Jessica Simpson has a new country album out titled Do You Know. You might have heard about it. During a recent visit to the CMT offices, she somehow shook off all the publicists and handlers and ended up in a conference room all by herself right before our interview time. Without any cameras in sight, she relaxed in her chair and seemed like … well, not at all like the super-famous ditz from Newlyweds. She was focused and friendly, as she talked about letting her guard down in co-writing sessions, the spiritual side of her music and how she’s planning to win over the skeptics.
CMT: How would you describe the country audience as you’ve seen it so far?
Simpson: The county audience has been amazing. I think from the very beginning of my show, for the first three songs, I’m trying to win over their approval. And by the fourth song, I think the fourth song is the Dolly Parton song (“Don’t You Know”), I get a standing ovation, and then people stand for the rest of the show. They are really listening to the music, really evaluating you, really studying. And then once you prove yourself up there, you know that they’re gonna buy the record. It’s like you can see it in their face, that they enjoy being there.
I think it’s important to try to win them over, instead of just going up there and singing some songs.
Yeah, I would never go up there so confident that I think I already have them won over. I go up there with a purpose.
How do you win them over? Is there a strategy?
There’s not really a strategy. I just sing. I’ve been doing that a lot more, like I’m back in vocal lessons and really staying focused. I make sure I get a lot of sleep and drink a lot of water. You know, you have to physically prepare yourself for a live performance, as well. But emotionally, I’m there and I’m in my music, and the music that I’m singing is straight from my heart, and I can’t wait for everybody to hear it. So it’s more of excitement that I experience before I get out there. I’m excited because I know that I can win them over. I’m confident, but I’m not overly confident to where I think they already adore me. If anything, I’m like, “I hope they liked it.”
For the people who are skeptical, what do you really want them to know?
That I made this record for a reason. And this record really encouraged me to be myself, and it really allowed me to take what God has given me and persevere. I don’t want people to believe everything they read, because 80 percent of it is not true. Just read direct quotes. (Laughs). Direct quotes are the way you’ll know me, and that’s very important for people to know. Because the perception that a lot of people have of me is false, and if you just give me a chance and listen to the music, you’ll understand.
Was this the first time you’ve gone into a room with people that you don’t know very well to write songs?
It was the first time that I had to force myself to be vulnerable. And it was the first time that I’ve felt like I was afraid that I couldn’t trust somebody, just because of what I had been through with the media and whatnot and all those experiences. You just think that a white van is down the road with listening devices. You know what I mean? You get really paranoid. You think, “Oh, my gosh, if I talk about this, are they gonna pick up the phone and call Us Weekly?” So I had to really go in there and just spill the beans. I couldn’t be creative if I was going to be in denial. So I really had to just get everything out there in the open and be honest with myself and with the songwriters just so they could help me bring to life the emotions that I was feeling.
That was smart because if you fake it, country fans are smarter than that.
Absolutely. And I think that when you listen to the album, you’ll know that I did the right thing. You’ll feel it, because my voice sounds completely different singing. I haven’t made an album in so long, so my voice has just … I don’t know, it’s just so much better.
The vocal range or the strength?
I think it’s the strength and the angst and the passion. Yet I find a lot of humility in it, like being on stage and being humble and grateful to be there again and have that opportunity. A lot of those things come out in your voice. … They want you to tell the story through the song, and it’s been a blessing to experience that and to feel that, because I’ve never felt that before.
With this new album, do you have any songs with religious content?
Yes, I do. Faith is a huge part of who I am and it’s really the core of everything for me. I have a song called “Pray Out Loud,” and then I have a song called “Still Beautiful.” And in some way, the Dolly song has something about it that has religion. There’s something about it that only faith can give you. She sings about soaring the heavens and gathering stars, so it’s really spiritual. It’s a love song, but it’s really spiritual. It’s about a spiritual experience you have with somebody.
How do you find private time for yourself?
I have not been spending a lot of time in L.A. anymore, so that keeps my life a lot more private. Being in Nashville has been calming for me, and it’s really led me back to who I am. There’s just no chaos. And also over here in country, there’s no competition, and I really like that. It’s healthy competition. Everybody supports everybody, and I really respect people’s perspective out here. It’s really nice and easy to be a part of because I’m not a very competitive person to begin with. So to feel as if I can be artistic and not have to be competitive with anybody but myself, that’s great. … Making sure I have my family around or I have best friends around, I really surround myself with people who’ve got their head on straight and their feet on the ground.