Despite just being in the beginning stages of her career, Brit trip-pop singer Jem has many a story to tell. She’s on Dave Matthews ‘ label, used to do promotional work for Fatboy Slim, appeared as the wedding singer at the season-ending nuptials of teen soap The O.C. and got her first writing credit with a song that ended up as a Madonna single. It seems everybody in the business loves this girl – but why did it take so long for her to record an album?
In November of ’99, Jemma Griffiths quit her job with a record label in London, packed up her things and hit the road back to her hometown of Cardiff, Wales. The soon-to-be Jem was finally feeling the need to make her own music instead of promoting other peoples’ work.
“My whole life I knew I’d be a singer,” she says. “I always knew, all through college and everything else, I just didn’t feel the rush. I knew one day my instinct would tell me it was the right time, and that day came. And however weird it sounds, because I was following my heart, I couldn’t have felt more confident. Of course, my friends and family were like, ‘What are you doing?’ because I hadn’t really told them. I was like, ‘Didn’t I tell you? I must’ve told you though.’ Because I completely knew.”
After writing and demoing for a year and a half, Jem hopped around a lot, moving to London then the States before being discovered by an L.A. radio station and landing on Dave Matthews’ ATO label. Of course, coming from inside the music industry had its advantages.
“It’s been really helpful for lots of reasons,” she says. “I think the main ones being that, a) I know what goes on – I know the kind of bullshit stuff and the real stuff. Also, I know how hard it is and I really appreciate what my label is doing because I’ve done that job. It’s funny, a lot of artists I think forget that it’s these peoples’ jobs to sell you into the shops, and to me that’s huge. The other reason it helped is just I think I never felt desperate, y’know when I met A&Rs I never thought like, ‘Oh wow, they can…’ I mean they can technically change your life, but I felt I never really needed them. And it made me very confident about my music – that my own opinion was as important as theirs. It wasn’t like I needed someone to tell me what to do with it.”
The end result of Jem’s confidence is her breezy, genre-fusing debut, Finally Woken. The record has been well-received by critics and O.C. music supervisors alike. One thing that must be aggravating is the frequent comparisons by music journalists to softer, more pop-based British singer, Dido.
“I want to know who Dido was compared to,” she laughs. “Because I wonder if you just always have to be compared. Like I understand: I’m from the U.K. and I’m a girl. And I kind of understand vocally, we both have soft voices, but musically… it’s not an issue, I just really don’t think it is similar. But it’s funny, it’s almost like people are trying to create a beef. She’s gonna become my nemesis.”