COVER STORY

June Marieezy is hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time mak­ing up her mind.

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She’s not another Erykah Badu (it’s just the tur­ban). She’s also not some Low Leaf-wannabe (please). Heck, she’d rather not be known as “June Marieezy” any­more (but why?)

For a girl who made a big decision at 15 to leave home—Dal­las, Texas—and dis­cover her roots in the Philip­pines, she sure has trou­ble work­ing her way around a bev­er­age menu. “It was more of, like, fol­low­ing my gut and not re­ally know­ing why, and then get­ting to this point of un­der­stand­ing why fol­low­ing your gut is im­por­tant,” she says of the big move.

As I de­cide on freshly squeezed orange juice, her gut tells her to get “hot wa­ter with ginger and syrup.” Sal­a­bat is a good bet, I think, con­sid­er­ing that we got rained on ear­lier while run­ning nearly the en­tire stretch of Pun­daquit, Zam­bales to make it back to our re­sort. As a mas­sive pizza ar­rives at our ta­ble, though, a waiter sets a bot­tle of beer be­side her plate. I won­der what hap­pened to the sal­a­bat, but fig­ure that after ev­ery­thing we put her through that day, the girl de­serves a beer.

Through­out brav­ing the rain, climb­ing gi­ant rock for­ma­tions and trees, chang­ing in and out of out­fits while I held a scarf up for pri­vacy, and tak­ing lay­out after lay­out with­out even a break for lunch, the girl was a trooper who never once com­plained, even dis­play­ing re­serves of en­ergy all the way un­til the car ride home at nearly mid­night. Try do­ing that with your reg­u­lar artista.

June ar­rived ahead of us in Zam­bales, hav­ing left Manila the night be­fore. When we meet her for the first time at the re­sort, her face is bright and open, her skin is lu­mi­nous, freck­les lightly dot­ting her cheek­bones, strong yet thin eye­brows fram­ing del­i­cate eyes. Her waist-length hair is a beau­ti­ful tan­gle of waves that be­come even wavier after wash­ing and air-dry­ing. She is wear­ing noth­ing but a scarf tied around her torso and a black maxi skirt that she has knot­ted, re­veal­ing sand-cov­ered feet, and car­ry­ing black com­bat boots, her only pair of footwear. She makes it through the en­tire shoot com­pletely bare­foot over sand, rocks, twigs, and stones.

We didn’t have the best con­di­tions for a beach lo­ca­tion shoot. The rain had been pour­ing since the night be­fore, and as we gather for break­fast, June asks for a short prayer be­fore meals. She re­spect­fully in­vokes a “higher power,” gives thanks for the food, and prays for the rain “to have mercy on us.”

“Know­ing more about my spir­i­tu­al­ity, that’s what helped me out, and I guess that’s just my bal­ance. It very much ex­ists and I wanna tap into it more, in the things around me, not just my­self, like plants or rocks,” she says. Iron­i­cally, it was get­ting lost in the city that helped her ar­rive at this spir­i­tual awak­en­ing. “When I first came to the Philip­pines, I felt so lost be­cause my whole world in Amer­ica, it was not any­thing like it. It just kind of forced me, in a way, to want to find my­self. I would just get on a bus and leave for some­where just by my­self, not tell any­one, or just ride my bi­cy­cle around the city in, like, the sketchi­est ar­eas, but I would ex­per­i­ment with just feel­ing good vibes, and what I now know is a higher fre­quency.”

Even­tu­ally, she found her tribe of like­minded in­di­vid­u­als in Deeper Manila Records, where she met peo­ple like Jorge Wieneke a.k.a. Sim­i­lar Ob­jects. “They’re very spir­i­tual, ac­tu­ally. We in­flu­enced each other in dif­fer­ent ways, I guess.” She stum­bled on the works of au­thors like Eck­hart Tolle and Osho who “ac­tu­ally just told me things that I ex­pe­ri­enced in word form, and so I un­der­stand it more now.” Though she ap­pears to be more en­light­ened to­day, she is still re­luc­tant to de­scribe her be­liefs. “I can’t. You know, it’s like tak­ing some­thing out of con­text and… it’s not the full thing.” She makes an at­tempt. “This cir­cle, that’s it,” she ex­plains, cre­at­ing the fig­ure of a disc with her hands. “This thing that kind of ex­pands and then blows up and then re­tracts again some­times.”

