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