Janet Simpson

photo: Meg McGlamery

written by: Kaydee Mulvehill

Janet, I know you are part of a duo (Timber), and you play your own stuff. Tell me a little bit about each project? 

Timber is a collaboration between Will Stewart and me that started several years back (2015, I think?). I think we both see Timber as a place for our more vibe-driven, esoteric songs, but also it was an opportunity for the two of us to work together very intentionally. I really love collaborations like this, and Will is an effortless, natural musician, so easy to work with. 

My “solo” project is my first time working under my own name in about 21 years – since I moved to Alabama, really. I’ve historically classified my solo work under the name Delicate Cutters, which eventually became a band with a very distinct sound (Kevin Nicholson on fiddle, Chance Shirley on drums, and Brian Moon on bass was the core band). There came a point where I thought I was giving music up – that I’d said all I could say, and so I sort of moved away from playing as Delicate Cutters and looked for opportunities to be more of a back-up musician. I played that role in several projects for a while, and it honestly took a lot of pressure off of me. I also had a very short-lived solo project I called Ms. Jackson. I loved those songs and the arrangements, but for one reason or another, I didn’t get it off the ground. 

A little while after Will and I started Timber, a whole slew of songs started coming out, and I felt it was time to start giving them a little air-time. It’s evolved into me playing under just my name again and trying to be authentic about where I am in life – musically and otherwise. 

Any new releases coming our way soon? 

I am very excited to be working on an album of some of these new songs. With any luck, I hope to release something in the first half of 2020. 

Tell me about your songwriting process. What inspires you? 

Loneliness, homesickness, connection, disconnection, magic, nature, death, family – Most songs just sort of happen, usually suddenly and inconveniently. (I’m driving, in the middle of dinner with someone, trying to sleep, etc.) 

If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be and why? 

This is such a hard one. In my personal experience, it’s really difficult for artists to get good representation – from publicists to booking agents to management. Most of us – self strongly included – are not cut out to do all the intense footwork it takes to book tours, promote albums, manage the logistics of releasing an album. I’m great at showing up to write, record, perform, and whatever else I am asked to do, but I may not have the skills or money to pay someone to create a beautiful website, write a compelling bio, create video content, book a 30-day tour that profits, etc. It really takes a team to make it work right, but for so many, that’s a little out of reach. Having said that, it’s great to have mentors who can help guide you so that you can make it work. I’ve had some great ones. As the industry is always changing, I’m always looking for new ones. 

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice what would it be? 

Be more brave, more often. Listen to your instincts. 

What’s your experience been like as a woman in the music industry? 

I’ll say it’s vastly improved from my early years. My first gig was when I was 15 – not even old enough to drive – in 1992. I cut my teeth in the Atlanta scene, and there were always creepy men hoping to do you a favor, condescending sound guys, promoters who thought that if you were a woman, they could skip out on paying you. My favorite story is actually a Birmingham one, though. I had a gig with my band Teen Getaway at an undisclosed but short-lived all-ages venue. When we showed up, I was told by the sound-guy, “Girlfriends wait outside during soundcheck.” Wow. That was about 17 years ago, now, but I can still feel the hair standing up on my arms. 

What’s been your favorite moment during a performance? 

I have so many. I love having a great moment on stage where you lock eyes with another bandmate and erupt into laughter at how much fun you’re all having, or feeling a deep connection with the crowd watching the show, but probably the most sublime moments are when you are living completely inside the song, suspended in sound, totally unaware of anyone or anything but the song. That’s transcendent. That’s why we do it. 

What’s one food/drink you couldn’t live without? 

I love pizza. Almost any pizza. Red wine goes well with pizza. 

What’s your favorite thing about the Birmingham music scene? 

I love the people in our scene – from the venues to the sound people, promoters, other bands, and artists – I think we’re really lucky. It’s supportive, sweet, and increasingly diverse.