Just KJ (aka: Kimberly June) is a Kona-based folk-pop artist full of fun stories to tell. With an unconventional up-bringing in the Dominican Republic and five years of the Nashville music industry under her belt, she has acquired quite a unique and deep outlook on life.
Some of her most recent achievements include co-written songs for TV shows like Nashville and Degrassi High, an endorsement with Kala Brand Music, and a main-stage performance at Wanderlust Oahu 2018. Her single, “Love and be Loved,” was a winner at the 2018 Hawaii Songwriter Festival and available on iTunes.
Between Hawaii and LA, she is currently working on her album Just KJ, featuring all new songs written since her Saturn-return poetic adaptations of her own life experiences. Her newest single “STOKED” will be released on Friday, April 19th on all online platforms. KJ describes herself as “a true country girl at heart with a deep love for nature and wide-open spaces.” She travels often, practices yoga, and creates healthy meals from her garden in Holualoa.
When did you first become interested in being a singer-songwriter?
I was twelve or thirteen when I started writing a lot of poetry and then wrote songs, but I had no way of putting them to music, so I picked up a guitar. I was really intrigued by country and folk music. I loved Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, and James Taylor… all country stuff that I grew up listening to.
What was it like working in Nashville, and what did you take away from it?
When I was at the Berklee College of Music, I felt like I was one of the worst ones in the school. The weather was cold and miserable in Boston and I took a trip with 40 students, and we went down to Nashville just to explore the music industry and get a taste for it. That was the first time that I saw that songwriting could be a career. I met lots of songwriters who had songs on the radio. As soon as I got back to Boston, I packed up my stuff… drove down to Nashville with a trash bag full of clothes and a guitar in my car and I transferred. I got hired to work for an indie publishing company right on Music Row as a senior in college, and then as soon as I graduated, they hired me as a staff writer. I signed my first publishing deal when I was 20.
I understand you play a guitarlele at your shows. For those that aren’t familiar with it, could you describe it?
It’s basically a ukulele-sized guitar. It’s the same size, but it has six strings. It’s tuned the same as a guitar except it starts on A instead of E. They’re becoming a little bit more common. When I lived in Nashville, it was perfect for just going to the park and traveling around. It’s great to bring to the beach here. When I started working with Kala Brand Music, they sent me one that has electronics and everything so I can play it at my shows.
How did you choose the Big Island to be your home?
I had just spent five years in Nashville and was wanting something a little bit different from the city life. So, I had fun over in Oahu for a couple of years, but when I came to the Big Island, the moment I landed I just knew that this is where I was supposed to be. It was at nighttime, too, so I couldn’t even see the island. I knew when it when I landed. I just felt it.
What are some of the challenges you’ve discovered being a musician here, and what needs to change?
I found a little niche here. There were not a lot of female musicians, and it seemed to be male-dominated. I noticed right away that people wanted to hire me for parties and weddings and all sorts of stuff because they hadn’t really seen many self-sufficient female musicians. It was just a different vibe. I do really miss having a musical community of people to collaborate with… you know, the caliber that’s in Nashville, obviously it’s Music City USA. It’s got the best of the best. I didn’t realize how quickly I was learning and growing when I lived in Nashville until I left… and then I came here and I feel like I’m playing a ton, but I’m not necessarily growing at the same pace as I was in Nashville. I’ve been putting on songwriters’ showcases so that people have a platform, and it’s going over really well. People are asking me to do it more often. It would be great if Kona had more of a nightclub, or a music club-lounge type of place. The closest thing we have to that is Gertrude’s.
Tell me about the new album you’re working on called Just KJ?
It’s an album of my own songs except for one duet I did with a guy from Hamakua called Higgs. We released our song as a single in December and it’s called “Grateful For You.” All the rest of the songs are autobiographical songs that were inspired by my life.
Your new single “STOKED” drops this Friday, April 19, and the music video will be out the following week. Can you give us a preview?
I wrote it at my boyfriend’s kitchen table, and I was just feeling really happy about our relationship. It was the beginning of a honeymoon phase and it really kind of flowed out all at one time. Sometimes with songs, you have to craft them, and they take a while, but this one just seemed to flow like something coming from a higher source… it just poured out of me and it’s about feeling stoked in a relationship and about how crazy life is.
The video was shot on the Big Island and starts off in Kona, right in the middle of town. My boyfriend and I tandem surf and we also tandem skateboard… we do all sorts of cool moves.
Would you like to add anything before we go?
The song “STOKED” will be on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon music under artist name JustK.J (see links below). The music video will be up on YouTube at noon on Friday April 26. You can follow me on Instagram, and I usually play at the Lava Lava Beach Club
Thanks for your time KJ!
Take care. Aloha!
To learn more about KJ’s music and performance schedule, be sure to visit any of the following links.
Official “STOKED” video (released April 26): https://youtu.be/Py5Fw1rNWmE
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.