Friday, June 20, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Valerie June

Q&A: Valerie June

Singer songwriter Valerie June is a jack of all trades. The intrepid 32-year-old plays guitar, banjo and ukulele, and shifts seamlessly between blues, soul, country, and gospel-influenced tunes. Born in Tennessee and based in New York, June landed on the indie music radar with her first studio album “Pushin’ Against a Stone” in 2013. The LP, released on Concord Music Group, features co-writing credits from Booker T. Jones and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who also acted as co-producer. June’s modern twist on old-fashioned sounds has resonated with audiences across the globe. Her current tour schedule includes performances at both Wits and Rock the Garden.

Q: What is your first musical memory?

A: My dad bought “The Bare Necessities” sing-along tape from Walt Disney. I would get as close as I could get to the TV screen. There were little Mickey Mouse ears that went over each word when you were supposed to sing it. I would sing along with it at the top of my lungs. It was so much fun.

Q: How did your upbringing in the church influence your development as a singer and songwriter?

A: I went to church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday from the time I was born to the time I was 18. I was surrounded by voices all the time. It wasn’t a church where you had a choir or instruments. Everybody had to sing.

Q: You told NPR that you write songs based on voices that you hear. Are any of your songs autobiographical?

A: I don’t believe so. I sing the ones I can relate to. If I can’t feel it, I can’t sing it. Kinda like when you listen to a song on the radio, and you’re like, “Hmm…I don’t like that one. Skip. I don’t like that one. Skip. Oh, that’s my song right there!” and you start singin’ it and feelin’ it and clappin’. All the songs that I choose to sing are my songs. All the ones I don’t choose to sing I might give to somebody I feel can sing them someday.

Q: You play such a wide variety of instruments and styles of music. Is there any kind of music you don’t like?

A: That’s a hard question. There are things that I don’t like, but usually in every genre I can find something that I appreciate.

Q: Your latest album is called “Pushin’ Against a Stone.” What are the metaphorical stones that you’ve had to push in your lifetime?

A: They’re countless, honestly. Currently, my father is getting well in the hospital with heart complications. I deal with diabetes, which is quite a challenge. I’m getting stronger. Nothing’s gonna keep me down. You have to take it and turn it, turn it into something you can live with and grow from and that pushes you.

Q: How does diabetes affect your touring?

A: I wear a pump, so I have to carry my OmniPod around. It’s great because it sticks onto your body and works as a mini pancreas and you move it to different locations in your torso every three days. I have to carry insulin, and I have to keep it cold; if it gets warm, it’s ruined. If I don’t have it, I’m dead. In the States, I don’t get so worried, because I can just go to Walgreen’s and order some more. Overseas, it’s a nightmare. You can’t really have it shipped to you because people don’t know about keeping it cold. When my pump isn’t working right, I have to take shots, and that’s the worst thing that could happen to me because I hate needles.

My whole day has to be about balancing my energy so I’m ready to do a show. It’s about pacing myself. I try to eat well so I can have a few drinks at the end of the night and be a normal person. I try to have fun in there, too.

Q: You’re playing two shows in Minnesota. Wits is intimate and indoors. Rock the Garden is a large outdoor festival. How do you prepare for each of those venues and audiences?

A: Wits is going to be really different because I’m going to be with a band of people I’ve never met before. [In the past] I was nervous because I didn’t play so well with others, but after a year-and-a-half of touring constantly, I’ve gotten better at just jamming and letting the songs be different. When I do the Wits show, it’s going to be a new experience for me just as it is for the listeners. When I do Rock the Garden, it’s going to be more familiar to me, because I’m going to be with Jason [Dimatteo, bass] and Kevin [Raczka, drums]. We’ve gotten into a nice trio. We don’t have to rehearse. We just have to feel what we’re feeling.

There hasn’t been any time to sit quietly in my room or apartment and develop the show in a new or different way. It’s developing as it occurs. It’s nice. It keeps me from being too rehearsed. I never know what I’m going to say or what I’m going to do. I don’t know what story I’m going to tell. 

Q: You live in New York now. What makes you most homesick for the South?

A: Just my family, missing everybody. Like now, I have four days off. I feel the need to go back to New York and be with my husband, but I also feel like I want to go to Tennessee and be with my dad. I need to go see my nurse in New York and tend to my personal health. It’s hard to choose when to go to which home.

Q: Your husband doesn’t go on tour with you?

A: No. Sometimes he’ll meet me in places, like Australia, but he usually says to me, “I have my own life!” [I’m] like, “Hmph. Okay. Whatever.”

