Welcome to Emerging Country Artist Spotlight, a Billboard series where we highlight an up-and-coming act who is making a splash in the genre. This week’s pick is country trio Runaway June, who are the first female country group in 14 years to hit the top 20 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
During a time when women struggle to be heard on country radio, Runaway June are carving their own path. Their third single “Buy My Own Drinks” is currently in the top 20 of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, marking the first time an all-female act appeared in the top 20 since SheDaisy’s “Don’t Worry ‘Bout a Thing” in August 2005.
The trio is made up of singer/songwriters Hannah Mulholland, Jennifer Wayne and Naomi Cooke, and the three women penned female anthem “Buy My Own Drinks” with Hillary Lindsey (“Girl Crush,” “Blue Ain’t Your Color”) and Josh Kear (“Need You Now,” “Drunk On a Plane”).
“It’s definitely a song that feels different from everything else that we've done,” Cooke tells Billboard. “This is our third single, it's our third stab at this, so it feels that much better to see it going and going because the other two didn't get that far despite our greatest efforts and a ton of work and sacrifice, long nights and long days traveling. This one is working, and it feels incredible.”
With their debut album, Blue Roses, out today (July 28), Runaway June chats with Billboard about their evolution as singers.
When was the moment you knew you wanted to be an artist?
Jennifer Wayne: When I was a kid, my brother and I would put on plays and concerts for our parents. We would make the tickets and sell them and pass them out to all the neighbors. I was probably five or six years old and I did all the plays and musicals. It hit me pretty young.
Hannah Mulholland: I did that exact same thing! When I was a kid, I would do singing and piano recitals. I was five. I would write out little ticket stubs and I would let them into the living room.
Naomi Cooke: My mom said that I used to hum when I would nurse so I've been singing my whole life. I don't remember ever not singing. We used to put on little plays and musicals, too.
When was your first public appearance?
Mulholland: The first song I ever performed in front of a crowd was the Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There.” Second grade talent show. I was Sporty Spice, so I was wearing Adidas and a track suit.
Wayne: I got my first singing role in a play when I was eight. It was James and the Giant Peach, and they did a musical with it. That was my first-ever public performance.
Cooke: I started performing when I was eight. I played] my guitar on a street corner in Arizona. My mom would let me sit out there and busk and that's really where I started to perform. I've been gigging ever since, doing all kinds of different jobs.
What was the first song you ever wrote?
Mulholland: I was six. It was called “Dizzy Lane.” It was a love song because I was so experienced in that area. I was doing an impression of what I was listening to and so it was a love song about how when you fall in love, it feels like you're walking down dizzy lane. I remember it was, “When you touch me I get dizzy/ When you move I get wild.”
Wayne: The first song I wrote was called “Love Is Waiting On the Other Side.” It was like, “Love is waiting on the other side” repeated three times. And then it went “For me.”
Cooke: I was writing a lot of poetry, but I didn't really start writing songs until I was 18 or 19. The first song that I wrote sounded like an Alison Krauss song. She's my favorite. It was, “Those memories of you still haunt me.” It was something about making love by a fire.
Who’s career do you admire most and would like to pattern yours after?
Wayne: Garth Brooks]. Obviously he's a huge entertainer and amazing, but him as a person, how good he is to everybody, is exceptional. You hear story after story and you're like, “This is not real. This guy cannot be real.” We've had personal experiences with him and it's like, “I want to be like that. I want to be that good of a person and make people feel the way he does.” He makes everybody feel special. He makes everybody feel like they're important.
Mulholland: Sheryl Crow is my number one inspiration in music. Looking at the arc that she's made; she's made a lot of different types of records and a lot of artists are not bold enough to try that. She did a full soul record, a full country record, this ethereal, dreamy record, and rock albums in the ‘90s. She's done a lot of different things with her career. That’s a cool model of you don't have to be just one thing.
Cooke: I really like how the Dixie] Chicks transcended genres. They were international superstars, and they never really changed their sound. People came to them and they didn't care that they were bluegrass and country. They were in such high demand. I think that that's a real testament to staying true to your artistry and still having fluidity in the world and being open and creative. We grew up listening to them. They shaped who we are as artists, individually as songwriters, and as a band. I don't know that a female trio would know how to be in this world without the Chicks.
Who is your dream collaborator?
Wayne: Dolly Parton]. Just throwing it out there. Might as well shoot for the stars.
Cooke: We all love Keith Urban so much. We are huge fans of him.
Mulholland: I actually feel like it'd be so fun to collaborate with Jon Pardi. He's our buddy, but I just think that'd be so fun. We just love his music so much I think that would be really fun.
What’s the story behind “Buy My Own Drinks?”
Wayne: Josh Kear came in and he was like, “I have this title. It's called ‘Buy My Own Drinks.’ I don't really know what it means.” All of us go, “Well, we know what it means!” and then it went from there. It was a pretty quick write. We had fun.
Mulholland: The write was pretty easy. It felt really fluid and really fun to write. A few days later we played it for the first time. Immediately we got a reaction from that song that we've never seen from any of our other songs. People were singing it back by the second chorus. It was really wild. At that point we're like, “Okay, other people think it's fun, too.” It was always on the fast track from the day we wrote it.
What song on the album best describes you as a band?
Wayne: We formed in the writer's room. We're all songwriters and we started singing while we were writing and each of us went to our different places singing a harmony part. I think that “Blue Roses” goes back to our roots of songwriting and three-part harmony. We ended the album] a capella, just our three voices and that's how we formed. That song is super special to us. That's one of the oldest songs that we've written. It's organic, it's beautiful and poetic and we've branched out a little from there. But that's the root of our band and how it all started.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about the music industry?
Wayne and Mulholland in unison]: Don’t give up.
Mulholland: That sounds so cliché, but it's so true. There are people that aren't even necessarily the most talented or the best singers, but they outwork everybody else and they don't give up. You just stay the track. Anyone that's made it, that's their story. So hang in there.