Everyone needs a good song to wake up to. At one point while I was living in Brooklyn, my roommate woke up every morning to “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes (believe it or not, it did not get tiring). If you’ve been looking for the right stretch, shower, and take-on-the-world tune, we’ve got one for you. “Like Myself,” the debut single from JEMS – comprised of singer-songwriters Emily Colombier, Jessica Rotter, and Sarah Margaret Huff – utilizes three-part harmony to empower those who have been mistreated and are looking to break away.
Though the end result is sonically uplifting, the song’s genesis is rooted in Colombier’s personal trauma. “I was mentally and emotionally abused by my stepmother for close to 20 years, a story eerily close to the Cinderella story yet unfortunately, not a fairy tale,” she explains. “On top of the interminable blows to my character and self-worth, I was not allowed to play music and sing freely in my home.” She says the #MeToo Movement encouraged her to break her silence, and that putting her experiences to song, however painful, has led to healing. It’s also helped strengthen her bond with with her bandmates, and with their self-titled debut scheduled for release on May 17, the trio’s happily-ever-after is just beginning.
Listen to the premiere of “Like Myself” and read our full interview with the band below.
AF: How did JEMS come together as a group?
EC: Jess and I have known each other since birth. Our mothers are friends – both studio/classical musicians and they still work together! After college, we began writing music and would collaborate and sing back-up on each other’s projects.
JR: I met Sarah Margaret through a mutual friend when she moved to LA from Nashville back in 2015. We did a song together at one of my shows and everyone said they loved our voices together so I added her to my band and SM and Em sang with me on my first album’s tour. All people could talk about was our three part harmony!
EC: The following year, we decided to join forces again, with three voices and a guitar, as an excuse to travel and to see the Solar Eclipse, which happened to be on Jessica’s birthday. Out of that journey, JEMS was born.
AF: You’ve said that writing together is like “group therapy.” Can you tell us a bit about the songwriting process? Does each member take the lead on a song or is it more collaborative?
SMH: Usually one of us will bring an idea to the other two and we’ll sit down and see if that resonates with the group and could be a JEMS song. We all have different individual styles, so our own ideas don’t always meet the JEMS mark. One powerful example for me was when Emily brought the idea for “Clay” to us one afternoon; she was strumming and sort of singing what she had so far and I couldn’t keep it together and burst into tears. I was going through a dark period and struggling with my own self-worth at that time, and even though she was going through something completely different the song idea really really spoke to me and felt so beautiful and profound. That was the first song the three of us wrote together and it was such a powerful and supportive moment of feeling like whatever I or anyone else is going through, we’re not alone and it’s never too late to grow from it.
AF: “Like Myself” is a very personal song, taken from Emily’s experience with her abusive stepmother. Was it difficult to share these lyrics with your bandmates initially?
EC: It was not difficult sharing the song with the girls. Writing music has always been a therapeutic outlet for me, that flows out without much thought. What I struggle with is the idea of sharing my story with strangers, and the idea that people that knew me during that time will hear it. It’s both terrifying and empowering to use your voice in this way, and having Sarah Margaret and Jess there with me supporting me, both musically and emotionally, is incredibly powerful.
JR: We know how vulnerable this period of time is for Emily to recount and hesitated before sharing the backstory with listeners but we truly believe there is power in transparency. We have all had our experiences with being able to rise above the muck so we’re happy to be here with Emily for this moment just like she’s here for ours.
AF: What are your musical influences in terms of style and sound?
SMH: I’ve always been drawn to strong songs written by great story tellers that can hold up when stripped down to just a guitar or piano. I love an elaborate orchestration just as much as anyone, and there are plenty of songs on our upcoming record that have loud and layered elements, but for me it’s all about the songwriting and really striving to make every word and melody something that moves you.
JR: Yes, Sarah Margaret! I think SM is one of the best storytelling songwriters I know and have always felt that way so I am thankful every day to be able to collaborate with someone who has different strengths than me. I tend to exist in a world of metaphor and love seeing the connections between nature and humanity. I am inspired by a wide variety of sounds and also love how sound interacts with emotion and storytelling. Coming from the film music world I think there’s something to be said about creating an aesthetic environment and telling a story through sound and emotion in addition to words. For this album, we were inspired production wise by Fleet Foxes, Fleetwood Mac, Elbow, First Aid Kit, Tall Heights, and Joseph. But we are all listening to a wide variety all the time. Emily mostly listens to baby-making music.
EC: Yes, it’s true! I grew up listening to a lot of soul and R&B – my vocal tone definitely reflects that. However, my inspirations for this project are Joni Mitchell, Lucious, Glen Hansard, and Lianne La Havas. Along this journey we’ve experimented with different production approaches and have written on a spectrum of genres. But through this process we have returned to where we started – keeping the focus on our collective voice.
AF: “High For The Holidays” is hilarious. Who thought of the concept?
SMH: We wrote that when prompted by Valida, a KCRW DJ who was hosting a holiday show that we were playing that was going to have life-sized mushroom decor because of a legend that Christmas traditions came from psychedelia. Jess brought us the chorus idea and we just went from there, taking breaks at the piano to gut-laugh. The night we had that writing session was almost as hysterical as the all-nighter we pulled shooting the video.
JR: I was driving around LA and started singing “I wanna be high for the holidays, find me in a blizzard getting blazed” and recorded a voice memo and said GUYS THIS HAS TO HAPPEN. THIS HAS TO BE THE NEXT WE ARE THE WORLD. I WANT RIHANNA AND SETH ROGEN TO SING IT. But clearly that didn’t happen. But we did perform it in front of Post Malone at that concert. I didn’t know who he was at the time and I don’t know if he likes weed, but I do like weed. Obviously.
AF: You’re an LA-based band. What’s your favorite Los Angeles venue to perform in?
SMH: We play a bit at Hotel Cafe and that’s always an amazing spot with a great community around it.
JR: I’ve actually really loved playing in unconventional spaces for different showcases. I feel like the energy in the room is open to magic instead of people showing up to a place they always go with built in expectations. That being said, I just really want us to play on a much larger stage so we can dance around more. (I’m looking at you, Greek Theatre!)
AF: Where do you see JEMS five years down the road?
SMH: Hopefully talking about our third album somewhere in the middle of the country at whatever indie radio station wants to listen to us gush about the little support system we’ve created with JEMS.
JR: We have always wanted to focus on the professional songwriting side of the group so I hope we’re producing and writing songs for movie projects and maybe hopping on a tour with a band we love.
JEMS new album will be out May 17th – preorder here to get five songs before they come out. Check them out live at one of the tour dates below.
JEMS TOUR DATES:
4/27 – South Pasenda, CA @ Eclectic Fest
5/18 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Hotel Cafe
5/25 – Nashville, TN @ The Basement
6/07 – Los Angeles, CA @ Telfair Gala
8/19 – Los Angeles, CA @ Harvard and Stone