Born in Cardiff, Wales, Jemma Griffiths was a natural singer and songwriter. Without formal training and with little need for encouragement, Jem — as she was known — started penning lyrics by the age of 13. She kept close ties to music throughout her secondary school years and then moved to Brighton, England, to study law at the University of Sussex.
During her university years, Jem was able to get her feet wet in the music industry. She began with club and festival promotions and then became a DJ agent, booking various talents in and around Brighton. With more and more contacts coming in, Jem was able to help establish Marine Parade, a local DJ label.
Thanks to Fatboy Slim’s advice (she had helped the “Brit hop” producer and artist while he was performing in the UK) and her own inspiration, Jem finally decided that it was time to try her hand at making an album. In November 1999, she quit her job and moved back to Wales, secluding herself at home in a tiny studio. Working hard at songwriting and production, she made four demos.
With the rough work in her hands, she moved to London and, through her previous contacts in Brighton, she met up with producer Guy Sigsworth. Known for his work with Bjork, Sigsworth gave Jem much of the electronica influence that is heard on her debut album. Better still, they created the song “Nothing Fails” together, a track that was picked up by Madonna later on and appears on her American Life album. Jem received a writing credit for her efforts.
A lover of hip-hop, trip-hop and other funky beats, Jem packed up and left for Brooklyn, collaborating with another top producer, Ge-ology, of Mos Def and Talib Kweli fame. In late 2002, Jem had collected a number of tracks to call her own and finally found a stable producer, Yoad Nevo.
As Jem began working with Nevo, brushing up on her previous tracks and creating new ones, L.A. radio station KCRW 89.9 FM picked up her demo single “Finally Woken” and began inundating the airwaves with her unique sound. A representative for Dave Matthews’ ATO Records (home of artists like David Gray) heard the track and when he discovered that Jem remained unsigned, he contacted her immediately.
After some encouragement, Jem approached ATO and was signed in a snap. In October 2003, ATO released the EP It All Starts Here, followed by the full-length debut album Finally Woken in March 2004. The song “They” captured audiences’ attention and then, thanks to the producers of The O.C., Jem appeared as a wedding singer on an episode of the hit FOX show, performing Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” (which is on The O.C.’s soundtrack). Both “Flying High” and “Just A Ride” were also featured on different episodes of The O.C., and the latter was also featured on the show’s soundtrack.
Touring like a madwoman in 2004, Jem went coast to coast in the U.S. and did shows in England, where, surprisingly, she is less known. With her soothing voice interlaced with hip-hop and fast-paced beats, Jem appeals to many crowds and will surely only increase her fan base further in coming years.