The Fine Art of Music: Cece June's lovely, emotional songs are the result of listening and looking
Cece Duran was born and raised in Barcelona, where she is currently spending her summer.
But it's in Ann Arbor where she's building her name as a singer-songwriter under the guise Cece June.
In 2021, June released an EP, Pieces, shot a video for the single "Mine," and played shows at venues in downtown Ann Arbor, and the University of Michigan’s annual Springfest.
June is back with a new single, “Over," which she made with friends from U-M. While the sadder side of Spanish folk music courses through June's songs, she also cites England's Radiohead, Ireland's Damien Rice, and America's Bon Iver—no strangers to melancholy melodies—as influences.
We caught up with June to discuss her acoustic-and-electronics single "Over," the influence of fine art on her music, and her future.
Q: "Over" has a very genuine yearning to it. I love how the lyrics are unafraid to show some vulnerability, to tell a possible past lover that it’s not over 'til you say so! What was your process in writing this song? Did it start out of an anecdote, a line stuck in your head, or was it more slowly developed?
A: I like my songs to become the pathway to expressing thoughts I would have otherwise drowned out. I feel that with music [the thoughts] acquire different meanings and I am able to see them from another perspective. "Over" was written in my kitchen, while I paid little attention to the Zoom class ongoing in the background. The first thing I came up with was the guitar pattern, and then the lyrics fluttered out—almost like I needed to cough up the words, like they had been stuck inside me and wanted to get out. They barely changed from the first version I wrote; they felt right.
Q: This is your first piece of music in 2022, what can listeners expect to have changed since your previous release, Pieces?
A: I was 17 when I recorded Pieces so it is safe to say that so much has changed, both sonically and personally. That first EP is composed of five songs that I wrote when I was getting ready to move to the U.S. from Barcelona, and while I dearly adore them, I feel like the style of music I want to make now is quite different.
"Over" was such an amazing experience because what started as guitar and voice became a much more experimental track. It was my first time playing around with vocoders and synths, but I like that it still maintains that acoustic sense to it with the cello and the drums. At every stage of the recording process, "Over" acquired new meanings and different sounds, and I still like to listen back to the first rough demo in which the autotune literally makes me sound like T-Pain. It was such a turning point in the way I envisioned my music and my sound because it prompted me to want to try new things.
Q: "Over" was recorded entirely with the help of students. Who are some of the collaborators and how did their influences help you shape the song in unexpected ways?
A: I met Ethan Matt, a U-M alumn now, back in September of 2021. We had been meaning to get into the studio together at some point but I was in the midst of recording my debut LP so it wasn’t possible until I wrote "Over." We first bounced ideas back and forth as well as track references of what I intended the song to sound like. Ethan produces mostly hip-hop and rap, which was something entirely new for me. My first EP was recorded in Spain with a professional producer whom I had little influence over more than what I could suggest melodically. I went to him with five demos and he did his magic, but I didn’t feel as involved as I have felt with both my LP and "Over."
Since moving to Ann Arbor, I have had the absolute pleasure of meeting so many talented musicians who have also become good friends and who have played seminal roles in the development of my tracks. It has been such a beautiful journey to see the music take different shapes, ones I could have never done myself. With anything I have recorded while living in Michigan, It has been so endearing to see how willing people are to be a part of artistic projects.
I like to think of the development of "Over" as gaining life as more creativity was put in it. While the stripped version is still good, it’s better with the guitar riffs of Matt Stawinski, the cello of Micah Huisman, the drums of Casey Cheatham, and of course, the modern production of Ethan Matt—all of which are students at the University of Michigan.
Q: I’d love to hear more about the influence of art on your musical aesthetics and your collaboration with the painter and sculptor Donald Sultan for the cover art of "Over." Was he someone you had previously known and loved or was he someone you discovered in your working on the song?
A: I grew up in a household filled with art, with my father owning a gallery and my parents being avid art collectors. My appreciation for art has shaped who I am, truly, so much so that I could not see music without it. I knew that I wanted to bring fine art along with everything I did, and ever since my first release, the cover art has been accompanied by works by internationally renowned artists. Album covers are like pieces at museums—most go unnoticed, but there will be a few that will make you stop in your tracks to regard it with care. For instance, 22, a Million by Bon Iver was a transformative album for me—musically speaking, too, but more so conceptually. I have spent hours studying the album art, the symbols, the hidden meanings. I appreciate works of art that make me do just that, that don’t leave me indifferent but will rather prompt me to read between the lines, to take some sort of action.
The collaboration with Donald Sultan is one of the most memorable things that has happened to me this year. I wrote [the article] "The Rebirth of Still Life" for The Michigan Daily after I discovered his work in an exhibition I attended back home in Barcelona. He reached out to me via Facebook and said he had loved the article. In the process of creating the song, I always saw blue hues—it mentally placed me in this empty space, which was both comforting and cold. It evolved as the seasons did—a long winter, a brief spring, and a premature summer all elapsed until "Over" came out. When the time came to choose the album art for "Over," I knew I wanted something that was both minimal but meaningful—his work Silvers, Dec 2020 was the perfect imagery for that. After our brief correspondence, I decided to shoot to the sky and asked him if it could accompany the song as the cover art. He gladly agreed.
Being able to blend the arts I so dearly love makes the experience of creation so much more special. That way, my music acquires more than just a personal meaning; [it] becomes a network of interpersonal relations that make the creative process an exciting and daring one.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I am currently back home in Barcelona, Spain where I will be until August. I have music videos to shoot and a few concerts here and there. I am looking forward to the fall, where I will be playing gigs in Ann Arbor with my band, The Crawlers. It will be an intense senior year, that is assured, but I am thankfully surrounded by so many people that love the project and that are helping me make the release of every piece an easier and less scary thing to do. As per when I graduate, music full-time hopefully. It is all so unpredictable, but I know that now feels good, so I’d rather not look too far into tomorrow.
Katy Trame is a student, poet, public library associate for Pulp, and music writer for The Michigan Daily.