Last year, Runaway June was celebrating several hard-earned career milestones, opening shows for Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty Tour 360, and celebrating the radio success of “Buy My Own Drinks,” the first song from a female trio to reach the Top 5 on the Mediabase/Country Aircheck chart since The Chicks in 2003. They followed that with the release of their album Blue Roses.
In February of this year, they wowed radio programmers during a coveted performance slot at Country Radio Seminar’s New Faces of Country Music Show, and were making plans to open for Luke Bryan’s Proud To Be Right Here tour this summer.
And then, within a matter of weeks, the trio was hit with a double blow, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of Bryan’s tour, and Hannah Mulholland revealed she was leaving the group she had built with fellow members Naomi Cooke and Jennifer Wayne to be closer with her family in California.
“There was a lot of anxiety and a lot of unknown for Jen and I but we had to trust ourselves and trust our judgment,” Cooke says.
Determined to forge ahead, Cooke and Wayne called upon effervescent vocalist and fiery fiddle player Natalie Stovall. Stovall is a music industry veteran, who was playing fiddle at Opryland Kids Club by age four, and made her Opry debut at age 12. She previously fronted the country group Natalie Stovall and the Drive, which released the single “Baby Come On With It” in 2014.
“We knew Natalie enough to trust her with the company we’ve built, the music we’ve made, the brand we’ve worked so hard on. She’s a seamless fit for it,” Cooke says. “We were like, ‘If Natalie said this wasn’t for her, [there would be] no one else.’ You can’t just hand a third over it to just anyone. It’s been seamless and creative and she’s elevated us as artists and musicians. It was meant to be.”
Stovall recalls receiving the invitation to join Runaway June as “a gigantic blessing.”
“I was at home like everybody else [during the pandemic], experiencing the first couple of weeks of fear, anxiety and watching my livelihood be completely canceled, and I was living in that doomscrolling headspace, and then I get a sweet call from my friend Jen Wayne and she changes my life overnight. It gave me a whole energy shift. I got to go from worrying about the future to dreaming about the future again.”
In late June, they re-released “We Were Rich,” a guitar-laced, clear-eyed slice of nostalgia for the simple things in life that might be short on monetary value, but bring immense emotional value.
“We Were Rich” appeared on the trio’s Blue Roses project, with vocals from Mulholland, Cooke and Wayne. Studios has just begun opening up again when Stovall went in with only an engineer to record a new iteration of the track, incorporating her vocal harmony and fiddle.
“We didn’t have to take anything out of the track, I just got to add a little to it. As a fiddle player, I really wanted to hear that instrumentation on it.
“Even before I was a member of Runaway June, this was my favorite song,” Stovall says. “Even when it hadn’t become official yet that I was in the band, I was hoping ‘We Were Rich’ would be their next single.”
Cooke and Wayne first heard the Ross Copperman, Nicolle Galyon and Ashley Gorley-penned track during a pitch meeting.
“We were in disbelief that it hadn’t been cut,” Cooke says. “It reminds you of a simpler time in life, and I feel like people really need that right now. Even if it’s just three minutes long it’s super healing. The things that matter most to them are not having the fancy vacation or the best toy. A fort in the living room is what they will remember.”
“I think about how much my parents did for me as a kid,” Stovall recalls. “I started performing really young and I lived in Columbia, an hour south of Nashville but all of my performances were in Nashville, so they would pick me up and take me to Nashville all the time. And they had full-time jobs…for me, we didn’t go eat pizza after church, but we would go eat fried chicken. We would go to the hospital cafeteria because apparently they had the best fried chicken in Columbia,” she says, laughing.
Cooke recalls her first car, which she bought from her older sister for $1,000.
“It didn’t have [air conditioning] and the windows didn’t roll up or down, but I thought I was the coolest kid on the block,” she says. “It would stall out. There were always problems with it, but there are so many of those things where you feel like you are on top of the world. The song sparks so many conversations with family and friends, and fans sending us their stories. I love that it’s brought a lot of joy in a time when that’s hard to find right now.”
Runaway June had planned to be on the road this summer, opening for Luke Bryan. Though that tour has been postponed until next year, the trio says the time off the road has given them more time to focus on writing new music.
“We’re a big touring band and this time of year is normally our big money maker,” Cooke says. “We have been able to write and think about a concept and what we will say on the album, and have more writing sessions rather than just pitch meetings—that’s what you normally run into, like, ‘We have six months to make this record so let’s fill it in with other music.’ You find great stuff, but it’s important for us to write as much as we can.
“We would have been right out on tour, so this extra time in the studio will give us a solid foundation that we can then go tour on,” says Cooke.
They are also working on a Christmas album which will include a mix of classics and original material.
“There is less pressure when you are making Christmas music because it’s already songs people love, you just get to put your own spin on them,” Stovall says.
“I have all my Christmas shirts and I’ve been wearing them into the studio,” Stovall says. “It’s funny because I’ll forget to bring a change of clothes with me, so if I need to go to the grocery store afterward, it’s like, ‘Well, Santa’s comin’ to town!’”
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