Christmas comes early this year for Runaway June. The country trio, who announced the addition of Natalie Stovall following Hannah Mulholland’s departure in May, will release their five-song holiday EP When I Think About Christmas on Oct. 16. The project includes two original songs — “Christmas On the Radio” and “When I Think About Christmas” — alongside timeless classics “Sleigh Ride,” “O Holy Night” and “Let It Snow.”
Founding members Naomi Cooke and Jennifer Wayne explain that the Christmas project has been in the works since the end of Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty Tour 360 last fall where they served as openers with Maddie & Tae. Following the tour last year, Runaway June recorded “Sleigh Ride” and performed the song during the CMA Country Christmas television special.
“That was such a blast,” Cooke tells Sounds Like Nashville over Zoom while seated in the middle of her bandmates. “People were loving that song and we decided to do another one as soon as possible. The brakes were pumped when Covid hit, but we’ve been thinking and working on this since November last year.”
Adds bandmate Wayne, “When we decided to actually go for it, it was right when Natalie came in so it was perfect timing.”
Stovall jumped right in and helped Cooke and Wayne narrow down the holiday songs for the project. She says they were all on the same page about which songs to choose for the EP and embraced the Christmas spirit in the studio despite recording during Covid-19.
“We’ve been able to create a lot and having the Christmas EP be the first project on the docket has been really fun and joyful,” Stovall says. “It’s not hard at all [to get in the] Christmas spirit. I’m obsessed with Christmas. I got all of my Christmas clothes down out of the closet and I’ve been wearing them into the studio every day … I’m very protective of Christmas music. I’m not always a fan of original Christmas music. The original Christmas songs that y’all already had that we were considering, they are so good and they already sound like classics to me. So I was really excited about that.”
In addition to When I Think About Christmas, Runaway June have been working on their sophomore album. Stovall promises there will be much more fiddle on the songs. Meanwhile, Cooke and Wayne say Stovall has elevated the musicianship of the band.
“She’s brought so much spirit and so much positivity. She’s such a good hang,” Cooke says of Stovall. “She’s such a hard worker. It’s been awesome. It’s been really like all of our energy; all of our hopes and dreams and all of our focus is aligned for the same thing. That’s been really great.”
While most of the band’s co-writes have been over Zoom throughout 2020, Runaway June remain motivated. With more time off the road than they’ve had in years, the women are creating and collaborating at a rapid pace. “I think we’re finding the joy in this moment. This is all that matters,” Cooke says. Additionally, Wayne says Stovall bringing the fiddle into the writers room has been inspiring.
“It really is like taking us back to our roots. We had a lot of fiddle and we actually took it out of our music because we couldn’t afford a fiddle player live,” Wayne admits. “It’s been awesome having Natalie come back in, because we can go back to how Runaway June was formed, and bringing that organic country sound back.”
The women joke that since their second album will be the first project Stovall will be working on with them, there will be no curse of the sophomore record.
“It is kind of like a new band all of a sudden while still being an established band,” Stovall says. “For me personally, it’s opened up a world of creativity in my writing where I’ve never thought about writing music for three girls singing harmony. I’ve always thought about a solo voice. So it has completely opened up a whole new world and a little compartment that I didn’t even know existed.”
Runaway June’s current single is “We Were Rich,” featured on the band’s 2019 debut album Blue Roses and updated to include Stovall’s vocals and fiddle. Currently No. 40 on the Mediabase country chart, “We Were Rich” was written by Ashley Gorley, Ross Copperman and Nicolle Galyon. The nostalgic and sweeping ballad takes the listener back to an easier time with descriptive lyrics that connected with Runaway June the first time they heard the song.
“It’s nostalgic, but it also reminds you of the simple and really beautiful times of your childhood and we all need that right now. We can all get in that time machine, even if it’s only for three-and-a-half minutes, and go back to a place where you’re not worried about anything and there isn’t any fear,” Stovall says. “That was actually my favorite Runaway June song, so it was really cool to come into the project and then the first order of business was to release ‘We Were Rich.’”
Adds Cooke, “The first thing that grabbed me was the line, ‘One bathroom sink/ We’d all take turns.’ It reminded me of my childhood. I have 10 brothers and sisters. We always had one bathroom growing up. That line, I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s my life!’ That was a really special moment … I think it sparks different memories. People are telling us the sweetest stories, which makes us know that they are also being transported to a simpler, better time. And that’s all we could hope for.”