daytime festival stages in London at Country 2 Country in 2019. This experience left a lasting impression, as founding member Jennifer Wayne describes how it feels to play on this side of the Atlantic:

We love it so much over there. The first time that we did play in the UK, everybody was silent! It was Oh my Gosh! Do they like us? Do they not like us? Then we realised they were just actually listening to the music and taking it in. At the end of the song we got the most amazing applause, it was the first time I think, Naomi you and I experienced that seeing these people here really love the music and they know every single song, not just our singles. The fans there had listened to our YouTube, we didn’t even have an album out! We released “Blue Roses” after that so they knew our songs just from looking us up on YouTube and videos of us playing other concerts which was the most incredible feeling. The people there are just, we love it there!

Country 2 Country or C2C as we tend to refer to it, began as a two day festival in London which expanded to a three day festival with a rotating lineup between venues in our capital along with Glasgow in Scotland and Dublin in Ireland. Subsequently due to the growth and popularity of the festival along with the resurgence of country music in mainland Europe, further expansion also took the event to Amsterdam in The Netherlands and Berlin in Germany the week prior to the flagship event in London. The trio despite never having released an album instantly captured the hearts of the European audience on their first visit. Then following joining Maddie & Tae on Carrie Underwood’s “Cry Pretty 360 Tour” through the Summer of 2019, releasing their debut album to positive reviews and becoming the first all female trio in 16 years to reach the top 5 on the Mediabase Country Charts, Runaway June were booked once again for C2C in March this year but this time on the main stage! However as we may all have noticed, a global pandemic hit and things didn’t quite go to plan! The girls played the first weekend of the festival but unfortunately the event the following weekend in London, Glasgow and Dublin did not get to take place as lead singer Naomi Cooke explained:

We did 2 shows in Amsterdam and Berlin, then we were in Zurich, Switzerland about to do another one before heading to the UK and the announcement that our president was putting in a travel ban due to the pandemic, so we had to cancel our show and get on the next flight out so we didn’t have to quarantine for 2 weeks. We came over there and didn’t know what was going to happen being like hopefully we’ll be able to play these shows even though there had been an outbreak in Italy. We had a show there for the military and they cancelled that so just didn’t know. We didn’t want to cancel on being not sure but still wanting to play it safe, so we were like let’s go over and we’ll trust their governments and local authorities to figure it out which we did. We got to play some amazing shows and it was really worth it.

The effect of the entire world entering Jumanji and trying to navigate the impact of COVID-19 is something we are all too aware of. The music industry has been severely hit with the inability for acts to play shows live in front of an audience! However it has allowed time for creativity, releasing new music or in the case of Runaway June pushing their third single from “Blue Roses” as the Ross Copperman, Nicolle Galyon and Ashley Gorley penned “We Were Rich” which began to impact on country radio on June 29th (Listen HERE) and the official lyric video which you can see below was just released on July 16th. If you have listened to their debut record, you may notice that this version sounds a little different as the trio now comes with a little bit of Peace, Love and Fiddle!

During this period of lockdown, Hannah Mulholland announced that she was leaving the band, that brought reminiscence for their fans of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” from The Lion King as the trio was down to 2! However, this was short-lived as the news that Cooke and Wayne had a new addition, for them to remain a 3 piece with enigmatic Tennessee native Natalie Stovall now joining the line-up. The flowing blonde hair and lovable charisma of Stovall is something that would be very difficult not to encounter if you have ever visited music city. She made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry aged just 12 years old, was part of Blake Shelton’s team on season 13 of The Voice in 2017, has been a regular feature touring with Bobby Bones & The Raging Idiots and is frequently seen on Circle All Access including being involved with Opry content. I think my first introduction to her as an artist and performer was through seeing social media posts from Lindsay Ell around 5 years ago, then the mystical magical properties of the fiddle began to draw me in. During my trips to Nashville for CMA Fest, I had done what I described as “Natalie by Numbers” where I saw her perform as a solo artist (with a band) the first year then last year alongside Ruthie Collins and now I was talking to her as part of a trio!

