Runaway June’s ‘Backstory’ Looks Back at the Past in Order to Move Toward the Future
"You know what they say: If you know your history, you know where you're going," says Runaway June's Naomi Cooke. The trio's new Backstory EP — out Friday (Aug. 20) — is a three-song journey through a series of breakups, navigating the broken relationships and failed life experiments that ultimately lead a person to the present day.
For the country trio, the metaphor is an apt one, both in love and life. All three bandmates — Cooke, Jennifer Wayne and Natalie Stovall — are now happily married, with Wayne and Cooke both getting hitched within the past year. "But it takes so much to get there!" Stovall points out with an exasperated laugh.
"It takes a lot of trial and error to find the right person. It just made so much sense for us to lay the foundation, the backstory, of what we all went through to get to the next place," she continues. "Because everybody goes through that. Every single person has to go through a lot of trial and error, with all different kinds of relationships. Not just in love."
In fact, for Runaway June, tracing their backstory as a band is just as important — if not more so — than plotting out the history of a romantic relationship. 2020 brought big changes to the group's lineup: Longtime bandmate Hannah Mulholland quit the group, and Stovall — a fiddler and former solo artist — stepped in as her replacement, with the other two members of Runaway June explaining at the time that it was important to them to remain a trio in order to keep their three-part vocal harmony.
Then, of course, there was the matter of the fiddle.
"When we recorded our first music [back when we first got together as Runaway June], there was so much fiddle — but we ended up taking it out because we couldn't hire a fiddle player to be on the road," explains Wayne. All three bandmates grew up loving any kind of country music with a prominent fiddle line, drawing heavy inspiration from acts including the Chicks and Shania Twain. Now, not only did they get to reintroduce fiddle music into their live show in a routine way, but they also got to incorporate the instrument into their album-making process.
"I never even thought about this part, but having a fiddle in the writer's room is the coolest thing," Wayne points out. "No one ever does it, so the first couple times we were writing, I was like, 'Oh my God, I feel so inspired! This is way cooler than writing with a guitar!' It was just so cool. I feel like we've grown a lot musically, and it really shows in the writing and the songs we're doing."
Over the past several months, the trio has been writing songs — so many songs, in fact, that they joke that they don't know what to do with them all. But not every song on Backstory is new. In fact, one track, "Down the Middle," is about five years old and was co-written by Wayne, Cooke and Mulholland (along with Barry Dean and Tofer Brown) back when those three were the bandmates of Runaway June. Now, Wayne says that having a song co-written by Mulholland on the tracklist is another sweet way of honoring someone who's become part of the group's past.
"She's the reason that we're who we are," Wayne reflects. "She was one-third of it, and that got us to a certain point, and everyone's journey starts and ends somewhere. So I think it's really great that we have her on that song."
Even though "Down the Middle" is an older song, it was an important one to include in this project and represents a critical step in the three artists' journeys toward becoming what Runaway June is today. Though Stovall didn't have a hand in writing it, it was her fresh eyes that helped convince the other two bandmates that they needed to record it: She heard the demo and "flipped out," she says, "because I felt like it was such a great way to expand our sound musically."
Wayne clarifies, "Naomi's got such a great, beautiful voice, but our songs in the past haven't really let her go to that full-out, belting, beautiful voice she has. And 'Down the Middle' is something that we've never really done, that allows her to showcase her voice in that song."
With a growing catalog of new songs under their belts, Runaway June have a big musical future ahead of them — but the three band members agree that the new material wouldn't be quite as meaningful without the context of their backstory.
"It felt like a more important story to tell right now," Cooke explains. "Yeah, of course, we're all in love and we're all happy. And we always consider our band a marriage, and this marriage is going great.
"It's not like that's boring or no one wants to hear about that, but it did feel how we got here — both personally and as a band — was a more important story to tell," she adds.