Originally published on in June 2014.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Dan Madsen of Dusty Signs

Erica Rivera interviewed Dan Madsen of Dusty Signs, a company bringing back the art of hand-painted advertising. Read about his latest projects in the June 2014 issue of Minnesota Business magazine.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Clockwork Active Media

Erica Rivera interviewed Meghan Wilker and Nancy Lyons, COO and CEO of Clockwork Active Media in Minneapolis. Read how these "Geek Girls" empower creativity in the June 2014 issue of Minnesota Business magazine.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Erica Rivera Profiles Sanborn Canoe Company

Erica Rivera profiled the Winona based Sanborn Canoe Company for Minnesota Business magazine. Read about this artisanal return to boat-making in the June 2014 issue.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Sean Patton

Q&A: Sean Patton

Sean Patton started doing stand-up at age 22 after dropping out of college. He honed his skills in the Crescent City, then moved to New York in 2007 “for material” and to Los Angeles in 2010 “to show it off.” His crude humor has landed him on Comedy Central, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” and “Conan.” Patton’s first comedy album, “Standard Operating Procedure” was released in 2012. spoke to Patton in anticipation of his two-night stand at Acme, which he calls “the best club in the country.”

Q: What is the New Orleans comedy scene like?

A: When I started there wasn’t much of a comedy scene. You had to be really good to get any sort of attention. It was a struggle to get people in. Now it’s crazy. The scene flourished. It’s almost unrecognizable.

Q: Were you able to support yourself financially doing stand-up?

A: Oh, God, no. If you find anyone who’s able to support themselves doing stand-up in the first five years, one of two things are happening: They’re a prodigy and they deserve to be making money—that’s about 8 to 9 percent of those people. The rest are doing something wrong. They’re doing some stupid character or performing racist jokes for the KKK conventions or stealing material. I don’t think there is a harder craft out there in the performance realm than stand-up. I wasn’t able to support myself financially until I’d been doing this for almost 9 years.

Q: What kinds of side jobs did you have?

A: I worked as a caterer, an over-the-phone car warranties salesman, a barista, a personal driver, a dog walker, and as a subtitle tech, which meant I manned the machine that burnt the subtitles on the foreign films.

Q: Your act is very self-deprecating. Is that exaggerated for entertainment purposes or do you really think that lowly of yourself?

A: I feel like I’m on an honest level of self-deprecating where I’m not ashamed of it. The one uniting fact about human beings is that we are all fundamentally flawed. I find the beauty in that. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it. We should be reveling in. It’s who we are.

Q: You also frequently compare your brain to a bully in your act. How did that concept develop?

A: If you’re creative in any way, your mind will work against you. In the U.S., we’re taught that success is the most important thing in life; insecurity is a natural part of that. When you’re younger, you let your brain get the best of you. You’ll figure out ways to tell yourself no, or tell yourself you’re not good enough to do that or you should leave the room because everyone hates you. Is my brain a bully anymore? No, it isn’t. I’ve gotten a handle on it.

Q: If you were to develop a sitcom for yourself, what would the plot be?

A: I think a lot of people want to follow that Seinfeld or Louis CK method now of your real life, fantasized slightly. If I had a show about my life, I would want it to be an ensemble piece and every character would represent a part of my personality, and we’re all roommates living in a house we can barely afford. The days we all get along and are completely compatible and function like a family are undeniably overshadowed by the days we are dysfunctional, but that’s life.

Q: You don’t often address dating or relationships in your comedy. Why is that?

A: I feel like that’s a very touched-upon subject by a lot of comedians and I am striving to find what is unique about my life. I did date, I have a steady girlfriend now and she’s wonderful and part of me doesn’t want to bring her into my act yet because while I’m a very personable person onstage, there are still aspects of my life that I like to keep private. It’s not that I don’t think that stuff is funny, but I try to talk about things that the audience maybe hasn’t heard before.

Q: Have you ever been offended by another’s comedian’s joke?

A: No, but I have heard jokes that I think are tasteless, or completely fucking rude, or utterly just for shock value. I feel like the emotion of being offended should be reserved for real situations [like] if you see a guy yell something awful at a woman or say something racist on the street. Comedy is an art form and that person is trying to express themselves. Being offended at a joke doesn’t resolve anything; it just makes you angry or makes you write a blog about it or tell the comedian something after the show. But comedians aren’t going to change because someone’s offended.

Q: What advice would you give to a young comic given how saturated the market is?

A: Ask yourself three questions. One: Why are you doing stand-up? If the answer is to be famous, get a TV show, or make a lot of money, do something else. The answer should be, “I have something to say and I want people to laugh at my message.”

The second question is: How long are you willing to do it for before you become a success? If the answer is any amount of years? Wrong answer. You should say “The rest of my life.” It’s a different game now. It’s not like the ‘80s and ‘90s where you do one TV show and you’re big. You have to gain success like badges of merit and wear them on a jacket and eventually look back and realize you’re doing it. It’s a life choice.

The third question is: Are you actually funny? Anyone can make a joke or make people laugh. Anyone can do something athletic, but that doesn’t make them an athlete. A lot of comedians—and I’m making air quotes when I say comedians—try to be hyper-political or talk about how awful racism is. People think they can get onstage and regurgitate popular opinion and get applause and they’re a comedian. That’s not what a comic does. A comedian gets onstage, takes popular opinion, turns out a flaw, and then the positive angle of it, and in doing that, makes you laugh.

The biggest piece of advice is hunker down and just do it. The only thing that matters is how good you are at comedy and the only way to be good at it is just keep doing it.

Originally published on in June 2014.