The Delicate Cutters Know How to Be Sweet: An Interview

Photo by Brandon Brown / Styled by Morgan Jones Johnston for Rugged & Fancy

Birmingham, AL is a city close to my heart, so I was extra excited when I heard that the promising new band, Delicate Cutters (named for a Kristin Hersh song) hails from The Magic City. On their debut record, Some Creatures, the shimmering vocals of Janet Simpson blend seamlessly with masterful fiddling and warm harmonies. Simpson talks a bit about the record here.

ELM: I read you’re from Birmingham, which is fun for me because I did grad school in Tuscaloosa. Tell me more about how Birmingham influenced you and what kind of following you’ve developed there (especially at the BottleTree, which I miss dearly!).

JS: Bottletree is a great venue, probably our favorite to play. Since I moved here something like seven or eight years ago, Birmingham has opened me up in a way that is sort of hard to explain. The best way to put it may be that it has caused me to be more open to new experiences and has caused me to fall more deeply for those that I love. Our local following is something I would describe as very loyal. It’s not a huge group of rowdy fans, but it’s a group of folks that show up every time and make playing so enjoyable.

ELM: I just watched the video for “Be Sweet.” Can you tell me more about that video?

JS: That was so fun. We literally just threw a little potluck at my house. Meanwhile, our drummer Chance, who is a filmmaker, and a couple of other friends filmed us in our natural states. Well, mostly natural, anyhow.

ELM: What was your own musical career like before joining the Delicate Cutters?

JS: I’ve been playing in bands for twenty years. I had one in high school that was a ton of fun called The Harletts, which didn’t sound (or look) at all like the name might lead you to think. We were together for about three years, recorded an EP and a full length which we self released. After that, I spent a while playing solo, basically until I moved to Alabama in 1999.

ELM: The fiddle is such a perfect addition to a lot of the songs. How did you come to have a fiddler in the band?

JS: Pretty much, a friend of a friend told me she knew this guy who was a really good guitarist, but he also played fiddle. I was like forget guitar – everybody plays guitar! I don’t think she had any idea how good of a fiddle player Kevin is. Anyhow, he is completely steeped in Irish tradition, which was the whole reason he started playing when he was a kid. I love the juxtaposition of that influence with the songs.

ELM: Can you tell me more about what “Los Angeles” is about?

JS: Well, vaguely, this friend of mine moved to LA and his life seemed to fall apart rather quickly afterward. (He’s ok now.) But the thought behind it, and it’s one I occasionally kind of get obsessed with, is that we lose ourselves so easily to illusions – be they people or ideas or dreams – and can be left in pretty desperate situations as a result.

ELM: “Me and the Birds” ends with a dissonance that is unusual for the record. Where did that come from?

JS: Pure fun!

ELM: “On Fire” has a different feel than the other songs. Does it feel
different to you?

JS: The way we recorded that song was intentionally stripped down so as to sound like we were sitting around the living room playing, which we in fact were for the recording. “On Fire” is my attempt at a folk song. We get called folky a lot, but for me, this is what a folk song sounds like.

ELM: Who produced Some Creatures, and how did the production influence the album?

JS: Our bass player Brian was the engineer for the album, all recorded at his home. We all four played a significant role in the production of the album, but I feel that Brian and Chance had a real vision for how they wanted things to sound.

ELM: You’re obviously a fan of Kristin Hersh (or so I’m guessing based on your band name), but what other artists do you like?

JS: Like most musicians, the scope of what I am drawn to listen to is far and wide. Some artists who stand out or have really influenced the way I want to make music are The Talking Heads, Nina Simone, Vic Chesnutt, Joni Mitchell and Ray Charles,

ELM: What is your songwriting process like, if there is one?

JS: Usually, it starts with a phrase. Half the time it’s when my hands are full or I am driving. If I can hang onto that phrase long enough to sit down, usually a burst happens and the entire song just runs out onto the page. The melody comes right along with the words, or if not right with, not far behind. If I think the song will work for Delicate Cutters, then I take it to the band and we start to play around with arrangements.

ELM: Is there a second single and video planned for Some Creatures?

JS: We just finished shooting a video for “Warm Beer & Sympathy.” It should be out really soon!

ELM: What are your tour plans?

JS: We’re working on a short tour of the Southeast in October, and hopefully will be extending out further as the year goes on.

ELM: Who are your favorite authors/poets?

There is a young modern poet by the name of Maurice Manning that I met and heard read a couple of years ago. To me, he’s the new blue collar poet. I also like Anne Sexton, Wallace Stevens,William Carlos Williams,W.B.Yeats, and more recently, Walt Whitman, for poetry. My favorite authors are Salman Rushdie, Cormac McCarthy, Arundhati Roy, Donna Tartt, and Ernest Hemingway.

Delicate Cutters Homepage

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