JEM
interview by vinnie baggadonuts

Jem: Is this Vinnie?

Vinnie: Yep.

J: Vinnie, do you taste like chicken?

Both: (laugh)

V: Dude, that’s the foulest thing anyone’s ever said to me in an interview.

Both: (laugh)

J: Sorry. I had to ask. (laughs) So, how are you doing today?

V: I’m good. How are you doing?

J: I’m great! I’ve got a bit of a hangover, but I think that’s a bit rock 'n' roll, so all’s fine.

Both: (laugh)

J: I’m all good.

V: How many more interviews are you doing today?

J: Ummm,.. actually, I think you’re the last one.

V: The last one?

J. Yeah. Then, actually, I get to watch a movie this afternoon, which is pretty cool.

V: What are you gonna watch?

J: I think it’s a new film, and they want to put some music in it. Usually you just say “yes” or “no”, but for this one, I actually get to see it.

V: No way.

J: Yeah! It’s perfect, because I’ve got a hangover, so I can just sit and watch it.

Both: (laugh)

J: I can’t think of anything better, except maybe to get a burger or something beforehand. (laughs) I did just finish a promo tour, and it was totally insane, so I think I deserve a bit of a rest. (laughs)

V: How was it?

J: You know, it was brilliant meeting people and all, but amazingly-- or not amazingly, actually-- I took the rain everywhere I went.

V: (laughs)

J: Seriously! We were in the airport last night, and me and my guitarist were looking at the map together, and everywhere we’ve been was covered in rain. (laughs) Everywhere else was absolutely fine. Actually, today’s my first sunny day, and I’ve been to L.A., San Diego, and New York. It’s funny to come back to New York and have it actually be lovely.

Both: (laugh)

J: Seriously! My chaps had never been to L.A., and I was like, “Oh! It’s wicked! It’s this, it’s that, la la la,...” We get there, and it just pissed down for three days.

Both: (laugh)

J: In San Diego and San Francisco, it was alright for about two hours. But really, it’s so much fun to travel around America.

V: So, you have a band now?

J: At the moment, it’s being formed. Well, I was going to say that, but it’s a lie, actually, (laughs) because I need to put it together. I think I go home in a week, come back in three weeks, and then we go. So I’m going to put a band together before the tour, and then I’m going to tour for the rest of my life, just like Dave Matthews.

Both: (laugh)

J: I’m gonna get some top tips from him on how not to get mad on the road. I can’t wait.

V: Have you met Dave Matthews?

J: I have, actually. I met him a few times. I hadn’t seen him in awhile, but I saw him last week when we went to Seattle, where it obviously rained. He came out to dinner with us, which was very nice. He was laughing because I was saying how much I liked his album, and he was calling me a cow, because he thought mine was really good.

Both: (laugh)

J: But, no, he’s absolutely wicked, and he’s been amazing to us.

V: Was he an integral part in signing you to ATO Records (Matthews' record label)?

J: I couldn’t tell you behind the scenes whether he was, but we actually met his A&R guy, Bruce Flohr-- who actually signed Dave ten or eleven years ago-- to RCA. I met him, and he kinda went mad and phoned every day for three weeks. (laughs) I didn’t meet Dave ‘til later, but I heard that he really liked the album and was like, “You know, we’ve really got to sign her.”

V: Nice!

J: Yeah.

V: Did you feel any pressure at all by having this huge, famous rock star pick your album?

J: Well, no! That’s the funny part. When it actually happened, I didn’t know who he really was!

Both: (laugh)

V: Really?

J: Yeah! Well, that’s a bit untrue. I actually had heard of him. They did do a campaign for him in the UK about five years ago, so I knew the name. But when I met him, I was literally like, “Hey. Hello. How’s it going?” My manager, who’s my sister, just went straight up to him and gave him a hug, because we’re quite friendly, you know? And he’s obviously a very friendly person, too, but was a bit taken aback by her just coming out and giving him a hug. He’s not used to that, because he is a huge rock star. So, we were just like, “How are you?”

V: (laughs)

J: Then, that night, we went to Radio City Music Hall, to see him do an acoustic gig, and we were just totally freaked out, like, “Oh my God!” The streets were closed down! It was certainly amazing. So, before, we were just like, “Hi, Dave.” But afterward, I was like, “You’re fucking amazing!” It was wicked. Very good. He’s brilliant. He really is. Being on ATO is quite suitable, in a way, because he’s not really caught up in all that rock star crap, you know? He just kinda says what he thinks.

