Back in 2015 Nina June started a project that would result in the album Bon Voyage. When she dropped first single ‘For Love’ she had no idea yet that the final product would be a full record, but now it is finally out! The Dutch singer-songwriter talks to A Bit of Pop Music about the creation of Bon Voyage, from spectacular opening track and latest single ‘Out To Sea’ to the breathtaking closer ‘Where The Angels’. June discusses how our generation’s search for purpose in life influenced her work. “It was a source of endless inspiration.”
The release of your single ‘For Love’ marked the start of the Bon Voyage project. Did you realize this as soon as you finished the track?
“For the first time in my life I felt like I was capable of creating the music that I personally love. When ‘For Love’ came to be, I realized that this was what I had worked for all these years. I wrote a couple more songs in the same ethereal style in which me and my misery were of less importance. This taught me that a new phase in my career had started. I knew that radio would not touch ‘For Love’, so I tried to rely on Spotify to reach an audience. I had no idea how far this snowball effect would get me. That was the first time I realized the power of people spreading the word and adding your songs to their playlists.”
What is the overall theme that resulted in these songs becoming an album?
“After I wrote ‘For Love’ about the search beyond the superficial that lives in my generation, I decided to do the Santiago De Compostella hike. I walked 1000 km in five weeks for inspiration for the project. I wanted it to be about a generation with big dreams, that also experiences depressions. A lot of people who feel lost and need a goal in their lives end up doing this hike. I was fascinated by this whole idea. Although I had not decided yet at that point that it was supposed to become an album, I kept writing songs with similar subjects. ‘If We Ever Go’ describes how we try out extreme things, only to choose a completely different direction when things don’t seem to work out. It is as if we move like bumper cars; we change direction all the time. This search for true love, true freedom and purpose in life, turned out to be a recurring theme. It was a source of endless inspiration.”
You wrote and produced most of the record with long term collaborator Lieuwe Roonder, but also ended up working with international producer Tim Bran (London Grammar, Halsey). How did you end up in his studio?
“Lieuwe and I had a couple of songs we wanted to take to the next level in terms of production. We were thinking big and we decided to just contact Tim. I love everything he does, whether it is poppy or more alternative. One of the things I learned in this process is that some things turn out to be easier than you would expect. He almost instantly responded to my message and one week later I was in London to work with him! Lieuwe and I already created a solid base for the tracks, so Tim knew the direction we wanted to go in and could take us there. When I heard the final version of ‘Out To Sea’, I knew the record was done.”
Was it the missing piece of the puzzle?
“It was the last song we wrote and it is all about becoming who you really are, to free yourself and go where you belong. With this song, the whole thing came full circle for me. It feels like an end to the story of the search of our generation, as well as closure for me personally. We created the first songs in a bedroom studio and we ended with the full production by Tim Bran which ‘Out To Sea’ really deserved.”
What do you hope the release of the album will bring after this long period of creation?
“In the age of Spotify we all focus on how many streams a song receives, but we sometimes forget what a song could achieve with a listener. I don’t care if my listeners understand my misery or struggle, but I hope to move people to apply the stories within their own lives. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself an ambitious person, but with the creation of this album I did not focus on what I wanted to get out of it. I just wanted to create the best work within my power and by simply focusing on that, it gave me more than ever before!”
You say you don’t care about people understanding your struggle when they listen to your songs. Did the inspiration come from within your personal life though?
“As a writer I always try to look at things from a ‘helicopter perspective’. In my songs, you don’t hear someone who is in the heat of the moment. I don’t express all my emotions literally in my lyrics. I try to look at it from a distance and describe the story in a real and honest manner. When your relationship ends, you can write an angry song about the pain you are feeling, but I decided to zoom out and look at two people who lost each other. I see a certain beauty in how incapable us humans can be. I am not trying to say I became some sort of Dalai Lama who knows and sees everything. In my personal life I experience emotions just as intensely, but as a writer I try to rise above it.”
Bon Voyage marked a fresh start in your career. How do you look back at the music you made before?
“The reason I took my earlier work offline is because I wanted to start all over. It was not because I was ashamed, although I do feel like I was practicing in public. I learned how to write songs, but they did not necessarily reflect my personal taste. I would have preferred Bon Voyage to be my actual debut, but I am at peace with the process I had to go through to get there. Some people write their best album at the age of 17, but that was not the case for me. The new record still feels like my debut, but I do fully realize that it would have never existed without the work I did before.”
You have worked closely with Lieuwe for years now. Do you think it will be harder to work with other songwriters in the future?
“Lieuwe and I always start our writing sessions with philosophical conversations about life. You can only really do that with people close to you. I have to admit I don’t have the ambition to go into the studio with different writers. I think it is special to have such a deep connection when working together, especially in these times where life sometimes feels volatile. With brief collaborations I can never really bring out the best in me. I am happy to be able to experience this organic growth together with someone.”
Is this fleeting nature also something you experience in the online music industry these days?
“The industry is mainly focused on hypes. Hypes come and go. As an artist it could give you a proper push and when you develop more steadily, you miss out on that. Personally I would rather create something that is considered timeless, than to just follow an existing trend. Although I don’t consider my online connection with listeners to be fleeting, I try to not focus too long on the reactions I get. An online platform can be really helpful, but it is all about getting validation. There is always someone around who’s work gets praised more and it is easy to lose yourself when paying too much attention to this. Even the most autonomous artists I know struggle with this. Still streaming services gave me the opportunity to release music how and when I like it and I am grateful for that.”