Jem’s energy is contagious. The 28-year-old singer-songwriter is looking at a view of Hollywood from her hotel room. “You know what’s really weird? I’m practically in the same room I was put in a year ago when I wrote (the song) ‘Flying High,”’ she says.
A year has made all the difference for the Welsh songstress. Now signed to Dave Matthews’ ATO Records, her debut album, “Finally Woken,” is quickly becoming an indie smash.
She’s back in Los Angeles this week to perform on the season finale of Fox’s hit TV series “The O.C.” The show will air May 5. She also will be featured on the “O.C.” soundtrack.
“We’ve really seen TV, over the past couple of years, become this extremely powerful marketing tool for awareness and establishing an artist at a national level,” ATO Records label manager John Biondolillo says. “For a small label like ATO that does not necessarily have the financial ability to do that with advertising, an opportunity for 12 million (people) to hear Jem’s music and see Jem on network television is just phenomenal.”
ATO was founded by Matthews, his longtime manager Coran Capshaw and associates Michael McDonald and Chris Tetzeli in late 1999, and scored success with one of their first signings, David Gray. The label, a joint-venture deal with RCA Records, has a six-person staff and a roster of eight artists including Ben Kweller, Patty Griffin, Gov’t Mule, North Mississippi Allstars, My Morning Jacket and Vusi Mahlasela.
The goal, Biondolillo says, is to nurture acts and create career artists. Jem’s spirit and fresh sound fit in perfectly with ATO’s philosophy.
Pursuit of a dream
For Jem, it’s been a winding path. Even though she says she started playing piano as a child and always knew she would eventually be a singer, Jem first got her law degree, became a club and festival promoter, a DJ agent and then helped set up and run record label Marine Parade.
“I just knew one day that I would be a singer,” she says. “It was just this weird internal thing, and I didn’t really tell anyone. Literally all the way through my law degree, all the way through working on festivals, and then running the label, I knew that one day I would go and do that. For whatever reason, the time just wasn’t right, and I really followed my instincts heavily.”
She finally hit the breaking point when running the label became “too admin,” she says. “I was talking to the artists so much, and I started thinking, ‘I want to be doing that.’ Then one day, I just went, ‘That’s it.”’
That was four years ago. She thought she would get a record deal in six months. But even though she had some radio play and co-wrote “Nothing Fails,” which appeared on Madonna’s album “American Life,” landing the right deal took time.
“I didn’t have another job,” Jem says. “Literally every day, I woke up and thought, ‘How do I get a record deal?”’
She did everything — from sending record label CEOs e-mails to writing Stevie Wonder a letter in Braille.
Finally, ATO came knocking. The label started working on the project nine months ago and released the album last month. Between buzz at radio with the single “They” and the “O.C.” spot, Biondolillo is optimistic.
“Jem is going to develop her live show and her live band on the heels of what we hope continues to be strong radio airplay,” he says.
Jem also is set to perform in June at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn., and then kick off a national tour.