Female voices (pt.4) – Jem
Almost by accident (thanks to Last.FM), I bumped into Jemma Griffiths (a.k.a. Jem) and she instantly caught my attention. From her own website:
Jem was born in Wales, a misty and oddly shaped UK peninsula also responsible for bringing the world Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey among other things. From the age of thirteen she was singing and writing songs, basic recording equipment was ever-present and she decided that one day she would be a singer. Keeping her dreams of this future career mostly to herself however, after finishing school she headed to Sussex University.
Whilst in Brighton, Jem’s great passion for music drew her into the music industry, but at this point it was the behind-the-scenes side that attracted her. She hurled her energies into club and festival promotion, became a DJ agent and finally helped set-up and run the specialist breaks label ‘Marine Parade’. After a time however, it became clear something was missing. She realized that she’d been circling her own artistic instincts and it was time to take a leap of faith. But that great leap forward first required a small step back.
In November of 1999 Jem surprised her colleagues by leaving everything behind and retreating to the creatively inspired air of Wales and a lifestyle of sofa surfing. Moving from the limits of her dictaphone, she assembled a mobile studio and got cracking on her songwriting and music production craft. This turned out to be a fruitful time. She completed a strong collection of 4 demos and things began to move quickly from there.
Jem moved to London where she continued her nomadic existence and started collaborating with other writers/producers. Two days into her first writing session with acclaimed electronic producer Guy Sigsworth (Bjork, Frou Frou), the song ‘Nothing Fails’ was born. This collaboration between Guy, Jem and subsequently Madonna, appears as track 6 on Madonna’s ‘American Life’ album. Her love of beats and bass also lead her to Brooklyn where she teamed up with NY hip-hop producer Ge-ology (Mos Def, Talib Kweli) and in autumn 2002 she met her now co-producer Yoad Nevo. Together they have succeeded in fusing her many musical influences to create a fresh and distinctive new sound. Jem’s music is a combination of bright melodies, soul searching lyrics and diverse rhythms that grab you from the first listen. Her seemingly innocent lyrics contain those closely observed details that are as much about optimism as they are about discovery.
The aptly titled song ‘Finally Woken’ found its way to influential Los Angeles radio station KCRW 89.9 FM. Music Director Nic Harcourt began spinning Jem’s demo on the nationally acclaimed program “Morning Becomes Eclectic” and it created a proper stir. “As soon as I heard the demo from this Welsh songstress I had no choice but to put her on our playlist,” said Nic Harcourt, “the beautiful ‘Finally Woken’ first made its way across our airwaves in March 2002 and ‘Flying High’ has become one of my favorites.” With each play causing an assault on the station’s telephones, her demo tracks quickly made her one of the most listener-requested artists at the station and landed her in their coveted top 5 played artists, and all prior to any record label being attached.
As fate would have it, A&R Bruce Flohr was one of those listeners and he wooed her to sign onto Dave Matthews’ ATO record label, which has enjoyed successes with David Gray, My Morning Jacket and Ben Kweller. Jem’s EP ‘It All Starts Here…’ was released by ATO Records in Autumn 2003 and her full-length debut CD ‘Finally Woken’ followed in March 2004. After a long and winding road to becoming a full-fledged and working artist, Jem has finally woken, indeed.