V: And I think the two of you are peers in a way, which a lot of people might not recognize. I mean, you both have a pretty eclectic sound about you.

J: Well, that’s nice to hear! I’ve only just discovered his music, but,.. have you heard Dave’s new solo record?

V: Actually, I’ve only heard him from other people playing it.

J: Really?!?

V: Yeah. I’ve never really listened to him.

J: I think it’s really good. I really like it, a lot. Before that, I’d only heard,.. well, they gave me Busted Stuff last year. He is quite eclectic, isn’t he? He’s got the sax and fiddle. And, with me, Ge-ology chucked in some very strange instruments on my record. (laughs)

V: Yeah, man. I owe you an apology.

J: (laughs) Why?

V: Because, when we first got the press release, Dani (Lovett, Cornerstone Media) was really pushing for us to talk to you--

J: And you were like, “I don’t want to speak to that Welsh bitch!” (laughs)

V: (laughs) No, no. The press release was all like, “Pop songstress,.. worked with Madonna,..” and I was like, “Oh, boy.”

J: See? That’s a lesson in not judging. Because, I have to say, one of the songs on the record that people love,.. when I heard that she’d actually written it with this guy-- who I didn’t want to work with because he had written Cher’s “Believe”--

V: (laughs)

J: You know that song? Well, it was a big lesson for me in not judging! I heard Madonna’s song, and was like, “Oh, I shouldn’t judge.” They wrote a great song! I don’t know. What would you call it, because I can’t actually bracket myself?

V: What, your sound?

J: Yeah.

V: I don’t know. See, it’s something you could totally hear on the radio, but then a mandolin will come into a song, and I’m like, “What the fuck?”

J: I know! I love it! You know what’s really funny? I was actually watching Captain Corelli’s Mandolin about three weeks before doing the album. We were recording “They”, and we were going through some sounds, and I had these mandolins. I was like, “We have to use them! They’re amazing!”

Both: (laugh)

J: I’m sure if I hadn’t watched that film, they might not have been in my head. It’s really funny how things like that happen. It’s funny you mention it, too, because we tried to go with “They” for the single. I really like that song. And the radio stations-- there’s obviously a lot of pressure on them over here-- but they have added it as a single, and they said they get 50 calls a day about it. It’s a rock station, too, which is cool. I just think people want something different. Like, I was listening to a radio station out in L.A. the other day, and it was like Sting,.. and Sting,.. well, it was pretty much all Sting.

Both: (laugh)

J: I mean, I heard that station and was like, “There’s no way they’ll play my song on here.” But, really, I think all it would take to get people into it is actually getting the music into their ears, because then people would be like, “What the fuck is this?” (laughs)

V: Yeah.

J: I’m really glad it has that kind of impact.

V: The best thing I can compare it to, when I’m talking to people I really want to hear it, is Portishead, but really happy.

J: (laughs) Oh, that’s really nice! I like that a lot. They’re absolutely brilliant!

V: Yeah. Their stuff is so layered, yet sounds really sparse. And I think on Finally Woken, there are so many layers to it, but it still sounds very simple and sparse.

J: Yeah.

V: And there’s some stuff, too, where it’s really hard to categorize what you’re doing. I read that you’re really into Stevie Wonder, and there are times where I can definitely hear that vibe.

J: I love him. (laughs) I was just telling someone, actually, that I sent a letter to him years ago, in braille, that said, “Please produce my album!” But I never heard back. And I really do want to do it. I was always thinking, “Bah! I’ve got to get in touch with him!” And then, one day, I was skiing, and found out a friend’s mum had a braille typewriter. So I typed it and mailed it to him. But I’ve never heard back from him.

V: Man, you’ve got to use some of this leverage now that you’re famous!

J: Well, I will!

Both: (laugh)

J: I’m gonna get him on the phone! I’ve got the management details, because I tracked it all down, you know? Stevie’s someone I’d absolutely love to write a song with.

V: Who else is on that wish list?

J: I think I’d actually sway more towards wanting to work with people in hip-hop. You know, I’d love to work with The Rza.

V: Oh, man.

J: I’m definitely interested in contacting him. Actually, I want to track down his details, because I want to see if he’d do a remix.

