When asked why he wanted to record new versions of songs his band June of 44 first released more than two decades ago — on their final proper studio LP, 1999’s Anahata — guitarist-vocalist Jeff Mueller gives a simple answer: He’d never really felt like they were finished in the first place.
“The session for Anahata was pretty tough; many of the songs felt underdeveloped,” Mueller writes in an email. “Speaking for myself … it all just felt rushed and messy — I had very little grasp on how to organize and play my parts.”
Now, all these years later, he and his bandmates are getting a chance at a do-over. After reuniting in 2018 for their first shows since their 1999 breakup, June of 44 — an indie-rock supergroup of sorts, whose Nineties releases married post-hardcore muscle with dubby exploration — went into a California studio last year to record reworked versions of a handful of Anahata songs, plus new takes on two tracks from a ’99 EP, recorded for the Dutch Konkurrent label’s In the Fishtank series. That material will come out this August, along with a 1996 outtake and new remixes by Matmos and Tortoise’s John McEntire, on a brand-new June of 44 LP, Revisionist: Adaptations & Future Histories in the Time of Love and Survival, released via San Francisco’s Broken Clover label. As a preview of the set, the band has just released “ReRecorded Syntax,” their update of Anahata’s “Recorded Syntax.”
Some of the older material, Mueller says, “has been either radically altered or rearranged to a point to where you may not recognize the new version from the one that came before it.” But in this case, the Revisionist version sticks pretty close to the original. Bassist Fred Erskine and drummer Doug Scharin lay down a hypnotic vamp, as Mueller and fellow guitarist-vocalist Sean Meadows carry on a ghostly speak-sing duet, layering in chiming, dramatic guitar lines. It’s an effective piece of sustained moodcraft that both demonstrates the quartet’s fully intact chemistry and serves as a reminder of how distinctive their sound was in the first place.
“Just after we started playing together again, Sean suggested we start considering a list of songs that perhaps could be reworked for a new album,” Mueller says of the origins of Revisionist. “[W]e’d never afforded ourselves the time to thoroughly think through the writing process of several of our later songs — we thought very differently of them upon our return a couple years back. Mickey [Darius] at Broken Clover’s proposal for us to make an unusual recording fit neatly within the ideas that we’d been cultivating. Ultimately, I think we needed to get these new versions out of our system — so that we could advance and look ahead to whatever may come of us creatively. We’re all quite prideful of the way that it’s turned out, and, truth be told, it’s evolved into something quite a bit farther reaching than I think any of us had anticipated.”
June of 44 formed in the fall of 1994. (The band name refers to a convergence of events in June 1944: the correspondence of writers Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin; Meadows’ grandfather’s time in the military; and the birth of Mueller’s mother.) At the time, Mueller, Erskine, and Scharin were all coming out of beloved underground bands: Louisville’s Rodan, D.C.’s Hoover, and New York’s Codeine, respectively. Together with Meadows, who worked with Mueller’s former Rodan bandmate Tara Jane O’Neil in the Sonora Pine and would go on to play with Baltimore art-rock mystics Lungfish, the four got together in New York to devise a sound from scratch.
“I’d met Sean, Fred, and Doug while each of us were involved with other projects,” Mueller says. “Just after Rodan broke in September of 1994, what would become June of 44 scheduled its first writing and recording session for mid-November the same year. We’d never played a note together, yet, somehow, it made sense to think that we could meet for the first time in Brooklyn, rehearse for two straight weeks, record a full-length album, and end with a week of shows. With no money. Genius.”
Given the time crunch, the results were impressively coherent. Recorded by a pre–LCD Soundsystem James Murphy, June of 44’s 1995 debut, Engine Takes to the Water, built on the calm-before-the-storm dynamics of predecessors like Slint and capitalized on its members’ knack for executing complex material with an organic feel. Later albums like Tropics and Meridians — which, along with Engine Takes to the Water, will come out in a new Record Store Day vinyl edition this August — and Four Great Points found the band gradually expanding its sound, so that by the time of Anahata, it was harder to classify them even under the broad umbrella of underground rock.
“With growth and an increase in time spent together, it was important that we cultivate a more diplomatic approach to writing — where we could each share an equally proprietary section of our body of songs, not have it continuously lean in a singular direction,” Mueller says. “What started as essentially an extension of my aesthetic relationships with Louisville and Chicago music quickly evolved into something much broader, pulling in elements of dub, soul, psychedelia, and, ahem, funk.”
The band toured extensively during the Nineties, even as the members branched out into other projects like the Crownhate Ruin, the Shipping News, Rex, and Him. They played the last show of their original run in November of 1999. Mueller says that they’d turned down a few reunion requests in the intervening years but, when their friends in the Sicilian avant-rock band Uzeda got in touch asking June of 44 to play at Uzeda’s 30th anniversary party in their hometown of Catania in 2018, they felt they couldn’t say no.
“On a personal note, much of my headspace during rehearsal and throughout those first few shows back together was filled with thoughts of my friend Jason who passed away back in 2012 — cancer murdered him,” Mueller says, referring to Jason Noble, his bandmate in both the Shipping News and Rodan. “Many of the people we were going to see in Italy on that first reunion trip I hadn’t seen since he’d died. Our band, Shipping News, played its last show in the early summer of 2009, which would be the last concert I’d play for nine years, until the Uzeda party. That all being said, once June of 44 was on stage in Catania, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, among thousands of friends, it could not have felt better. We were just so thankful to be there. I’d been concerned that there might not have been a proper way for us to appropriately communicate our feeling of appreciation. Once there, as it turns out, I was immensely underprepared for the gratitude that we were to receive; that giving of honest thanks for our being there completely caught me off guard. If all that wasn’t enough, my then–13-year-old son was in attendance — cathartic for both of us, to say the very least!”
The band played more shows in Italy that year, and then returned to Europe in 2019 for additional gigs including Barcelona’s Primavera Sound. Last fall, they played in the Bay Area, where they also recorded Revisionist. They made it to the Midwest in January 2020 and had planned to head east in May, but due to the pandemic, those shows have been moved to October.
According to Mueller, now that the band has made peace with its past on Revisionist, new music might be in its future.
“As long as we all are healthy, communicative, and, ultimately, enjoying the process, I think we’re all happy to proceed indefinitely — albeit at a far different, [more] intentional pace than the one we’d set for ourselves in the Nineties,” he says.
When asked about the band’s goals going forward, he broadens the scope. “There are many, in this time of deep political divides, racial/civil injustice, and environmental chaos — where capitalist wealth owns full control and sustains its rank by suppressing, exploiting, or making extinct any identity that stands for healthy balance and equity,” he says. “I’ve always landed firmly that, by design, a life in art or music is political — as the measures that either occupation must take to survive and thrive in this economy and our societal hierarchy work in direct contradiction and opposition to those that aim to destroy such vision and voice. For these reasons, along with creativity and care, we must continue — despite an imposed status of being marked ‘non-essential,’ I’d argue that there’s not been a moment in my lifetime where I’ve felt art and music were more needed than right now.”