No one could accuse Welsh singer-songwriter Jem Griffiths of not thinking big.
Five years ago, she ditched her legal studies to DJ and book acts at Brighton club Big Beat Boutique, then ran her own dance label, Marine Parade. But even that wasn’t fulfilling her, so she started writing songs and pursuing a record deal. When, after two years, she couldn’t land one in Britain, she went to the United States.
She already had a producer in mind: her hero Stevie Wonder. Griffiths wrote a letter explaining who she was and that she needed the musical legend’s production skills. A friend’s mother typed it up in braille, and she Fed Ex’d it to Wonder’s people. There was no happy ending – and no reply either.
Fast forward to 2004 and things have changed. Griffiths, now trading under just Jem, had several lucky breaks.
A song she wrote with British producer Guy Sigsworth, Nothing Fails, was recorded by Madonna for her American Life album. And after one of her songs, Finally Woken, was picked up by a Los Angeles radio station in 2002, Griffiths scored a deal with Dave Matthews’ ATO record label. Being 30 and having a background in the music industry has enabled her to have more control over a debut album than most acts would. She wrote and produced much of the record herself.
Griffiths admits her Madonna co-write opened dozens of doors in the US. Griffiths is responsible for the song’s key line, “I’m not religious“.
“I thought she’d change that,” Griffiths says, “given everyone was talking about her and Kabbalah at the time. But her version is very different from the one Guy and I did. At some point I’d like to release our version. A lot of people think it’s one of the best things I’ve done.”