V: Oh, wow.

J: I’d love to work with hip-hop people. Maybe write the music and the hooks, but not actually sing it, you know? I mean, it’s a bit cheesy sometimes when hip-hop has singing in the chorus, but,...

V: I don’t know. I think there’s some really good shit like that.

J: Well, I think if it’s catchy and they had really good raps, it’d be great. But, you know, we’ll see what we can do to infiltrate those circles. (laughs)

V: Working with Ge-ology, did you get to meet a lot of MCs or other producers?

J: No. We just locked ourselves away at his place in Brooklyn. But I did actually work with Michael Elizando, who is Dr. Dre’s right-hand man. And that was sweet. He’s such a nice guy. It’s funny, I keep meeting such nice people that everyone’s starting to think my perceptions of people are so wrong, because lately I’ve been saying that everyone’s so nice.

Both: (laugh)

J: But really, everyone that I meet is nice! And he was totally un-hip-hop, and just wicked. Other than that, though, I haven’t really met anyone else involved in hip-hop. But, I mean, it’s just like meeting anyone else, isn’t it?

V: I just wondered, you know, with wanting to get into that scene, if you’d met anyone.

J: No. I’m trying to think, actually. There probably are some others, but I can’t remember. Mostly in the UK. I have a lot of friends involved with dance music and stuff like that. The hip-hop thing is something that I definitely eye from afar, and admire it, especially when I DJ. And that’s the great thing if your music gets big-- it can open doors, so you could maybe call Stevie Wonder, you know?

V: Do you see yourself going down a similar path to Sly and Stevie, where you are making really successful pop records that are also musically fresh and creative?

J: Do I think I’ll do that in the future?

V: Well, as opposed to--

J: Are you saying that my record’s not really catchy or really good?!? (laughs)

V: (laughs) No! What I’m saying is, you aren’t doing the typical pop star thing. You’re not following a Britney Spears path.

J: Oh, no. I would never. But I haven’t really thought it out, either. This music is just what comes out of my head and my heart, you know? So, just whatever happens, happens. I really am in love with music. It just blows me away, every day, and every night. You know how, if you don’t have anything in the world, some people get a dog to keep them company? Well, to me, music is like that. It’s always been there, and it’s always just amazed me. That’s what I get out of music. I think there’s no question that, for example, maybe by my third or fourth album, I might do an acoustic album. That’d be great, you know?

V: Yeah.

J: I’ve always wanted to travel the world, and record a different song in each country. Just hang out with different indigenous peoples and make a crazy album. But, yesterday, me and my guitarist came to the conclusion, “Forget that!” He said, “You should do a mad third album where you totally lose it.” So, it’s been decided that on my third album, I’m gonna lose it and go mad in Germany.

Both: (laugh)

V: I’ll have to interview you from the asylum.

J: Yeah! (laughs) We laughed about it for ages, but I think I’m gonna have to hold myself to it! So, I’ll deliberately make myself go mad by that point.

V: So, did you assemble a band for Finally Woken, or did you play a lot of the instruments?

J: Well, we didn’t have a band for the album. When we did the album, it happened a few different ways, depending on who I wrote with. For example, with Ge-ology, I always had the samples on vinyl, so we’d chop those up in his studios. Then we’d pick a beat; he’s got the most amazing beats! We’d kind of arrange it from there, and those became demos. Then, when I met Yoad (Nevo), I’d finally met someone I could do a whole album with. So we just locked ourselves in a studio, away from everyone, where there was no pressure. Basically, he is a genius with instruments. And that was perfect for me, 'cause I can always hear things in my head. Like, I’ll know I want it to be a harp, but I can’t play it. I’ll hear the melodies, but I traditionally write on keyboard and piano. So, we’d get the tracks to a certain point, then just stare at all the instruments he has hanging on his wall. We’d start choosing. “What about the banjo?” or “What about the rock guitar?” He’d start playing something, and I’d kind of direct him. It was cool, too, because we’d keep an eye on each other.

Both: (laugh)

J: I’d keep an eye on him, because he likes dodgy, '80s rock drums. (laughs) And I’d tell him, “There’s no fucking way that snare drum is going in the track!” (laughs) I’m very picky about my drum beats.

