Pussyfoot vocalist Jamera Simmons was always a powerhouse frontwoman waiting to happen. But three years ago, she was still slugging it out in the workaday trenches of Atlanta, Ga., logging triple duty as a nanny, cocktail waitress, and motorcycle mechanic (yeah, you read that right), a single mom who was also an aspiring songwriter, but only in her (very limited) spare time.
Then she answered a Craig’s List ad placed by three well-traveled local musicians, including session guitarist and producer Julio Miranda. The trio had the makings of a polished pop-rock outfit, but needed a formidable frontperson to given them a proper kick in the ass.
One ass, properly kicked, coming right up. The rest is ATL history, as the band went on to record their 2017 debut “Religion,” a polished pop-rock/funk/electro/soul gem distinguished both by Simmons’ charismatic vocals and by the slick chops of Miranda and his fellow session vets. And though only Simmons and bassist Monty Conner now remain from the group that produced “Religion,” she says the project helped them find a workable sound, a genre-blending yet accessible and rock-savvy musical identity they can explore in further detail on future releases.
“On that first record, we had these guys who all had big credentials,” she says. “They’d worked with people like Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry. And there so were many genres going on, because everyone had such broad backgrounds. But we always kept it glued together. It was completely organic, the way we worked together and created songs.”
Simmons doesn’t have what you might consider a standard musician’s bio; a self-described Navy brat, she spent a good portion of her formative years moving around the country, never staying in one place long enough to set roots to ground, to establish the social ties that lead to bigger and better things.
Nonetheless, Simmons loved music, all kinds of music, soul and hip hop and R&B and reggae and pop rock, No Doubt and Outkast and Sade and Blondie and Amel Larrieux. “I don’t ever remember not singing,” Simmons says. “And as soon as I could write, I was writing songs. I made friends easily, but since I moved around so much, the friendships were only so deep. So the music became my friend.”
But though she was inspired by any number of soul/R&B crooners, Simmons tells that she always harbored a love for rock and pop as well, and a yen to perform with the kind of careless abandon that seemed indigenous to so many rock vocalists. As an African-American singer-songwriter, that didn’t make for an easy path, she says, given that black singers are often pigeon-holed, reflexively relegated to a space somewhere along the axis of R&B/soul/funk/etc. Even for the brassiest African-American female former motorcycle mechanic, it seemed a daunting prospect, breaking into the wider, and whiter world of rock ‘n’ roll.
“I had done some time in a popular pop-rock cover band, and I was always a fan of pop,” Simmons says. “But somehow making a career as a pop-rock singer didn’t seem like a viable option. I didn’t have a lot of people to look up to. But at some point, I said to heck with it, I’m going to do what I want to do. At some point, you have to throw away all the pre-supposing and the assumptions.”
And thank Moloch she did, because as a rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman, Simmons is a natural, a big-voiced belter who can also croon, coo, smolder and sizzle as the need arises, and an able lyricist who can wax ruminative or provocative with equal conviction.
“There’s a sophisticated side of me; there’s a crunchy side of me, and then there’s a ”hood’ side of me — I used to like to start fights once upon a time, but I reformed,” she says. “And all of that is part of what I do as a singer and a lyricist. It’s part of our sound — badass and sweet and dirty and gritty and sexy. But in the end, it always smooths back out.”
Pussyfoot will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, April 4 at 10 p.m.