Jenny Kimmel’s first album has been a slow brew. Some of the songs on it, she wrote 15 or 20 years ago.
But she’s looking to finally release “Peace in the Middle,” which she recorded with her band, Walking Medicine, in January. Last month, she released the album’s first single, “Songbird,” a fiddle and clawhammer banjo-infused folk number.
“I started recording in February,” she said. “I’m still working with the engineer to get everything mixed and mastered. So it’s been kind of a process to get here.”
Recently, she spoke about using music to explore her relationship with the Earth, about the family farm where she lives, and about her 5-year-old friend James.
How did you get your start in music?
I’m from Rockingham County, still live on the same farm I grew up on. I went to college at UNCG, studied anthropology, went abroad.
I’ve been interested in music for a long time, and got into acoustic guitar and songwriting in high school. My sister is a professional musician in the old-time world, and she’s had a big influence on me.
Who are some of your musical influences?
My sister, for sure. Her name is Ivy Sheppard. And I really love Van Morrison and Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan. They’re probably my three favorites, but I have a pretty extensive list of people that I love and listen to. A lot of older artists like Townes Van Zandt. I listen to a lot of new folk music as well. There are some great people on the scene, like Vivian Leva and Bella White.
How would you describe your music?
It has a lot of roots influence and old-time Appalachia, but would probably fall in the Americana and folk category.
How would you describe your creative process?
I spend a lot of time alone, I’m kind of a hermit. And I like it that way. It’s how I do my emotional processing.
I wrote a song last night, actually. I was looking for a song to put on a playlist, to kind of describe an idea. And I searched and I searched and I searched, and there was no song I could find with those particular lyrics, so I thought that I would just write one. I had a good time with it.
What do you raise on the farm where you live?
My brother and sister-in-law run the farm side of things. It’s called Pine Trough Branch or PTB Farm. They do beef and pork, grass-raised and pasture-raised livestock. They do vegetables and flowers and mushrooms.
I’m a permaculture teacher, deal with whole systems, like how you situate your house on the land, and where you get your energy from, all those myriad connections. And, I have a big garden, kind of homestead on the farm, and then teach, do workshops. I’ve been teaching at Guilford College for a couple of years in their sustainable food systems program.
With Walking Medicine what are some of the themes you try to touch on?
Well, definitely love of Earth and connections to that. Sometimes it’s more rural-rooted kind of language and poetry. It might show up in a more traditional sense, and then sometimes, it shows up in a more academic sense, in talking and thinking about the way we relate to land and self and care of place.
And then, I write about love, usually introspectively, what that relationship with one’s self is like, how we treat people around us, how we treat the planet.
If you could open a show for any artist, who would it be and why?
I’ve been listening to a woman named Valerie June, and I really just learned about her in the last couple of days, but she’s just great. She sings about many of the things that I do, and the sort of spiritual, self-evolved connotation, and she’s just very much herself. She has a beautiful voice and beautiful music.
Do you ever sing karaoke or sing in the shower, and, if so, what do you sing?
I have never done karaoke before. I do sing in the shower, jazz improvisation stuff.
What’s your favorite song to perform?
I do like performing my own stuff. The song, “Peace in the Middle,” people seem to really love when I play it, and get really engaged with it. It’s a universal-type song. People sing along with it.
It has a little bit of a political tone to it. But, it came about during the pandemic because I was struggling and having a difficult time emotionally, and it was just literally about finding peace in the middle of all this chaos around us. The chorus is “Find peace in the middle of all things.” It can apply to many things.
What’s the funniest or weirdest thing that has happened during one of your performances?
I have a little friend, James, 5 years old. He’s the son of my best friend. And I remember doing a show before the pandemic, and the sound system was really hot, and he ran up to me in the middle of a song and said, “It’s too loud!” So, raw honesty from the kids is always great.
What’s next for you?
I would like to continue growing fruit and vegetables and enjoying my life and all the beauty around me and keep writing songs, and just sort of see what happens with this album. Whether 10 people or 1,000 people or 10,000 people hear it, it doesn’t really matter, just that the songs are out there, instead of being a secret. I’m excited to let them free.
— As told to Robert C. Lopez,