Australian singer-songwriter Jemima has been on the rise for a number of months now with her likeable folk-pop approach to music. Her singles As You Are and Patient both topped the iTunes Australia singer-songwriting charts beating out the likes of English artist Freya Ridings and Australian legend Paul Kelly. More recently, Jemima emulated this success again debuting at number one on iTunes Australian singer-songwriting charts with the release of her debut five track EP Things I Never Said. It’s fair to say Jemima’s poignant confessional nuance and strong focus on storytelling on her EP has definitely hit an accord with listeners across the country. With that in mind I reached out to the 23-year-old musician to discover a little more about her and her music. Here is some of what we talked about.
Jemima, I find it absolutely fascinating that you spent several years living in your van as you travelled across the Australian east coast fine-tuning your craft. How did that experience prepare you for what has come since then?
It was quite the adventure; a lot less glamorous than people might assume (brushing your teeth in McDonald’s cups, having to use only public bathrooms etc.) but a really great experience nonetheless. I think the experience helped bring me out of my shell a lot. Travelling and living in a van becomes a lot more difficult if you’re timid, so I was forced to just introduce myself to strangers to make friends, try new things (scuba diving!), go to restaurants alone and so on. And that newfound confidence really helped my career. Again, pursuing music is just more difficult if you can’t put yourself out there, so learning to do that helped me find new opportunities in music and go for them.
Was the guitar the first instrument you learnt to play? What are some of your fondest memories about learning to play?
Yes, guitar was the first. The thing that drove me to learn was the desire to put music to my words and stories. So I have really fond memories of being able to create songs for the first time and feeling it all come together; being able to express myself exactly how I wanted to. I also remember, at 14 when I first started playing, finding the F chord just impossible to play. I was convinced I would never be able to do it. And I still remember the day I finally played that chord and even now as an adult, I sometimes think about that when I feel like something is unattainable or impossible to achieve or learn.
Which artists influenced who you would eventually become as a singer-songwriter?
I listened to a lot of ‘60s music when I was a kid. I loved Elvis especially (I even went to school at 10-years-old dressed as him – black wig, gold cape, white jumpsuit and all). I also loved the Beach Boys and the Beatles. As a teenager, Taylor Swift was an especially large influence as she was the first female artist I got into. This may sound silly, but realizing that women could play their own instruments at shows, be in charge of their business decisions and write all their songs was really inspiring to me. That kind of thing really stands out when you’re a young girl with few modern role models like that.
I read that Angus Stone invited you to sing backing vocals on his Dope Lemon release ‘Streets Of Your Town’. What was that experience like? Did he offer you any advice about being a musician?
It was a surreal experience. I used to play Angus and Julia Stone songs when I would busk at 15. So it felt really special to kind of come full circle. He didn’t offer advice but I felt very encouraged by the experience. It’s validating to know that you’re on the right track.
You have a real knack for storytelling which is quite evident on your new EP Things I Never Said. Is that something you learnt while studying songwriting in London?
Thank you so much! I think the love for storytelling began quite young. Before I got into music, I was always writing fictional stories, I couldn’t get enough. But being at that university in London definitely polished it. The most important thing I learned was to “write what you know”; to tell your own stories, not just other people’s.
If I can also add, there is a strong personal connection to the songs on the EP. Is there an autobiographical element to how it came to be?
100%. All the situations described are ones I experienced. And I guess that ties in to my last comment about writing what you know. It just feels more authentic to do that, and it’s a really remarkable thing to be able to put your thoughts, feelings and experiences out into the world and maybe have others connect to that too. There’s nothing more moving to me than when someone reaches out to tell me that a song I wrote perfectly describes how they feel.
Moreover, conceptually there seems to be strong themes around relationships on the EP. How important are bonds and relationships to you?
I guess bonds and relationships are integral to living a full life. They can be terrifying, definitely, and it’s inevitable that many of them, friendships included, will end. But ultimately each person you encounter, even briefly, can impact and change you. And that’s something everyone on this planet has in common. So I think it makes sense that a lot of music is written about relationships, because it’s such a unifying conversation.
You have previously said that When It Rains, It Pours Down is your favourite track from the EP. Can you elaborate a little why it moves you so much?
Often my favourite song of mine is just the one that I wrote most recently (you can get really tired of the tracks you wrote years ago). So maybe that’s partly why, since that song is the newest one. But I also like the vulnerability of it, both lyrically and musically. And how this song is sort of a surrender, and shows this person just giving in to those feelings of hopelessness. It’s also the song on the EP that feels the most “mine” as I played most of the instruments on it.
Talking about favourite tracks, Patient is very much a standout on the EP. The intricacies of its confessional nature resonates the most with me. Is that something that you had hoped for?
That makes me so happy, thank you. That’s 100% something that I aim for. I write music for myself, but I release music with the hope that other people will feel connected to it, and maybe even understood. It’s like getting to have this shared experience of pain or longing or joy. “Patient” is a really important song to me. It’s definitely the most honest song I’ve written.
On All At Once you sing: “My self-worth on the edge of a knife”. What drove you to write those particular lyrics?
I feel like this song showcases a kind of anxious, intense energy but also fragility. So some sections of the song are kind of chaotic, but then you have these moments of quiet helplessness. I think that particular lyric is maybe the most telling of that helplessness; kind of admitting that actually, the situation has really impacted this person. In November, I’m releasing a piano version of this song that focuses more on that vulnerable side of the story (I haven’t even announced that yet, so there you go! Haha).
Finally, I can’t let you go without asking how are you coping in these unprecedented times? What are your plans in the coming months?
I’m doing okay! Thank you for asking. Like most musicians, I had a lot of gigs cancelled which was difficult as music is my only job. But I feel really fortunate too because it gave me time to work on the EP and put all of my energy into it. I’m actually moving back to the UK next month, and I plan on focusing on writing and recording while I’m there. Especially since covid-19 has made playing live a bit unpredictable.
Jemima’s Things I Never Said is out now via all your preferred streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music and Soundcloud. For more information on Jemima check out her website. Follow her on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram. Watch her on You Tube.