V: (laughs)

J: Seriously! Certain snare shots make me feel sick. Like, I get physically sick! And he would always lean towards them. And he would keep an eye on me in terms of adding little melodies. We have lots of counter-melodies on the record, and, occasionally, I’ll want to put one too many on the track. He’d be like, “We don’t really need it.” And I’d say, “Yeah. You’re right, actually.”

Both: (laugh)

J: It’s all been perfect, though. The whole path, up to this point, has just been perfect. I’m really happy.

V: So, then, I have to ask you-- The story on your site about the crystal river--

J: Oh my God! From that book!

V: Yeah.

J: Someone told me that I shouldn’t put it up there because of copyright.

V: Fuck that.

J: That’s what I thought! If whoever wrote that-- Richard Bach, presumably-- thought nice enough, he wouldn’t sue me. (laughs) Did you like it?

V: Yeah, I did.

J: Oh, isn’t it just-- I read it, and was like, “No way! That’s amazing!”

V: At what point in all of this did you discover it? Was it back when you were working for the label, or when you were just getting signed?

J: No. Actually, let me think,.. It was actually about 2001. You know, everyone says, “Read The Alchemist.” Whatever. So I read that one, then I read something different, and then I read the book this quote is from, and I just loved that part! To me, that just summed up everything, you know what I mean? I think that anything is possible, but we’re all a little bit limited by ourselves, whether it’s fear or whatever. But the imagery of this little, (laughs)-- I don’t even know what it is, a mollusk? Something,.. the image of him letting go, causing the other ones to go, “Oh my God! He can fly!”

Both: (laugh)

J: But all he did was let go, you know what I mean? People might see me and go, “Oh, wow! She’s so special.” But I’m not any more special than anyone else, you know? I just worked for something. And I really believe anyone can do anything. It’s really nice that you read it!

V: Yeah, well, when I read it, it struck me that it kinda echoed your own personal professional history. I thought, “Wow! What are the odds of finding something like that?” So I wondered when you came across it.

J: Well, I didn’t find it before I got into music. I was going down that road naturally, you know? I consider myself an eternal optimist, knowing full well that life is actually quite hard. It’s not like I go around saying, “Wow! Everything is great!”

Both: (laugh)

J: I think that life is quite hard, but you’ve got to make the best of it. And, definitely, something weird has happened in this last year where I just feel like, truly, I just don’t want to care about that hard stuff. There’s so much crap that we concern ourselves with that’s just so limiting, and it stops everyone from doing things. Technically, the song “They” could be about Big Brother. But it’s more about how we listen to “they” and what “they” say and what their opinions are, even though we don’t look into them for ourselves, you know?

V: Yeah.

J: I went to Turkey last year, and when I came back, someone was like, “Oh my God! You went to Turkey on your own?” Very concerned, you know? And I said, “Yeah. Why?” And their response was, “Oh, you know,.. it’s so dodgy!” And I thought about it, and if someone had said that to me before I went, I might not have gone, because we tend to just listen to shit like that. And it’s such bullshit! And I’m done with it. I don’t want that in my life. And that passage from that book just encapsulated it for me.

V: Man, you should come hang out here, because we’re all pretty much of the same opinion.

J: Where are you based?

V: Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

J: Wait, wait, wait,.. hang on. My geography,.. let me figure this out. I don’t think it’s the Midwest, is it?

V: Yeah.

J: Oh, I got it! Is it near Nebraska? No, is it down from Nebraska?

V: No, we’re up North.

J: North? Oh, well, I tried.

Both: (laugh)

J: I’ve got a world map in my studio because my geography was so bad that I thought Canada was in America. (laughs) I kept correcting my friend who said she was going to Canada. I’d say, “You mean America.” She’d go, “No! I’m going to Canada.” And I’d say, “Yeah. America.” (laughs) I don’t know if you’ve got Risk over here. It’s a board game.

V: Yeah.

J: Well, that’s how I learned my geography when I was young, and it didn’t have Canada on it! It was just territories! So, I bought a world map now, and I’m studying America so I know where I’m going. But no, it’d be great, hanging out. Actually, hopefully, when I start touring, we’ll go everywhere. And I’m really glad you liked that story. I’m going to keep it up there. I actually don’t think I’d get sued for it.

V: You know, it’s a really cool thing. So if people get on you about copyright laws,.. fuck that! It’s what inspired you, and you should share that.

J: Good. I’m going to keep it up. Thank you. (laughs)