Country Trio Runaway June Talks Football Fandom, Family Ties to John Wayne & Those Inevitable Dixie Chicks Comparisons

Runaway June
Jason Myers

Runaway June

It probably goes without saying that Perez Hilton doesn’t take a lot of interest in music from Nashville. But recently the controversial gossip columnist made an exception to that rule for Wheelhouse Records trio Runaway June, by giving attention to their debut single “Lipstick.” Vocalist / Mandolin player Hannah Mulholland says the free publicity is more than fine with her.

“It’s been amazing,” she tells Billboard. “Whenever we’ve seen something written up about us, it’s been the best feeling. We’re so close to our own songs, so you don’t really know how they’re going to go over until you start playing them. To get the positive reviews and feedback has been so exciting, especially someone as controversial as Perez Hilton can be, it’s a great feeling.”

For lead vocalist Naomi Cooke, the attention has been worth waiting for. “It’s an incredible feeling. All three of us have been at this for a long time, and we know that some people try for years and years and never get these opportunities that we’ve had a chance to have. It’s all been an incredible experience. We’re playing out to bigger and better shows, and more and more people are singing it back to us. It’s so enthralling.”

The third member of the trio, Jennifer Wayne, says that when it comes to being part of a female country trio, there's an inevitable comparison that arises. And Wayne has no problem with that. “We loved the Dixie Chicks. We all grew up listening to their music, and it inspired all of us. I think that they’re so sacred of a musical act, that we would never compare ourselves to them, but when people say that about us, it’s a complete honor.”

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It's no coincidence that Wayne shares the same last name as one of Hollywood’s top box-office draws of all time -- she's actually John Wayne's granddaughter. The songstress, who has been in Nashville for several years, admits she never got to meet him. “I missed him by a couple of years, but my grandmother is still living. So, I get lots of stories, and watching him on TV, I get to see how he walked and his facial expressions. So, I feel I’m pretty lucky in that regard.”

Just like with anyone who is related to someone famous, Wayne says she has no idea what to compare it to – but she’s always glad to hear stories about “The Duke.”

“When I was a kid, there was always one of his movies on this channel or another. It all makes me really proud. I think the coolest thing for me is when I hear stories about him, I always hear what a great person he was. That’s my favorite part of the experience.”

The trio was recently front and center during induction week at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, as they shared the stage with superstar Tim McGraw. “It was an amazing night, as you might be able to imagine,” Cooke reflects. “We played a show there for about 5,000, and then, the next night, it was about 19,000 with Tim McGraw in the seats. In so many ways, you can’t really prepare for something like that. It was so awesome. The whole band was with us, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame was so kind to us. Everything went perfect. It was one of the best experiences of our lives. The whole thing was a pinch-me moment. Playing for that many people and having them hear you at one time is what is something you dream of forever.” She says that each of the members were honored to meet Hall member and Bills legend Jim Kelly, though they just narrowly missed meeting 2016 inductee Brett Favre.

This weekend, the trio will notch a very important accomplishment on their career resume, with a performance of the National Anthem during ABC’s coverage of Saturday’s 2016 Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, prior to the long-awaited showdown between defending National Champion Alabama and USC at 8 p.m. ET. For Wayne, there won’t be any doubt concerning where her loyalties will lie, as she is a third-generation alum of the University, with her grandfather playing football there. “I could not be more excited about singing the national anthem with my girls at this huge game,” she said in a statement. “It is such an honor to sing for our beautiful country at the iconic Dallas Cowboys Stadium. I'm an avid USC football fan and third generation Trojan! Fight on!!”

While all three members of Runaway June are NFL fans, music has always been the most important part of their lives. Cooke says that Alison Krauss is her greatest influence. “She is my absolute favorite artist. I was taking some classical lessons from some really close family friends. A friend of the family ended up buying me the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, and I remember hearing her was a distinctive moment in my decision as to what I wanted to do with my career. That soundtrack with her, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris, was a new sound that I wasn’t used to. It’s where I took a turn in my life. It’s what got me started to singing country.”

Wayne has recently enjoyed success with her songwriting, co-writing Eric Paslay’s 2014 hit “She Don’t Love You.” She said being on the other end of a hit has its rewards. “I would say that’s been one of the coolest moments of my entire life. Eric is a star and so exceptional, as a singer and a writer both. To have a cut on his record was so hard to describe, but for it to wind up being a single was fantastic. We actually do it in our set, so it’s gone over quite well!”

As Runaway June continues to watch “Lipstick” steam up the charts, they are also headed into the studio to put the finishing touches on their upcoming debut project.