Kit Vale, the project name of Canadian artist Jen Simpson, is a hard rocking muso whose single, ‘Pet‘, we wrote about earlier this month. We loved Jen’s sound, and we wanted to get in deeper about her music, as well as her thoughts on women in rock music. Please check out our interview with Kit Vale below and let us know in the comments what you think!
Lovely to meet you Jen, thanks for speaking to us today!
Thank you! Nice to meet you as well!
You’ve gone solo after being in a variety of bands – what are the benefits of going it alone, and what are the drawbacks?
The drawbacks of going alone are the lack of feedback and the comfort that working in a group provides. Also, in a band setting, most members ideally take on different roles and responsibilities, which makes it much easier to get everything done. The expenses are also generally split between members, which makes it easier to get together money for recording and other band-related costs.
The main benefit of going solo is complete creative control. As a solo artist you don’t need to compromise your artistic vision, or shelve certain songs, or come to an agreement with anyone else, which can slow things down and dilute a specific artistic vision. Band mates can obviously also add a lot to a song, but it can be very freeing to do your own thing without any compromises.
Rather than use your own name for your music, you’ve gone with Kit Vale. What was the reasoning behind that, and what’s the origins of the name?
I’ve always been a fan of stage names. I think there’s something old-timey and kind of glamorous about using an alias. It instills a sense of fun. For this particular name “Kit Vale”, I used my Dad’s first name “Kit”, which I’ve always loved, and added “Vale” because I also love that word, both the sound and how it looks when written out. Vale can mean valley – which holds no particular meaning for me, but it also means “the world, or mortal life”.
Recently I found out, however, that it also means “goodbye”. Shortly after my father passed away, I felt compelled to start up my Kit Vale project, so it was a bit coincidental that it actually meant “Goodbye Kit”.
Your new single, ‘Pet’ is a fab gothic – almost emo, if that’s such a thing anymore – rock song that had us head banging along from the very first note. Do you feel there should be more women in rock music? What female rock artists inspire your sound? Who inspires you overall in your life?
I definitely feel there should be more women in rock. The more, the better! While I definitely have noticed an increase in rock bands that include females over the years, there are still way more men making rock music. I love women’s voices and their passion, and really enjoy hearing their perspective on life reflected in the lyrics. I love seeing women playing guitar and bass or smashing away at drums or a keyboard, totally unfettered. What you learn from music – either making it or listening to it – can affect your whole life. I think some of the toughness and assertive energy that rock music exudes is especially important for women to absorb and utilize in their daily lives.
I’ve been inspired by so many amazing female rock artists, from Debbie Harry to Joan Jett, Courtney Love, Kathleen Hanna, Chrissie Hynde, Karen O, Emily Haines, Siouxsie Sioux, and PJ Harvey – to name a few. These women each motivated me to sing and perform at different points in my life and made it seem possible.
In my life, I’m inspired by the people closest to me. My Mom is a talented musician who has had a major impact on my ability to write and sing. She’s always motivated me, taught me (oftentimes painstakingly), listened to my songs, and offered encouragement and feedback. She got me my first guitar when I was 14, an electric Fender from a pawn shop in Hamilton.
I’m also inspired by my girlfriends who have always been a source of strength and encouragement. My husband is incredibly inspiring to me as well. He’s a brilliant mathematician and medical scientist. What he does with mathematics and disease discovery is a form of scientific artistry.
We hear a lot about the Vancouver rock scene, but what is the scene like in Toronto? Who (apart from yourself of course) should we be listening to? What’s your top 3 artists on your playlist?
Toronto has a great music scene. It’s not the biggest, but there are some really great bands and the venues and promoters that survived the Covid lockdown seem to be going strong. “Queens and Kings” are an amazing rock band who put on a great live show. I would highly recommend checking them out. “The Riches” are another really great Toronto-based band. “Blackout Orchestra” is another friend’s project. I’ve really enjoyed the lullaby-esque tunes they’ve put out recently.
There’s also a group called “Save Toronto Music Venues” (not a band, but an organization) that have put a lot of effort into the local music scene by raising money for Toronto venues and organizing some really amazing shows, including “B*tch Fest” – a showcase of females/female-identifying and presenting rock musicians.
The video for ‘Pet’ very much stands up for girl power, female dominance. Despite the presence of a man in the clip, he’s quite subservient, you’re clearly in control. How does this play out in the music business, do you feel women are being given the same chances as men?
I feel that there have been more concerted efforts to include women in the music industry. I’m not sure I can speak to how successful these attempts have been, as I don’t think it’s been happening long enough to say. While these programs or showcases are all really great steps, the main thing I see holding women back from creating long lasting careers in music are more broad and structural issues than solely sexism in the industry.
Societal expectations for women to provide massive amounts of unpaid labour around the house, caring for family members, and caring for children serves to hold many women back from rewarding artistic pursuits and careers. These unequal expectations were made even more apparent during the pandemic when many women were torn between caring for their children at home and being able to work.
Adding on the extra stresses and expenses of creating a career in music makes that option impossible for many, many women. So – no, until there are bigger and more lasting changes regarding gender equality on a global scale, I do not think most women are ever given the same chances as men.
What’s next for Kit Vale? What can fans expect?
My plan is to release another single and accompanying music video very soon, which along with “Pet”, will be part of an album I plan to release in 2023. The music for the songs on this album were recorded with an old band of mine from NYC (The Never Evers) and have been shelved for a while. I’m releasing them now, as I feel they should be heard, and will continue to release newer songs and music as well.
I have many songs I plan to record and release, inspired by various genres, including folk, electronic, blues, garage-rock, hip hop, punk, and post-punk. Since Kit Vale is a solo project, I have carte blanche to do whatever I want, whenever I want, which is quite freeing.
Finally, and I ask this of everyone I speak to, what question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but nobody ever does? And what’s the answer to that question?
Hmm. That’s a tough one! I guess I would like to be asked about other passion projects that I have. One that I’m currently very excited about is my plan to start an animal sanctuary. It’s definitely an early work-in-progress, but is something I’ve dreamed of doing for a long time.
Over the past few months, my husband and I were fortunate enough to be able to purchase a substantial plot of land in the country (in Southern Ontario). There is an old barn, which needs some work, but it has good bones and could pretty easily be turned into a space for the sanctuary. I need to do a lot of research, planning, and fundraising, but am aiming to get the sanctuary up and running over the next couple of years.
I’d like to take in a range of animals but need to really think about what will work out best and what we can handle. I’m looking forward to building that eventually, as well as – of course – a recording studio.