Miss June returns to the stage with her trio, Kai Xin

12/19/2013

She’s been June McCrory, June DiMorente and June Juna, but on a late Sunday morning, as the winter sun poured over the downtown commons and gave her respite from the chill of her Inverness Park home, June said she had outgrown these past iterations of herself. She would prefer to simply call herself Miss June, but neither social media websites requiring a second moniker nor friends will let her be. 

“Even around here, people are like, ‘What is your full name?’” 

If her appellative identity remains in flux, her musical one has come sharply into focus. She had not sung publicly in more than two years when her new trio, Kai Xin, began playing around the county this fall. In West Marin they have appeared at house parties and at an All Soul’s masquerade, and in Novato opened for El Radio Fantastique—the band most locals likely last saw her perform with.

The unhurried tempos and elemental nature of Kai Xin stand in stark contrast to El Radio Fantastique, the sometimes-frenetic cabaret-style group that she began with her former husband, Giovanni DiMorente.

June’s voice is warm, languorous and wise. It imprints on the mind like a secret mantra and drives the trio’s sound. She slithers up and down the melodic register, slipping around each syllable with a mysterious timbre that lures listeners to consider how those lyrics might illuminate their own pasts. 

June, a Santa Cruz native, has crooned with a white hip-hop funk group, a melodic pop duo and a synthy 60’s-style group. Though she says the number of West Marin businesses that have employed her is a running joke, she identifies first and foremost as a musician and artist.  

The trio says its sound defies simple labels, but sitting at a picnic table in the commons, June and drummer Charlie Callahan swapped thoughts about how best to classify Kai Xin.

“I’m aiming for lucid music. Being awake in it,” she said. “Lucid just means awake, like lucid dreaming.”

“I describe it as sort of a ballad, in a way,” Mr. Callahan said. “There’s a little stormy in it, and then the sun comes out. In that way it’s sort of a ballad; there’s a tide switch.”

“Ballads with memorable lines,” June clarified. “They are catchy. That’s why I’m so careful when I write: I don’t want a negative feedback loop running. I’ve started being really careful about the words that I’m writing, because I understand the impact of saying the same thing over and over again.”

Laid over jazz-flecked bass lines plucked or bowed by Michaela Cohoon, those singular vocals reflect the group’s stripped-down aesthetic. 

June has surrendered to an inclination to lyricize on relationships. “I felt like I shouldn’t be spending all this time on relationship work, but this is one of my expressions of who I am: focusing energy on relationships and how important relationships are.”

Even if you haven’t heard her lyrics and their meditations on heartache, it’s easy in conversation to tell she’s given the subject some thought. “When our hearts break, if you keep going through that feeling, it’s just breaking into openness and once you’ve broken your heart open you realize there’s so much spaciousness for things to be as they are,” she says.

In one song, “Wind in the Willows,” June sings over the pinging of the cymbal, “When the clouds part/On a season that has been dark/We look around us with expanded hearts/Yes the earth shakes/Allowing the chains to break/Everyone that falls is a new awakened state/In this lone heart/I find love in the darkest parts/And I recognize you in this work of art.”

In another tune, “Soothe and Lay Down,” June, over the potent thrum of a bass drum, contemplates how to deal with the tensions inherent in relationships: “Soothe and lay down/Your willingness to fight/Right is so much bigger than you and I.”

Bassist Michaela Cohoon said that last line has a palpable impact on audiences. “There’s a moment where she’s at the top of her register and she’s screaming [that line] in the most beautiful way,” she said. “No matter who you play it for, everyone connects with that line. I don’t now if it sounds cheesy but it’s a moment every single time.”

“Emotions are weather patterns, just clouds passing,” June said. “The songs are just noting the cloud formations.” 

Her analogy reinforces the importance she places on the natural world. The ocean, seashells, starfish, stars, clouds, trees and roots all appear in her lyrics. “My songs have been so infused by the nature out here. It kind of blew me away when I realized that, but it’s a big duh,” she said as a fire truck blared its siren and zoomed out of town.

Though June has been writing privately for the past few years, people kept asking her when she would step back into the spotlight. Finally, about a year ago, she connected with Ms. Cohoon and Mr. Callahan, both of whom were attending the same yoga classes. Now, before each performance, they hold a moment of silence to bring the trio into sync. 

The importance of connection, whether with each other or with the audience, is key to their identity. On occasion they even call on the audience to sing along. 

“It’s a call to be present,” June said. “Hey! We’re all here together now. What are we gonna do?” 

 

Kai Xin plays at 7 p.m. on Dec. 20 in the Dance Palace Church Space, in Point Reyes Station. $10 at the door. Afterwards there will be a silent film screening with live musical improvisation, atmospheric deejaying and an after party dance.