Delicate Cutters

Photography by Brandon Brown

When Delicate Cutters front woman Janet Simpson sings, her warm, inviting tone pulls you into her troubled and emotional world. The music may be mellow, marked by lilting melodies with pop, folk and Celtic influences, but lyrically, Simpson investigates the darker regions of the human heart. She visits the disturbing places we keep hidden from ourselves
because they’re too painful or embarrassing to bring to
light; yet she explores this terrain with keen insight and a bit of ironic humor.
“When we started the band, my lyrics were all pretty self-abusive, depressing and masochistic,” she says. “If you take yourself too seriously, you’ve lost the battle. You have to be a bit tongue-in-cheek when you’re being so melodramatic. I write a lot about people who throw themselves into love without thinking and people who turn away from love and go into themselves. There’s inherent danger in both approaches.”

In person, Simpson is light and upbeat, not at all like the often-damaged characters that populate her songs. That’s not to say she hasn’t known her share of hard times: “When I was 14, I was in an accident and broke my back. It shook me up, but didn’t paralyze me. I was fairly religious at the time. I felt I’d been spared so I could do what I’d always wanted to do, which was sing and write songs.”

“I’d been making up songs ever since I could remember. MTV came on when I was a kid. I immediately knew that I wanted to make music and music videos. I asked my parents for guitar and piano lessons and they borrowed money on their car to buy me a piano. As soon as I could walk again, I started looking for a band to play in. I remember going to auditions with bandages wrapped around my legs.”

Simpson played in high school cover bands and later as a solo artist, but had no particular desire to be pigeonholed as a folk musician. “When you’re a girl with a guitar, you get lumped in with the folkies no matter what you’re doing. I’d been in bands for 20 years and written a thousand songs. I may have been playing solo, but I wanted to add some dynamic range to the songs. I couldn’t do that alone. One night, I got drunk with Chance [Shirley, the band’s drummer] and Brian [Moon, the band’s bass player] and started arguing about The Replacements. Chance said we should start a band and we did.”

With the addition of fiddler Kevin Nicholson, the band was complete. Their debut album, We Are Not Lovers, drew raves for its hard-to-pin-down aesthetic and Simpson’s compelling vocals. It set the stage for the most recent album Some Creatures, an emotional and musical tour de force. “We recorded the album live at Brian’s house, keeping everything pared down. Since we couldn’t do any instrumental overdubs, we had to stay true to what we play on stage.”

Some Creatures brings to mind Gillian Welch fronting the Velvet Underground in a deserted coffee house at 4:00 am. “Breathe” is a tragic tango with an ‘80s flavor. “Dirt” could be dubbed heavy metal folk. “Lovers, Don’t Leap” is an anxious romantic ballad and the breezy country blues of “May As Well” sound like a ragged, cheerful jug band tune. “I don’t know where the songs come from,” Simpson says in conclusion. “They just flood out, like one complete thought.” 

– J. Poet