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 named 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.
With their debut single, “Lipstick,” Runaway June became the first all-female trio in over a DECADE to score a Top 25 hit. With the help of the trio’s follow-up Top 40 single “Wild West” the breakout trio earned a 2018 ACM nomination for “New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year”.
With their current single “Buy My Own Drinks,” co-written by Runaway June and Hillary Lindsey and Josh Kear, the trio is primed to cement their identity as one of the best new groups in the genre. The song is an instant singalong that neither laments, caters to, bashes or attacks the loss of a relationship but rather celebrates the freedom, spirit and independence of a female having a night out on her own.
Lead singer and guitarist Naomi Cooke recalls the thrill and immediate connection that came with introducing the new song to the world, “The first time we played ‘Buy My Own Drinks’ was at Stagecoach. We had just gotten the final mixes back on the recording and we had been rehearsing it with the band and we were so excited to try it out and let everyone hear what we had been working on. By the second chorus everyone was singing it back. It was beyond wild for us to see that happening. It was one of the most exciting moments in our group history…we really felt something different happening.”
Their new EP, produced by acclaimed producer Dan Huff (Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Steven Tyler Thomas Rhett, Brett Young), is a collection of songs that highlight different sides of the group while leaving the listener understanding exactly what kind of ride they are in for with Runaway June. With eclectic personalities, a listen through of their songs makes seemingly disparate images such as gypsy bohemian chic, sunsets over sand and ocean, and roots in bluegrass and classic western all blend into one timeless vibe.
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 (“She Don’t Love You” by Eric Paslay), 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.
Their name is an ode to their separate histories and their mutual bonds. They each felt pulled to “run away” from their homes and toward their dreams to find themselves part of something bigger. As for “June,” both Jennifer’s grandmother and one of Naomi’s sisters are named June, a strong symbol of the family the trio has become. Hannah’s life changed in the month of June when she moved to Nashville. It also served as the cathartic month in her life another time when she completed a 25-day, 220-mile life-changing hike. Not to mention, as fate would have it, the trio signed their record deal in the month of June.
Signed to Wheelhouse Records, an 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 explains, 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. “Our brand of music is tied to country’s roots in that it’s all real instruments and real sounds,” Hannah adds. “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 inclusive,” says Naomi. “We want to sing to everybody, so we steer away from being super negative to either gender.”
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 timeless, their stories are very much of the here and now.
Says Naomi, “We are 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.” Continues Jennifer, “Everything we write is what we know – it’s from the heart.”
“It’s like ‘Here we are! We’re a vocal trio. It’s gonna be harmonies,’” says 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 agrees. “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.”