NASHVILLE, Tennessee – I’ll admit that the first time I heard Runaway June was in 2016 when I had tickets to see Trace Atkins at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville. I had never heard of them before but they certainly made an impression. When their music started getting airplay several months later, I remembered how talented they were. When I had the opportunity to interview them, I jumped on the chance.
Runway June consists of three women who came from three different places. Jennifer Wayne, a granddaughter of John Wayne, grew up in southern California, and Hannah Mulholland grew up in Los Angeles, California, while Naomi Cooke is from Cedar Key, Florida. Naomi Cooke is the lead vocalist, with Hannah Mulholland on low harmony and mandolin, and Jennifer Wayne on high harmony.
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.
Naomi explained, “We all moved to Nashville separately. Nashville has the best song-writing community. All three of us moved here separately kind of chasing the songwriter thing and doing different projects as solo artists or in other bands. We all three came together in the writers’ room and that’s when we formed Runaway June. We got signed then hit the road after that.”
When asked how they figured out that their harmonies blended so well, Jennifer said, “In the first write that we had together, we just naturally started singing at the places where we sing [during a writing session]. You can get three great singers and they may not sound good together, but we just looked at each other said, ‘Oh my gosh, this works.’ It was a special, magical little moment.”
“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.”
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. “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.”
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.”
With their debut single, Lipstick, Runaway June became the first all-female trio in over a decade to score a Top 25 hit. Lipstick, often referred to as a female empowerment anthem simply states, “If you are going to love someone, really love someone, make sure they ruin your lipstick, not your mascara.”
The trio’s follow-up Top 40 single Wild West earned a 2018 ACM nomination for “New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year. Though more subdued, but equally provocative, the girls give a hat tip to Jennifer’s grandfather with the lyrics, “Baby, you could steal my heart like Jesse James/ Or come in guns blazing just like ole’ John Wayne/ Well, now’s your chance to save the girl/ Better take it ‘fore it’s gone/Yeah, you better get your boots on.”
Billboard has also called their current single Buy My Own Drinks, a song of empowerment. 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. States Jennifer, “I think that the song is about self-love and we’ve all been there before. It’s about when she’s calling her girlfriends and they can’t go out, It’s like you know what, I don’t need my girlfriends, I don’t need a boy I don’t need anything except myself to make myself happy. This is kind of one of those songs that is empowering to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are. You are the only one who can make yourself happy. And it’s a fun song.”
With their remarkable harmonies, Runaway June is often compared to Dixie Chicks. Hannah relates “They [Dixie Chicks] were on top of the world in the 90’s when all of us were trying to get our feet in as singers and songwriters and figuring out what we wanted to do. They inspired us so much. Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with them is totally an honor. However, we have a little bit of a different thing going on. We don’t want to try to fill those shoes. We would love to see the Dixie Chicks come back too. They influenced us at the time, but we definitely have our own thing too.”
Recently Carrie Underwood revealed an all-female bill on her Cry Pretty Tour that will feature openers Maddie & Tae and Runaway June. “It’s gonna’ be absolutely amazing. You guys are gonna’ just fall in love with them as much as I have if not even more so,” exclaimed Underwood.
Hannah described getting the call from Carrie Underwood’s people. “About two months ago we found out and we had to keep it secret for a while which was really hard. We knew that she was coming out with a new album and heard rumors that she was going back out on the road. We had our fingers crossed that maybe we would get the call because we’ve done a few things with Carrie before. But you just never really know and she could choose anyone in the world and they would be lucky to open for her. It was crazy, surreal. Our management called and told us. It took days for it to sink in, it’s still sinking in. Until we are actually on stage with her, and it still feels like a dream.”
Runaway June also played the Opry again on September 28. (The first time they played was in October 2017.) Even though it wasn’t their first time, “It always feels like our first time,” states Hannah about playing at the Opry. “Country musicians, really any musicians, dream about their Opry debut that we wanted for so long, hoping to get the call to play the Opry. Once we got that call it was so surreal and they treat you so well and they give you gifts and they make you feel so special every time you play there. Standing in that circle for the first was definitely surreal. Every time we play there, we get really nervous and always have to pinch ourselves if we get to play there again.”
When asked about their musical influences, Noami states that she was hugely influenced by Allison Krauss and Shania Twain. “Those two women really made me see that country music was for me. I love their storytelling and their voices and Dolly Parton too. Also, Dixie Chicks, Brooks and Dunn, Alan Jackson like all of those people have music that was just inspiring and rich in storytelling and it really opened my heart to want to be a country artist.”
Hannah continued, “For me, my number one inspiration to be a musician has always been Sheryl Crow. Growing up, she was just always what I wanted to listen to and even still now her music is just timeless to me. She’s my biggest inspiration in being a musician at all. She really was this kind of country crossover at the time where her songs now would fall into that country genre. Falling in love with Sheryl Crow was a pretty easy transition into country when I started making music myself.”
Jennifer added, “Growing up, I was only allowed to listen to oldies until a certain age. When I first started hearing country artists, Garth Brooks was the first one I heard and I just fell in love with him. Also, the Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride, and Patti Loveless. Patty Griffin is my all-time favorite artist ever- singer/songwriter, she is amazing.”
For those of you of who may be disillusioned with the male-dominated, pop-country sounds of today’s “new country,” I invite you to take a listen to Runaway June. With their effortless harmonies, contemporary lyrics and traditional sound, they will remind you of why you loved country music.
You can get tickets to see Runaway June in 2019 on Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty Tour by clicking here.
– – –