Back in ye olden tymes, when cigarettes were affordable and connecting to the Internet took about as long as a really satisfying shower, young people used to flock by the tens of thousands to the sunny, smoggy seaside dream factory that is Los Angeles. Musicians, actors and hangers-on alike made the trip with eyes full of stars and heads full of ambition, confident in their hearts that their prodigious talents were on the verge of discovery.
Approximately 2 percent of them was ever heard from again.
Juliet Simms was among the last generation of dedicated performers for whom the trek out west seemed a nearly mandatory component of establishing an entertainment-industry career. A California native whose family had since put down roots in Tampa, she made the trip back when the millennium was still new.
"I was actually 15 years old when I first went to L.A., and I don't know, Florida was just like, the music scene just wasn't happening there," she says. "L.A. was the place to go to become someone, to do something with your life, so that's where I went."
Since that time, Simms, who is still in her early 20s, has become a music-scene veteran who's seen more than some players do over the course of their entire careers. Signed to Sony Music at the age of 19, her path has seen her through countless opening slots on all-ages tours, experimental Generation Now marketing schemes and multiple band-membership changes; it's a wonder the project she dubbed Automatic Loveletter managed to release two EPs — '08's Hot Topic exclusive Recover and '09's eponymous digital release — along the way.
"You know, I definitely have had my moments of discouragement," she says. "Thinking, 'Why is it so hard? Some girls get signed out of high school and then they're on tour with some huge band you love, and then they're on MTV? What the fuck?' I've definitely had moments like that. But it's the love of the music, the passion that's kept me going all these years. Persistence is probably one of my strongest traits. So I'm never giving up, man."
It's looking like that persistence is about to pay off handsomely. With a new full-length titled Truth or Date, a solid lineup that includes her brother Tommy (who's known around these parts for fronting beloved Bay area act Win Win Winter), and a slot on the traveling summer cavalcade of all-ages hip known as The Warped Tour, Simms and her cohorts are poised to exponentially expand their already enviable fanbase.
And Automatic Loveletter sounds more than ready. The eclectic and innately hooky Truth or Dare is rife with the sort of heavy yet catchy post-emo hard-pop currently plied by so many young indie artists just growing out of imitating their influences and into their own as songwriters, but it has a depth and polish that many of its contemporaries don't achieve. Simms' voice is soulful beyond its years, and she knows how to showcase it against a backdrop that includes sophisticated textures and mainstream elements to appeal to a wide cross-section of listeners. First single "Heart Song" smolders with a knowing maturity; the dynamic, triumphant "Story of My Life" blends acoustic strumming, pop and posthardcore into a surefire crowd-pleaser; the ballad "My Goodbye" could find itself equally at home beside Kelly Clarkson or Alkaline Trio in an iPod playlist.
Simms says the departure from standard indie-pop tropes is a deliberate one.
"I feel like with this record, what I was trying to go for was something kids could listen to now, as well as a little bit older of a crowd, and also maybe something that generations from here on out would consider cool," she says. "I took inspiration from different genres and different decades, and that's what I tried to do with this album.
"I love all those bands and I definitely had some inspiring moments touring with them, but I mean, what I listen to when I put my iPod on is the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, Manchester Orchestra, real rock 'n' roll. So I would say that that was most of my inspiration, just some good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll."
While Simms felt that she needed to head out west to make her own rock 'n' roll dreams come true, she acknowledges that, these days, such a move could be considered overkill. The constantly evolving online social media landscape makes it possible for artists to make their sounds heard from anywhere and, if she were starting her musical journey today, she would probably do it without leaving Tampa Bay.
"Now, you can live in Ohio or in Utah or Florida and completely make it," she says. "You do not need to go to LA, you don't need to go to New York, because of the technology, it's just unnecessary."
Simms still loves Florida's own version of the West Coast, and spends much of her down time right here. On tour, though, being back home offers one more symbol of exactly how far she's come: friends, friends of friends and even friends of friends of friends hitting her up for free tickets to her show.
"I definitely get my fair share of text messages, Facebook messages, Twitter messages," she says with a laugh. "'Hey remember me? Yeah, so, I want to check out your band, you guys are coming through, right?' It's definitely a whole different side to things."