Jem

A New Welsh Hero

Music Features
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No, shrugs Jem, she has nothing to do with the same-titled ’80s cartoon, wherein a pink-haired pop-rock vixen and her band the Holograms battled a bitchy trio called The Misfits every episode. But the Welsh singer is, as her namesake’s theme song once proclaimed, “Truly Outrageous.” But beneath the safe mouse-brown shag and timid doe eyes of Welsh songbird Jem Griffiths lurks a mind almost as calculating as those Misfits. “I’m like the Terminator,” she growls over lunch, after wowing SoCal college station KCRW with an in-studio acoustic performance. “I just will not stop until everyone in the world hears my music.”

With her sister Chloe calling the shrewd managerial shots, Jem (no surname, please) has already run a successful techno label in her homeland; co-penned—with Guy Sigsworth—“Nothing Fails,” a hit for Madonna on her recent American Life album; and quietly inked a deal with Dave Matthews’ prestigious ATO imprint, a coveted contract during these corporate-takeover days. How did this Cardiff kid do it? Sheer craftiness, the 28-year-old slyly replies. Starting with what she terms a “U.K. government scheme” she implemented a few years ago. “I think the scheme is still going—it’s called the New Deal For Musicians, and it worked for me because I was older and I really appreciated what it was doing. But there were a lot of people on it who were 18 and very stoned most of the time.” The concept was surprisingly simple: Put in 40 hours a week at a government-sponsored studio, acquiring the skills of recording and production. But by Jem’s reckoning, she gladly punched the weekly clock for over 80. She was that eager to learn. “Finally Woken”—an ethereal techno-looped track featured on her It All Starts Here … EP, and as the title cut for her forthcoming ATO full-length—was “actually recorded through that program, at a dodgy school in Wales, in a bad area where the school had been given a lottery grant from, so they built a studio for the students.” For a year, Jem and her classmates received a monthly 200-pound stipend. “Plus, you also got help with your rent,” she says. “So you basically end up living off of 50 pounds a week. And if I add it up, I think I’ve lived off of 50 pounds a week for ten years, up until I recently got my publishing deal.”

These studio chops have made the artist a force to be reckoned with. With instantly-hummable tracks like “They,” “Save Me” and the ’60s-chirpy “Wish I” to her credit, this raspy-throated diva arrives on the pop scene like some conquering Valkyrie, a more techno-savvy, hook-driven Dido. “But I can’t say the scheme would be great for everyone,” cedes Jem. “Because if I’d have taken their advice, I’d have signed “Finally Woken” away to some tiny Welsh label. I didn’t feel they had too much quality control—they were just sending out everything from this program, together in one package, to local labels. So I didn’t let them send any of my stuff out, didn’t give them any of my CDs. I really kept myself to myself. Because I knew what I wanted, I refused to do that.”

Is it truly world domination that Jem’s after? Could be, she giggles. “I just always knew, knew when I was only 11, knew that one day I’d be a singer,” she concludes, with plucky Hologram aplomb. “And my vision was this, to go for it and hopefully be big time. I wasn’t ever planning on this being some tiny little thing in Wales.”

Only those evil animated Misfits could possibly stop Jem now.