A Morgantown band is making great music by doing what comes naturally.

Music critics nationwide fawned when Morgantown-based duo Hello June released its self-titled debut album last fall. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and almost every one drew the same comparisons. National Public Radio described the album’s lead-off single, “Mars,” as a “pulsating slice of 1990s comfort food.” A review on the website Paste called the same song “an unforgettable dive into indie rock” and compared Hello June to The Cranberries and “other heroes of sweeping ’90s guitar rock.” Unsweetened magazine compared the album to “90s-era atmospheric pop.”

Which is funny—because Hello June members Sarah Rudy and Whit Alexander don’t really listen to that stuff. “It’s one of the things I’m least familiar with, in terms of music,” Alexander says.

You can see why music reviewers drew the comparisons to ’90s rock. While Alexander’s drums provide Hello June songs with a rock-solid foundation, the walls of sound are built by Rudy’s jangling electric guitar, calling to mind bands like REM and the Cowboy Junkies. And her moody, evocative voice is a little reminiscent of The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan and Natalie Merchant–era 10,000 Maniacs.

Yet Hello June is not trying to be a Generation X throwback act. Their sound is just the result of Alexander and Rudy’s natural chemistry.

The pair first met around 2009 when they were both attending West Virginia University and living in the same apartment building. Rudy was soon playing music with Alexander and his friends, although the collaboration never bore fruit. Everyone went their separate ways but, by 2013, both Rudy and Alexander found themselves back in West Virginia. They rekindled their musical collaboration.

Rudy and Alexander say Hello June is an easy environment in which to make music. When working up new material, they don’t have to talk much. Rudy writes the lyrics and comes up with a guitar part, Alexander invents a drum part, and a Hello June song is born.

The recording process for their first album followed a similar pattern. Producer Bud Carroll—who has worked on albums for West Virginia acts like Goodwolf, William Matheny, and Ona—says when they started working on the first song, “Mars,” he took his usual approach and started coming up with signature riffs and fills to take up space not occupied by Rudy’s vocals. But he could tell Rudy and Alexander weren’t happy with the results. “They were just not into it,” he says.

So Carroll started stripping the songs back. Instead of inventing countermelodies and riffs, he built the tracks around Rudy’s guitar parts. “Sarah’s guitar part is always really fully formed. The whole thing is in there,” he says. “I tried to get the most out of the both of them playing together.” Rudy and Alexander would play through each song a handful of times until they had a take that felt good. Then they would stop. Other than a few overdubbed electric guitars that were added to thicken the sound, the songs on the record sound almost exactly as they do onstage.

Hello June has now appeared on stages all over West Virginia, including a stop on Mountain Stage back in November. They have also played a few gigs across state lines and, after taking the winter off to work on material for their forthcoming second album, hope to play more out-of-state gigs in 2019.

While Rudy and Alexander sometimes incorporate other musicians into their live shows, the core of the band remains their drums and guitar. “We feel comfortable going out as a two-piece. We feel comfortable rocking out as a two-piece,” she says. “It kind of goes back to the way the material was written.”  wearehellojune.com

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Zack Harold
Written by Zack Harold
Zack Harold is a southern West Virginia native. He covered education, health, and government at the Charleston Daily Mail before becoming the newspaper’s features editor. He joined New South Media in 2015, became managing editor of WV Living in January 2016, and took over as managing editor of Wonderful West Virginia in July 2016.