From a solo-artist-dominated era emerges an all-female force of country stars, Runaway June. Naomi Cooke (lead vocals; guitar), Jennifer Wayne (vocals; guitar) set the standard with their harmonic strength on their 2019 debut LP, Blue Roses. When Natalie Stovall stepped in as a replacement (replacing Hannah Mulholland), just in time for the Christmas record at the end of 2019, Runaway June already had new album talk in the works.
In normal circumstances, Stovall would have been thrown on stage mid-tour with [Jennifer] and [Naomi]. But during the pandemic-allotted downtime, the three artists got to know each other on a personal level, becoming friends before bus buddies and bandmates. This opportunity was critical to their evolution as a unit.
“In real life, that just doesn’t happen. She would have just been on the bus with us, just thrown into the fire,” Wayne tells American Songwriter in a recent interview. “So I feel like we really had time to make music together and become a band together.”
Cooke and Wayne further describe the transition into the new trio as “seamless.” Adding, “It was the right person, the right time, and the right thing to do for everyone involved.”
“It can be hard to give a third of your baby to someone else, something that you’ve been working so long for,” says Wayne. “And Natalie is the only person we would offer that to because she’s such a hard worker, and so talented. She’s seasoned, and has been on the road—she knows the whole deal.”
Citing Stovall’s “great attitude,” Cooke further describes their latest addition as a “superstar.” She adds, “Being on stage is 30 or 40 minutes of your time, but you have to be with the person for the rest of the 23 hours and 30 minutes of the day. But Natalie feels like she’s one of us.”
After the Christmas album, the artists put their heads together on a next step and re-introduction as a dynamic trio. Produced by Dann Huff and Mark Trussell, their bright, rootsy upcoming three-song EP, backstory—released August 20 via BBR Music Group / Wheelhouse Records—brings their audience up to speed on the road that led them here.
The project, they feel, reflects several different types of breakups. “Some of them are actual love heartbreaks,” says Cooke. “But a lot of them are metaphors for breakups in life that happen, whether you start on one path that doesn’t work out and you have to shift gears—that’s heartbreaking.”
The EP chronicles their experience—both individually and as a band—of breaking up and getting back together, to finally arrive in this specific formation.
As recent brides, Cooke, who married Martin Johnson in July, and Wayne, who married Austin Moody on Jan. 9, feel it is critical for their audience connection to tell their story from the very beginning. Stovall, who has been married for some time now, agrees. “We’re all newlyweds,” Stovall laughs. “But we’re also in a new marriage as a band, the three of us.”
Cooke agrees, adding, “It felt like a more important story to tell everyone about the backstory, how we all got here, rather than start with the idea that we are all so happy and doing great. We’re back on the road, and it felt like the right thing to do, to let them know ‘you’re not alone.’ Everyone goes through this stuff; we went through it and are going to go through more.”