What­ever it is, it ap­pears to have worked on the rain, al­beit mo­men­tar­ily. The rain stops for three hours, long enough for us to take three lay­outs near a wa­ter­fall be­fore fi­nally com­ing down again in full force. I won­der if we might’ve had more sun­light if we had par­tic­i­pated more in­tently in her prayer.

She opens her bag to show us the cloth­ing she has brought. The con­tents are com­prised of at least 20 large scarves, two maxi skirts, a pair of tie-dye Bangkok pants, and her first and only bikini, which she pur­chased re­cently. This bo­hemian-meets-tribal look is one she wears very well, very en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, as if she just tried

it on re­cently and was ec­static to dis­cover that it fit.

Back in 2008, when she was just 17, she was the vo­cal­ist of a col­lege band called Good Morn­ing High Fives. Though her vo­cal style was still R&B back then, the band was alt-rock, and she dressed in tight jeans, a faux leather black jacket, and heeled booties, while sport­ing a boy cut. Nary a scarf seemed to have made its way into her wardrobe. She stayed with the band un­til 2011, and when she de­cided to join Deeper Manila Records as a solo artist, she started grow­ing her hair out. In 2012, she started wear­ing feather ear­rings, her taste in cloth­ing started to lean to­wards the bo­hemian, and her sound started to take shape.

When peo­ple try to de­scribe June’s mu­sic, Erykah Badu fre­quently comes up, and vis­ually, it makes sense: the scarves worn as head­wraps, the long, wavy hair, the ethe­real vibe. In­ter­est­ingly, Badu, also known as the First Lady of Neo-Soul, which is the genre fre­quently used to de­scribe June’s sound, is also from Dal­las. “It gets re­dun­dant when you hear it so of­ten, but I just can’t fo­cus on that re­ally, ‘cause it’s just gonna con­fuse me,” June says. “I just feel like this is who­ever I am at the mo­ment and it’s al­ways gonna change as well, so maybe they’ll stop com­par­ing me to her. But at the same time, it’s okay be­cause it’s un­der­stand­able how peo­ple just try to grasp the clos­est thing that they can to it.”

Another artist with whom she also draws fre­quent com­par­isons to is Low Leaf, and this is where it gets fuzzy, since both are Filip­inas in their 20s, born and raised in the US (Low Leaf is from LA), with sim­i­lar looks, sounds, and ap­proaches to spir­i­tu­al­ity. But as artists, they also couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. While June’s songs mostly con­sist of her singing over “am­bi­ent-soul” beats drafted by Deeper Manila CEO and fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor Justin De Guz­man, Low Leaf is an ex­per­i­men­tal blend of folk, jazz, and elec­tronic mu­sic.

Watch­ing live footage of their per­for­mances on YouTube, June is a calm­ing pres­ence whose songs are like the gen­tle ebb and flow of the ocean. In fact, dur­ing our shoot, she car­ries a mi­cro­phone around so she can sam­ple the sound of the ocean at Pun­daquit. Low Leaf, on the other hand, dis­plays the fran­tic en­ergy of a jazz mu­si­cian pos­sessed by the mo­ment, simultaneously work­ing the harp, synths, and a beat maker while do­ing vo­cals.

“When I came here, I re­al­ized that some of the things that they teach you in school are kind of non­sense, just facts. I just wanna live life, re­ally. And that is school also. More of a school, in my opin­ion."

Imo­gen Heap, sur­pris­ingly, is the artist June cred­its for hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence on her. “She con­trols the sound, just like what in­spired me to do in a live ex­pe­ri­ence—just bring­ing some­thing to peo­ple and then tak­ing them with you, that kind of thing,” she ex­plains. She’s also care­ful to note she isn’t pat­tern­ing her mu­sic after just one artist. “There is no cer­tain genre. It’s just a lot of ran­dom things that, if I go some­where and some­one’s play­ing this, I lis­ten to it. And then that’s how it worked out. But then what comes out of me, some­times I just don’t think came specif­i­cally from… I feel like it comes from me. Lately, I haven’t been lis­ten­ing to a lot of mu­sic be­cause I’m hav­ing fun ex­plor­ing what I can make.”

