Nearly four years after emerging victorious as contestants on the Kelly Rowland– and Frank Gaston Jr.-hosted talent competition Chasing Destiny, R&B quintet June’s Diary — comprised of Ashly Williams, Brienna DeVlugt, Gabrielle “Gabby” Carrerio, Kristal Smith and Shyann Roberts — is determined to continue their winning streak.
Following Chasing Destiny, a 10-episode BET series chronicling the search for the next great R&B girl group, the members of June’s Diary have paced themselves, becoming familiar with each other’s individual skills while fulfilling their creative process as an entity. They’re also able to cross into different genres, recently opening Goldlink’s 2019 Afrobeat-centric album, Diaspora.
Though the past few years have featured a lack of major girl groups, June’s Diary is poised to join the long-running legacy of harmonious R&B acts like En Vogue, Brownstone and SWV, while booking coveted festival slots — like Essence Festival this July, which celebrates the magazine’s 50th anniversary.
Below, the ladies speak with Billboard about their new single “I Ain’t With It,” touring with Xscape and striving for female unity.
Following Chasing Destiny, did you all bond musically, personally, or a combination of the two?
Ashly: [It was] a combination of both, honestly. When we started to record, it made us see each other in different ways, because we’re all artists and we’re all creatives. We film videos of us around our apartment [in Los Angeles] and love to get ice cream — we really bonded over food. We took [the group] very seriously in terms of building a sisterhood, because we all realize that we have a common goal and want the group to work for the long run.
Some fans have commented on how you all have such a similar range, that it nearly sounds like one person.
Gabby: The thing is, though, we also have different ranges. It’s funny to hear that because I think that more than anything, it’s a compliment to our blend. It doesn’t take too much to be able to hear each other and for us to mix with each other. But the truth of the matter is that we all have very different voices, tones and ranges. I think it’s a good compliment to what we’ve been working hard for.
Apart from Destiny’s Child, were there any other girl groups that you all admired growing up?
Kristal: I think all of us were super fans of all the girl groups before [us]. TLC, En Vogue, Jade… the list is very long. They help us blend our voices together and figure out different arrangements, but we also put our own spin on it.
Ashly: We actually had the opportunity to tour with Xscape [in 2017], and that was a dream come true, of course, because we grew up on Xscape and that tour was completely sold out. They taught us so much — not only about how long they lasted and the identity they have amongst them as four women — but [also how to do] covers of their songs [at the Bounce TV Black Music Honors]. To see Black women of any age group together is necessary. Unity, period.
Kristal, you were previously in the group Richgirl. Did that make the transition into June’s Diary smoother?
Kristal: I’ve really been able to give the girls a lot of knowledge about girl groups, from what to expect and how to navigate it. It’s very different, especially if you’re used to being solo. I’m really grateful for that experience because it taught me how to move with my emotions when it comes to June’s Diary.
What messages do you try to convey through your music?
Shyann: Unity, confidence and knowing that it’s okay to be different and being yourself. “All of Us” is my favorite song of ours, because we’re like, “You’re not gonna mess with just one of us, you’re gonna mess with all of us.” We’re not only like the girl-next-door, but we all came from different backgrounds and that makes us unified.
Brienna: On “I Ain’t With It,” it’s like girls getting together, talking about how they’re embracing their independence and femininity. It’s like, “Don’t try to talk to me, I’m not trying to be your girlfriend right now. I just want to have fun.”
What are you most excited about in the new decade of R&B?
Brienna: Definitely releasing new music, we’re working on another project right now [tentatively scheduled for 2020]. We really want it to turn into an album, but we’re just letting our creative juices flow. The way that R&B is developing now, it’s kind of like a meshing of genres, which is what we’re really excited about. We all have different backgrounds when it comes to music. Shy is definitely more of a younger trap R&B, Ashly is more like classic R&B. I’m new trap mixed with reggae because of my Trinidadian background, and Gabby brings a totally different element of jazz and pop and R&B. As we develop this album, we’re creating our own sound.
Ashly: I remember when we were signed to Epic [from 2016 to early 2017], and there was so much creative back-and-forth with the A&R. [They were] deciding exactly how we were going to take over when the show ended. Now we have the opportunity to direct our own music videos or brainstorm our creative content — we’re pretty much working on our own time. People’s attention span is so short and they can listen to a song one day and be on to the next. So, why rush all the content and not let people sit with what you have released? We’re just looking forward to being the captains of our own ship.
How did your guest appearance on Goldlink’s Diaspora come about?
Brienna: It was kind of crazy, because we didn’t even go to the studio thinking we’re about to do a song with Goldlink. [He] was just like, “By the way, I got this record, ya’ll. Hear anything on this?” We literally all got in the booth and we just started doing harmonies. Then we went in the other room and people were playing the piano and basketball. It was really, really fun. I was kind of geeking that Snoh Aalegra was there because her music is bomb. She’s one of the most poppin’ artists out right now.
Shyann: Goldlink is just talented, period. It felt good to know we were around other artists who appreciated five voices at one time. His creative mind is on a different level and I love the album, I still listen to it.
With her experience in Destiny’s Child, what was advice that you’ll always remember from Kelly Rowland?
Shyann: She and [Gatson] would always tell us to stay out our own way and when you think about something, just do it.
Brienna: When we first got signed to Epic, she would be in the studio a lot with us and gave different tips about different dynamics and our vocals. She would always teach in the moment.