We checked in with bandleader Jemma from Jemma & The good Thing after the release of their first single, “Side of the Road”. She told us the inspiration behind the song, and explained her songwriting process from her home on Cortes Island.
How does it feel to finally release your first single, “Side of the Road”? Has the band celebrated in any way?
It feels super exciting. It’s just nice to have that digital support, especially right now during the covid era. We also had a really nice band meeting the day of the release…we got on a couple radio stations in Edmonton and in Vancouver, which is really nice. We’re kind of aiming to have one foot in both Alberta and BC because of my musical communities and I think that we’ve sort of succeeded in that sense, so that was a celebratory band meeting.
The song really speaks for itself story-wise, but could you explain to us the inspiration for this tune?
There’s kind of a multi-pronged meaning behind the song, but the main driving inspiration was that I grew up on Cortes Island and did a lot of hitchhiking when I was younger. Recently, since I now have a car and licence, I try to do as much picking up of hitchhikers as I can. A few years ago there was this young, kind of eccentric looking duck farmer. She knocked on our window and asked us for a ride. We were on the way back from Cortes, and so we drove her across the big island on a really long kind of rambly route and we didn’t realize until about forty-five minutes in that she had two little ducks tucked under her arms. They were alive and quacking…and yeah! But the other side meanings are that I did a lot of growing up on the side of the road. And my last prong in the multi-prong meaning is that I just really like picking things up off the side of the road. I’ll ask my partner to screech our car to a halt, and be like, “Stop Dan! I need to pick up that sweater.” Or I’ll find like, dirty scarves on the side of the road and give them a new home. Haha. So it’s a personal story-song.
What was your songwriting process like for “Side of the Road”?
This one was just one of those really satisfying songs that just tumbled out of me. I usually write on my ukulele and guitar, but this one came out on a piano, which is unusual for my songwriting. I guess I had these chords and this rhythm that I was playing with…and the lyrics and the melody all came at the same time. You know, kind of slowly. I’ll have a lyric with a melody and then it just snowballs into fruition. I think I had the whole song in under two hours probably. It was just there. It was so satisfying.
What was the recording process like?
We did a big chunk of the recording in one day, for both songs, and then I think Gareth and I went back to the studio for either one or two days to either track vocals or tweak things. It gave all of us a window into how long it actually takes. We were there really early in the morning and we didn’t leave until really late at night. I know that all of us had had experience with recording students before, but we’d never been in there for fourteen hours in a row. It was really long, and all of us were so happy-tired by the end of it. It was a really great feeling. And then we went for beers. Happy-tired beers. I think for me I felt both supported and pushed in the studio, which I had never felt before. I realize that’s my favourite place to be, especially creatively.
Have you been finding new ways to engage with the music scene both in Edmonton and locally from your home in Cortes Island?
Well, my big engagement was releasing the single. My band and I are hoping we’ll be able to organize a backyard tour next summer. My bandmates were planning on coming out this summer to the island, to do a B.C. – Alberta tour. A big ‘ol road trip together. And that obviously got quashed because of Covid, so we’re hoping we can do sort of a modified version next summer.
Has music always been a large part of your life?
Yeah totally. My great grandmother was a music teacher and my grandma was a professional singer and my mom has a beautiful voice and was always singing around me. I’ve always been seeped in music and I went to alternative schools that always really supported my music. Only in the past ten years have I been actively writing and that’s become a really big part of my identity as a musician.