Like many fiddle players there is just something about watching people play it live, that when done well has a much more jaw-dropping WOW factor than even the finest electric guitarist shredding on stage. Also there is something them that in some way is a refreshingly warm and passionate yet wild jump off centre! Whether we are talking about Martie Maguire or Caitlin Evanson who extensively toured with Taylor Swift or Amanda Shires, Maggie Baugh, my good buddy Jason Fitz who previously was on the road with The Band Perry or the most famous fiddle player of all! Natalie has not just had a longstanding relationship with the Grand Ole Opry but a connection with the late, great Charlie Daniels who sadly passed away last week, where on Saturday night following his passing she was standing in for Bobby Bones to host the Opry broadcast and I asked her about how much her association with the Opry and getting to be more involved recently meant to her:

It has been such an incredible experience! I had my first performance on the Opry when I was 12, I worked out at the Opryland Theme Park when I was a kid performing in shows during the summer and at Christmas time. The Opry and that whole area, that’s where the park was so it’s very nostalgic for me because it’s been part of my life since I was a kid and having the chance to perform on the Opry so many different times throughout the last few years has been really beautiful but this is a whole different perspective. Especially this week! I can’t even tell you what it meant to me to be in the Grand Ole Opry house coming off the week of Charlie Daniels passing and there were some really beautiful tributes to him but there is nowhere else I would kind of want to be on a Saturday night than in the Grand Ole Opry house. There was a lot of remembrances and they were interviewing me for some other things about Charlie and I was getting to share stories and my stories with him. It’s really really strange to be in that grand space with no audience but having a front row seat to such incredible artists but at the same time it feels like an even bigger impact. Even though there is nobody physically in the room, people are watching from all over the world and even where you are, I hear so many people say they stay up until 1 in the morning just to be able to watch the Opry on Saturday night! I can’t believe they stay up because they can rewatch it the next day on Facebook but there is something so cool about watching it live and it has been a really incredible experience.

Natalie’s addition to the band will bring a different perspective and a different energy which is something that is highly exciting and intriguing not just in the sense of the music they will create going forward but a new outlook on the tracks people may already be familiar with. Looking at the way they may look to be re-imagining songs for playing live is something that is definitely something to be looking forward to:

I mean they don’t really have a choice! The fiddle is gonna take over in a lot of ways. I’m just so excited to dig in and be able to have that moment with the girls on stage. That’s the weirdest part about joining right now, that we haven’t really been able to play shows yet but I think the new formation and the new energy is really going to be beautiful. It’s going to happen naturally anyway because I am a different person that what they’re used to, the energy’s just gonna completely change just because it’s a whole new thing that I’m experiencing for the first time now. I just bring a tornado of hair and fiddle strings that’s for sure. That is kind of my whole thing on stage. I do think the fans and myself for certain, it’s gonna be so exciting when we finally get that moment. We are all feeling a bit withheld and we’re in this place where we can’t do everything that we want to do or it’s not a good idea, it’s not quite safe yet but when we get to that point, I cannot wait to add so much excitement and energy to everything!

This also coincides with COVID-19 which naturally presents a number of challenges for any band but the exciting news is that there is not just a new line-up but substantial work on new music that the current climate if anything has facilitated more, which Naomi emphasised:

There have been a lot of blessings with COVID as well as things to be rearranged or we need to readjust and there’s a lot of unknowns but there have been a lot of blessings for Runaway June. Natalie joined the band, we have a very gruelling touring schedule and we’ve always been a really heavily touring band so that really leaves very little time for writing. Being on the road is not a very creative space, we’ve had co-writers that have come out to us where you do your best and we’ve gotten some good stuff but having some time off the road has really given us an opportunity to slow down, take a breath and really start digging in to writing sessions in a way that we may not have gotten before. You know you have your sophomore album and there’s a lot of pressure, you have to write it in 6 months where your debut album you may have your whole life to write it. We have been writing for the second record, we are also making a Christmas EP which has been very exciting! There is new music on the horizon, and we are extremely excited to bring it to everyone. It’s really nice to see that radio is still really a force that’s playing music, streaming avenues are still putting out music so the consumption is still there minus the shows so we’re making another record right now!