Just a cou­ple of weeks be­fore the trip, she per­formed at the Tareptepan Arts and Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Baler, Aurora, an ex­pe­ri­ence that still has her gush­ing. “What’s trippy is how things kind of con­nect to­gether, be­cause I took a plane to Balesin and I saw this re­ally beau­ti­ful place down be­low, and I was like, ‘Where is that?’ And they were like, ‘Que­zon!’ And I was like, ‘Wow, I wanna go there.’ When I came back from Balesin, I had to go to a fes­ti­val the next day, and it was in Baler! And then it just un­folded. Like, the po­ten­tial of stay­ing there and in­spir­ing peo­ple is beau­ti­ful. Surf­ing, as well. I fell in love with many things, in­clud­ing, like, a per­son,” June laughs.

While she was get­ting her makeup done a cou­ple of hours ear­lier, I over­heard June telling our art di­rec­tor Martin Diegor about a surfer she met. She said that when­ever he had dif­fi­culty catch­ing a wave, she would close her eyes and imag­ine the waves crash­ing in, or if

she was per­form­ing a set, she’d ded­i­cate a song to him, and some­times, the waves ac­tu­ally would come.

I re­count this to her, and she blushes. “I guess that also drives me. ( laughs) Crazy, but um, he taught me how to surf, and I also made a song about him re­cently on his ukelele, so I per­formed it live. It’s like, I don’t know, just go­ing with the flow, and meet­ing peo­ple and then you grow with them, as well.

“I found my­self in Baler paint­ing on surf­boards, cre­at­ing more mu­sic, and it’s just healthy be­cause you can wake up, (head to the) beach or a moun­tain if you want, and eat fresh food that they just caught, like, fish. And I want that life­style. It makes me think about how peo­ple do the whole, like, try to get more money, more money, more money, so they can get more things, more things, more things! But then they find, like, (they don’t) re­ally ac­tu­ally truly know them­selves and, like, (are) just not ful­filled. And I feel like I know how that feels. So I ac­tu­ally like how ev­ery­thing is so ran­dom and mag­i­cal in na­ture and how that is in­vig­o­rat­ing than stuff, I guess.”

She isn’t ac­tively try­ing to knock on con­sumerism or cap­i­tal­ism; it’s just that com­ing from Amer­ica, the land of bulk-buy­ing and up­siz­ing, the simplicity of peo­ple here in the prov­ince was what struck her most. “I used to go shop­ping a lot in Dal­las. And I just re­al­ized—I think it was also be­ing broke here in the Philip­pines—it kind of made me just not care about a lot of things, and care about things that I feel like do mat­ter, like peo­ple here and how you just need food and shel­ter.”

I un­der­stand more where June is com­ing from when she in­tro­duces us to her friend Wilson, a self­de­scribed “boat­man, surfer, what­ever,” who lives in Pun­daquit with his bud­dies in a tiny farm marked by noth­ing more than a small hut for cook­ing, another hut for the bath­room, and, in the cen­ter and un­cov­ered save for a large tree, wooden benches crawl­ing with big, red ants, a large ta­ble, and a ham­mock. When the rain started to pour in the mid­dle of our shoot, Wilson of­fers us the larger hut while he and his crew gid­dily hud­dle un­der a ta­ble and pass a joint. Later, as he re­clines on his ham­mock, he jokes about how hard life is with­out a real job, wak­ing up every­day to go surf­ing, and just hang­ing out with his friends.

Be­cause we are too far from our re­sort and the rain won’t let up, we skip lunch. We’ve been stuck in Wilson’s farm un­til past 3 p.m. when one of his friends ap­proaches us with a pot filled with boiled

kamoteng ka­hoy that they grew them­selves on the farm. Not know­ing that we had skipped a meal, Wilson’s crew couldn’t have known how grate­ful we were for the ges­ture.

