Straight up rock & roll isn’t dead, it’s just returned to the fringes and outskirts where it can find its organic roots all over again. Goodbye June understands all that: cousins who came together to cope with the death of lead guitarist Tyler Baker’s brother. That thrash, slash, churn, burn rages through grief as their catharsis fuels every note they play.
“I came to the band as a coping mechanism,” Tyler Baker admits. “I was gonna be an engineer or accountant, but when he passed, it was a light switch. I’d always loved music, and I realized life is now – and you better live it. That’s what pushed us together, and the grief is what we were all trying to get out.”
For the trio, the death may’ve been a fulcrum moment; but it was more than grief the trio was trying to exorcise. Beyond the obvious loss, the church-raised extended family members were also trying to reckon with their own background.
“It was a grieving process, really,” Brandon Qualkenbush acknowledges, “especially for me and Landon. But it was so much more. It was a rebellion of sorts, an unraveling of a lot of things and layers we’d grown up believing. It comes down to, do we believe in some thing? No one really knows…”
“At this point,” Milbourn picks up without missing a beat, “our faith is in our music and our lifestyle.”
“Yeah,” adds Tyler Baker, “we want to be as loud and as raw and as dirty as we can be. When you hear us live, we want you to hear all of it – the living and the struggle, the guitar parts and the passion.”
Passion is something there’s no shortage of with Goodbye June. Raised in West Tennessee and Southern Indiana, the cousins made a decision to chase a dream – and proceed no matter the cost. If not reckless, the reality of struggling to get by gives the lacerating, guitar-driven music a grittiness that’s nothing short of broken glass.
Baker laughs, looking back. He knows rejecting their staid raising and toughing it out in the trenches forges a pretty cutting sound. As he says, “When you’re starting out as a rock band, you’re playing the shittiest bars and nastiest places. Those nights at the Nick in Birmingham, playing to two people in the back who don’t care. You just slam into that indifference, trying to break it down or through it.
“And it’s hard to get going. You’re eating cheap awful gas station hot dogs, sleeping in a van, not showering for days and it sucks. But it builds you up, turns into something glorious when you put it into the music.”
Having moved to a pre-gentrified Nashville in 2009, the threesome dug in and started slugging it out. Focusing on writing songs, mastering their instruments and really stripping away the sludgy build-up so many bands think is important, they hit upon the essence of their uniquely aggressive sound.
“We grew up playing Southern gospel, black gospel and blues music,” Qualkenbush explains. “We loved Creedence, and Zeppelin, and Hendrix, too. But we were so immersed in the other, when we started to play as kids in a room, it all melted down into what you hear. Nothing is obvious, but somehow it’s all in there in different ways.”
It came together in East Nashville, in the wake of American Bang and Kings of Leon. Qualkenbush says, “There was this Southern sound kinda rolling; Kings of Leon were on their fourth or fifth record and becoming more global – and it created a void. There was no scene, really, but we met a lot of great musicians – and we honed what we wanted to be.”
They played out. They toured incessantly. They placed hard-hitting songs on Madden 17, as well as NFL and ESPN broadcasts. With the EP Danger in the Morning, their focus was strengthened and their indie label Cotton Valley Music found a partner in Interscope. Goodbye June realized their strength lay in stripping down.
“We’ve always been about a couple electric guitars, bass and drums,” Qualkenbush explains. “Every single beat is important, every word, every note. We don’t have any frills. That room for the instruments to expand? That’s really important for rock & roll. You just don’t need as much bullshit if you play your instrument well and the lyrics need to be heard.
From the blistering “Charge Up The Power” with its jackhammer drum beats and Milbourn’s scalding vocals to the hushed mixed blessings of “Darlin” with its hot candle wax slide solo and Gregorian chorale to the trippy feel good “Daisy,” Magic Valley represents the moods and moments that define being 20 something and coming into your own. There is the trainbeat hoedown blues of “Oh No” that explodes into staccato bursts of electric guitars and the slithering lurch of “GoodSide,” both flexing bravado and the kind of intensely focused playing that pummels.
“There’s something about less is more,” Qualkenbush says. “When we’re writing parts, the idea is to make them all work together. We write to have them build into these intense bursts of notes, all hitting at once.”
Milbourn concurs on the potency of how they lay their parts in. “When the electric guitar – all the way back to Chuck Berry – came in, those guitars were replacing whole horn sections. The guitars did a lot of heavy lifting.”
Baker expands the musical assault, offering, “We don’t use click tracks. We don’t use a lot of loops or synths. It’s against the grain – even when we’re paring things down – because there’s power there.”
Sprawling bits of out of control Aerosmith, the heavy aura of Queens of the Stone Age, a sense of blues and a bit of sweeping melody infuse these eleven songs. There’s the quiet back and forth “You Don’t Love Me Like Before,” the speed metal jut of “Bamboozler,” the spaghetti Western undertow of “Bad Things” and the Robert Plant locomotive of “Goldmaker” for versatility.
“There’s straight up rock & roll,” says Milbourn. “But you can rock a lot of ways. If ‘Oh, No,’ ‘Bamboozler’ and ‘Charge Up the Power’ are one side of the pendulum, then ‘Daisy,’ ‘Good Side’ and ‘Bad Things’ are the other. That difference, that back and forth drives the music, too.”
“‘Oh, No,’ that’s the ultimate church stomp,” Baker reports. “It was very exciting, a black gospelesque experience with the lyrics coming off with the idea nothing’s gonna get in your way. It’s a shout beat from the Pentecostal church that would just take off…”
And the church is present in the circling guitar part grounded “Fear of Jesus,” the thoughtful dissolving of what we unthinkingly accept. Milbourn marvels, “I was raised to fear God is to love God, to fear Jesus is a good thing; but that trembling about his power doesn’t make any sense.”
“It’s letting go,” offers Baker, “It’s the painful unraveling of growing up. This song is filled with a certain nostalgia, but also the part of evolving past who you were that’s going to have some impact on your soul.”
God, girls, guitars. What’s a poor boy to do – as the Stones once barked – but play in a rock & roll band? For Goodbye June, it’s more than that. More than the catharsis of losing close family, the band has figured out how to distill being young and wide open to life – and how to connect to their roots without straining.
“There’s a part of Nashville that’s a part of us,” Qualkenbush says, before cautioning. “And it’s not the current one, or even the last ten years. But that old school country – Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, Ernest Tubb. Big steel guitars, and drinking, and sadness, as well as the attitude of Waylon Jennings.
“It’s not what we do, but that spirit – it’s inside. You can’t hear it obviously, but you can feel it when you listen and really hear what we play.”