The pandemic presents day to day challenges beyond music which we all face, the situation this side of the Atlantic is not the same as they are experiencing in the States in regard to restrictions, I talked about masks over here along with the scale and speed of re-opening (which is a lot slower than many areas of the United States with the majority of industries being shut down between March and mid June) where we are now seeing signs that creative industries may be given opportunity to receive funding and potential to start resuming performances outdoors all be it with a lot of safety measures. This gave the band some hope and for Naomi to share some big news for fans over here:

Well that’s good news, we’ll hopefully be able to come over when we planned because we did get rebooked for the same slot that we weren’t able to play so we’ll be back at the O2 in London and Dublin and Glasgow if C2C continues. If you guys can put C2C back on, we’ll be there!

A desire to pursue the European market is a different beast to what it is in the States, although it is a rapidly growing market it still doesn’t have the same exposure. The country radio aspect is a big part of this in that it isn’t as prevalent and where it does, the charts don’t have the same influence. A trip across the pond has the beauty of exploring a new place and meeting new people but it is a commitment! We are 6 hours ahead of time in Nashville so jet-lag is the first thing people have to contend with, we drive on the correct side of the road, have chips on a plate rather than from a packet and there is the financial burden combined with time away from friends and family but there is something that make people want to visit then when they do, want to come back:

I do think the one thing that’s really special about coming overseas is living in a time where country music is being embraced on a worldwide level and we’re a part of that, being a part of physically bringing it to places that may not really get to see the artists performing that music. Seeing it relating to people in Germany and it translating to them or over in the UK where there’s been a little bit of a stigma or stereotype where it’s only for certain types of Americans. To see country music spreading like that worldwide, we’re in a time where we are bringing it over there probably is the most special thing to me.

The other thing that Naomi touched upon about things over here was when we discussed the barriers that are faced by female artists in the States and how particularly in the UK we appear to be more drawn towards women in country music because I felt that the way that they deliver their stories is more honest and relatable to us:

I think that may be why women are more embraced overseas and in Europe because there’s a lot more variety of topic and musical sound coming from women in the genre than from guys. Here in the US, the men are kind of wearing the same thing or talking about the same thing and really sound a lot the same. Now there are exceptions but that generally is what the deal is here but with women we can’t be like that. There’s a lot more diversity in musical sounds and topics so I think that’s why there’s more listeners overseas because there is more to relate to rather than just the trucks, the plaid shirts and the baseball hats or the come on, drink some beer girls! Women are talking about more things, there is more of a story and a topic for people to consume and listen to and relate to overseas.

Whilst the current climate makes the world uncertain and I think we are approaching level 7 of Jumanji there is a lot that we do not know regarding live shows in the immediate future on both sides of the Atlantic BUT we do know that we can expect new music coming from Runaway June, there will definitely be a Christmas record, as long as we have a festival in March they will be here to play and they are so excited about coming back to see us where there may be plenty of fans wanting to call “Dibs On The Fiddle Player” for the first time on these shores! This next chapter fills us with so much excitement, their dynamic sound and relatable lyrics with a full dose of kick-ass girl power on stage will now include “a tornado of hair and fiddle strings” that we can’t wait to get swept up in.

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Annette Gibbons
Hi, I’m Annette, I have been a huge country music fan since the early 90s those were the days we were lucky enough to have CMT in the UK. I enjoy nothing more than listening to country music whilst having a cold beer (or a moonshine) with friends. I try to as many gigs as I can here in the UK and in the USA; I think of Nashville as my second home and I am lucky to have made some amazing friends in Tennessee. Think Country is something I am very proud of, I just want to share my love and passion of all things country music related with you all.
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