It re­minds me of when our par­ents say some­thing along the lines of, “Look at the prov­ince! The peo­ple there have noth­ing, while you have so much,” when­ever we whine about some­thing triv­ial. And yet they don’t re­ally mean to just look, be­cause when we find our­selves in va­ca­tion spots like Ta­gay­tay, Batan­gas, or Bi­col, we pass by th­ese peo­ple and all we do is look. And be­cause we don’t do more than look, we don’t re­al­ize what they have to of­fer us.

Later, Wilson shows us the beach­front prop­erty where he is a care­taker. There is a tree house there that he’s been try­ing to build with the neigh­bor­hood kids, but be­cause of a short­age of funds and time, it’s still un­fin­ished. Down be­low is a small hut with a long ta­ble where we gather, and as Wilson starts fold­ing up a ham­mock and hand­ing it to June, I re­al­ize that this is the place she has spent the pre­vi­ous night. Not in some gated re­sort, but in a real home oc­cu­pied by real peo­ple— her peo­ple.

I ask her if Baler is the place that she wants to set­tle into, since she men­tioned an artist res­i­dency there that she was in­ter­ested in ap­ply­ing for, but she says that she hasn’t fig­ured it out. “Another project that I want is to have a ba­hay kubo, and then have self-sus­tain­ing en­ergy, so I can make mu­sic and then drop it on­line and then just eat from the fruits and then live that way re­ally sim­ply. But if some­one wants to fly me out and have me for a fes­ti­val, I’m hon­estly gonna be like, ‘You gotta pay me a lot to make me leave this par­adise!’” she says.

Then she re­thinks her plan out loud, prob­a­bly dis­ori­ented from the smoke Wilson and co. blew her way. “But I want it to be por­ta­ble too, be­cause I can’t stay still, so I’d prob­a­bly have it on a cart and I’ll just drive it around like an RV. I also want an artist vil­lage with me and my friends. That is the goal, if I don’t end up tour­ing around.

“If I do tour…It’s a good ex­pe­ri­ence, but I al­ready feel like I know what I want, which is to stay here and make that hap­pen. But at the same time, it’s an op­por­tu­nity. I don’t know if th­ese are just peo­ple in my head or if it re­ally is an op­por­tu­nity, just go­ing off the trod­den path and stay­ing and mak­ing mu­sic in an artist vil­lage. It’s not the norm be­cause what’s per­ceived as ‘suc­cess­ful’ is like, go­ing out, I guess. But I re­ally just want the ba­hay

kubo. ( laughs) But how am I gonna get that? I guess I should just go on tour and save up for it, in that case.”

If her dilemma on whether to tour or not gives you any inkling about the sta­tus of her next al­bum, then yes, that also seems to be up in the air. “I am pre­par­ing for just cre­at­ing and not car­ing about what’s go­ing to hap­pen to it, be­cause I feel like it’s more pure that way. You just com­pile it later be­cause they’re just two dif­fer­ent states of mind, like cre­at­ing and an­a­lyz­ing. With up­com­ing projects, I have a lot, that’s all I can say. I have a lot for the next two or three years, and I can’t re­ally say what’s com­ing up for real for real be­cause it’s not set in stone as well, and I don’t want to be like, ‘I’m do­ing this’ and I don’t do it.

“My san­ity comes from just go­ing with the flow and be­ing okay with the un­cer­tainty of ev­ery­thing, so that’s what’s keep­ing me in­tact among all th­ese choices,” she con­cludes.

Later on at din­ner, as the pizza dwin­dles at our ta­ble and I de­cide to or­der ad­di­tional plates of pasta, June’s beer re­mains un­touched. She’s still star­ing at the menu, which is printed on our place­mats, and she won­ders aloud what an Orange Mocha Freeze tastes like. As I’m ask­ing for the check, the caf­feinated ice-blended drink plops down be­side her beer, which she then of­fers to our pho­tog­ra­pher Geric Cruz. She’s go­ing to be drink­ing for her birth­day any­way, she says, which is just a cou­ple of hours away. Fi­nally, she takes a sip.

“That's why I wanna

come out here to na­ture, away from the city. I need to come out here and clear out my head be­cause there's too much noise and too many things to do that (we think) are im­por­tant, but

re­ally aren't."

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