June McDoom Carries A Tune
The New York City based musician has learned that in order to make music, she needs space and solo time.
In collaboration with Urban Outfitters and Dickies, we created a series of stories that feature creative leaders who offer their insight on the “new” work world.
On a Friday morning in October, June McDoom logs onto our video chat from her New Orleans lodging during a stop on the Lil Yachty tour, where she and frequent collaborator Nick Hakim have been openers. In an hour, she’ll catch a flight to LA. When the tour’s done, she’ll return to New York, where she makes ethereal pop-folk that’s a defiant refutation of genre boundaries.
Drawn to Simon and Garfunkel in her suburban South Florida youth, trained in jazz, raised on reggae, and channeling Judee Sill and Nina Simone in turn, she spoke at length about collaboration, production-as-craft, and the process of concocting With Strings, her new EP out November 10 on Temporary Residence.
LG: You went to jazz school, and I'm struck by the relationship between trust and collaboration, improvisation, and the way that works in jazz specifically. How has that affected your songwriting process?
I think I decided to go to school in New York because I knew that eventually I'd want to start making my own music. And I think truthfully, I got a little burnt out making jazz. I learned so much from studying it, but there are moments where it felt so technical. Jazz is obviously very collaborative — you're really reliant on someone else to play with, to make the music with, and I learned so much from those four years of studying. My ears changed so much, and the way I approach writing melody changed so much.
But I think as a response to studying jazz for so long, I was like, ‘Okay, what can I make totally from my own brain, with no other influence from anyone else? Let me think about exactly the things that I like, and see what I can create from that.’ Being in music school, in art school, the teachers are really insistent on the things that they think you need to be making. After a year or two of that, I was like, ‘What do I want to make?’ So I just went, ‘Okay, now I'm going to be genreless.’ That led me to realizing that I really like the recording process, which I never really learned in school.
LG: Did moving to New York provide you with a community of people who appreciate more similar art? Was that a comfort to find a place where people were similarly passionate about the things you love?
I think moving to New York was super crucial for me because for so long in Florida, I was just like, ‘Oh, I'm a lone person.’ I didn't have many friends that I could talk about art with. When I moved to New York, I feel like that was really important for me: deciding that I wanted to be a musician, and then being around people that confirmed it for me as well. Sometimes it’s cool to be like, ‘I don't care what anyone thinks. If no one else likes it, that's cool.’ But sometimes if you're making art, you need people around you that are like, ‘Yeah, what you're listening to is really cool. Check this out, too.’ That happened to me. I met Evan [Wright] first. We started hanging out, like, the first day I moved to New York. He was a jazz musician as well, and we both had the same thoughts about the fact that we wanted to make our own music eventually. Then I met Nick [Hakim] recently, and we've become super close. He loves production just as much as us, and we're always showing each other recordings that we think each other would like. It’s special to have that. I think it's important to find that wherever you are — people that believe in your taste and your talent, who just believe in you in general.
LG: What's the relationship for you between perfectionism versus constantly fiddling and tweaking? I'm sure, especially in production, you can do that forever.
It's so hard. I think I'm getting better at it. I don't think it's perfection that I'm striving for. It's just hard to reach the point where you think a recording is done, especially because, for my first EP, Evan and I recorded it ourselves, alone, and then he mixed it with me there. The whole process was just us, which I think is even harder. For the self-titled EP, we did, like, hundreds of mixes. For each song, the sessions were a mess. We were just like, “Which one are we on,’ because we wouldn't even date it or organize it. It would just be like ‘Final June Version.’ And then the next day, ‘What final are we on? I don't even know.’ On the string EP, I’d put the first EP out and I felt like I'd grown a lot. Nowadays, I want to think about ways that we can be really efficient in our music making, so that we can really explore all the ideas that we have about what we want our project to be but not dwell on things forever, because then the music just gets kind of muddy.
LG: The theme of this issue is ‘Hacking It.’ What’s it like to be hacking it as a young musician in New York City in 2023?
I definitely think anything you're doing in New York City, specifically, is exhausting. You definitely have to hack it. I think, why I'm so lucky with where I am now, just in my life, is because I've been open to just trying to make things work. When I started recording my first EP, I was going into studios and it wasn't working out. It wasn't sounding very good, but we just kept working through it. Now, you know: here I am. I learned a new, huge thing about me, which is that I like to record on my own.
LG: There’s a lyric from “Piano Song” that goes, “What I hear reminds me/ that the past is behind me.” There’s a real push-pull between homage to the past and inventing the future in your work. What do you think the future holds for June McDoom?
I actually try not to have any super specific goals. I feel like, up until now, I didn't have any specific goals, but I was really intentional about the things I was making. That's my goal, is to just keep giving myself space to get really specific about what I'm making, every detail of it, so that wherever I find myself in in the future, it’s because of that thing that I made, that carved out that space. That's helped me now, because everyone that I'm surrounded by, and everyone that I've met and has worked with the music — they all really understand that I like all these weird things, and they like weird things, too. My goal is to keep getting more time and space to be able to grow deeper into what I love, and to have no restraints on it.