Nashville singer Jemia recently released her self-titled debut EP. After a career as a backing vocalist for artists like Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman, Jemia finally decided to step out as a solo singer. LTTM caught up with her to find out what inspired her to do that, and how she started out in the music business.
For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?
You know that's an interesting story. I started out leading worship for my church in my hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana called Bethany Church. I sang in the choir and on the praise team there starting at a very young age and eventually became one of the main worship leaders. When I moved to Nashville, I really didn't move here to do music. I just felt God leading me there and I took the leap of faith and relocated. A few months after being there I met an artist named Calvin Nowell and the rest is history. He invited me to go on the road with him and I ended up touring with him for about 2 years as a background vocalist. My friendship with Calvin opened the door to so many other relationships in the music circles of Nashville. To this day he's a great friend and I'm forever grateful to him for the opportunities he connected me to. I used to write a lot of poetry and I eventually began turning those poems into songs. I began writing some on my own, cowriting and eventually recording music after a few years in Nashville.
You've worked as a backing vocalist for some of the biggest names in Christian music, what has that been like, and what made you step out now as an artist in your own right?
It's been amazing to work with artists who I long admired from afar. God has truly blown my mind with doors he has opened for me in that regard. It's humbling and exciting all at once. I've learned a lot just watching some of the artists I've worked with and observing their humility, their work ethic, their creative process. I really never saw myself being a solo artist because I've always been very comfortable in the background and don't enjoy the spotlight. But God spoke to me very clearly and told me this was my assignment and I needed to step out of the background. I fought it for a long time, but I'm finally at a place of being ready to surrender to that call.
Tell us about your new EP and what the inspiration behind it was?
This project has been a labor of love. It feels like I've given birth to something I've been carrying for a long time. The songs are very personal and based on my experiences. I wanted to give people a snapshot of who I am and what is close to my heart. A big theme of the project is pursuing intimacy with God and moving beyond just a surface relationship. I talk about the struggle of denying self in order to get closer to God, the process of total surrender to Him, and falling in love with Him. The EP takes you on a spiritual journey. I also have a song dedicated to my father about heartbreak and wanting someone to love me the way that he does. I think a lot of fathers and daughters will connect with that song. It's raw and has all of the emotions you'd expect when talking about heartbreak.
Which is your favorite track on the EP and why?
That's a tough one. I think that "Abandon" and "Secret Place" might be my top 2, but it's a close call because I really love all of the songs.
How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?
I would describe my style as soulful, diverse and contemporary. I grew up in a multi-cultural environment and a very musical family so I was blessed to be exposed to many different styles of music. When I went to my grandmother's church, I got that good gospel music experience, complete with the soulful church choir and all. My church was a charismatic, non-denominational church, so I grew up singing Hillsong worship, Israel Houghton, Bethel, Fred Hammond, and others. I'd have to say one of my biggest influences has always been Jonathan Stockstill who I grew up leading worship with at Bethany. I learned so much watching him lead and listening to his songs. Other influences are Cece Winans, Bethel, Hillsong, William McDowell, Toby Mac, Ayiesha Woods, Brandy (the vocal beast).
If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?
Wow, this is a tough one. There are so many great songwriters whose songs have influenced me. It's hard to choose just one so I'm going to cheat and pick 2. I'd say Kirk Franklin and James Taylor. They are 2 of the most prolific storytellers and I'd love to just glean from them and learn how to write songs that transcend time like they both have.
How would you define success in your career as an artist?
One word....impact. For me it's all about how my music impacts people. My ultimate goal is to cause people to have an encounter with God while listening to my music. I pray that believers are compelled to go deeper in their relationship with Him and non-believers are compelled to know Him. I also pray my music gives people hope.
What is your favourite album of all time?
Fred Hammond, "Spirit of David". That album showed me how powerful songs can be, especially when they are written right out of scripture. I had many encounters with God while listening to that album.
You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your phone. What track is it?
Well it's only fitting that this track come from my favorite album. I'd have to go with "Keeping My Mind" by Fred Hammond.
What does the next year hold for you?
Prayerfully I'll be travelling, sharing my ministry. I also plan to continue writing new songs into next year!