Jemima Coulter: An Omnipresent Inspiration

Travelling from London to Perugia, Jemima Coulter’s new album Grace After a Party takes the listener on a journey. Written during a period of isolation in their life, the album is Jemima’s attempt to use storytelling to connect to the world around them.

The stories Jemima tells often verge on the surreal. Album opener “SST” tells the story of a clown who joins the circus. Lyrics such as “with my jawline melting // I’m a new Pierrot swaying on my ladder” evoke feelings of nostalgia and sadness, while still being playful. Jemima also works through a breakup on the album too, showing their raw vulnerability when they sing “as I wish I hadn’t been your temporary // I can tell you it doesn’t feel so temporary now“.

Jemima started recording and producing music at 13, using their friend’s computer. Their songs still evoke that DIY feeling, with vocals sometimes recorded directly into their iPhone, layered over synths, piano, guitars, and percussion.

Jemima is using their music to connect to what they call a “tender yet magical universality”. “I created somewhere I could escape to,” Jemima says. “I imagined people in my mind, had conversations I’d never had. It seems to have created an album that’s a hallucination where I’m half me, half someone else.”

The album is perfect for anyone who is feeling lonely and isolated. Not only is it a good companion to listen to when the silence is getting too loud; it is an exploration of connection to the world around us, reminding us that we are never really alone.

With their debut album out now via Hand in Hive, Jemima sat down with me to discuss where they get their inspiration, how to get over breakups and poetry they enjoy.

Hi Jemima, thanks for sitting down with me. Let’s start by telling us a bit about yourself. When did you start making music and why?

My family is quite musical. I inherited that through singing and music was always a valued thing in my house, growing up. I played quite a lot in church, as well. I grew up Christian, which meant I was playing music with a lot of different people. Then I started playing around with production when I was about 13. We were mucking about on my friend’s computer and that then became my focus. I’d write songs in quite a layered way and it kind of continued from there.

What made you want to pursue music more seriously?

I don’t really know; I think it was just a feeling of “this is what I want to do”. This is also a way in which I have quite a big impact on people. And whilst I was at uni, it became clear that music was the thing I put most of my energy into. I did a maths degree and while everyone was doing their internships, I was away recording. I realised at some point I wouldn’t even be on the same page as everyone in terms of experience for all the careers everyone else was going into where they immediately earn money. But I was ahead of my peers in terms of music. I guess it’s weird because it feels like an investment – you don’t see any money or success for three years until it works out fine in the end. It just sort of felt right and I felt like it was what I was supposed to be doing – in a nice way.

Let’s talk about your new album a bit. What is it about, what are you trying to say with it?

I fell in love with someone, followed them to Marseilles, and they horrendously turned me down. I think at that point in my life, I was lost and directionless and thrown by my social groups. It had a really big impact on me in that I realised I put a lot of expectations in this person, without them really wanting that or me asking them. So, I ended up having a very lonely weekend in Marseilles and then came back. Then, a few months later, there was a pandemic, and I was obviously alone and had a lot of time to think about things and a lot of time to write, as well, which I hadn’t had since I was a teenager.

I say it’s about that, but it’s not really about that. There’s not actually enough depth of emotion in that scenario for me to write an entire album about it. But I think it’s about reaching outside of yourself to find an existence in everything else. I think at the time, and not just because I was inside all the time, it was very much a feeling of lack of control; a lot of dreams that weren’t being fulfilled. I think this is an album where I create the spaces and I create the hallucinations and complexities of life that I was imagining. There are a lot of imageries, in the songs there is a lot of heat and vibrancy. All these things made up the world I wanted to be in, the world I was thinking about.

I guess it’s a kind of bohemian idea of having this endless time to just be and what that would look like. This idea of just living without the burdens of actual life, like rent and relationships that you need to maintain. I guess insert On the Road, but without the bullshit.

Is that usually where you get your inspiration from, introspection?

I find inspiration is kind of always there, it’s just about being bored enough and your mind being quiet enough to be able to see it. There’s this kind of thing under the surface. I feel like inspiration is just piecing things together sometimes. It’s like “oh, this thing here and this thing there, that creates something new I haven’t felt before and that’s something to capture”. All these connections are always happening, but sometimes you just don’t concentrate enough to see it. I feel like in that way, those connections are made by being present and actively listening.

I don’t even listen to a huge amount of music. Not very often do I feel inspired by other people’s music, except when it’s in a specific place and I’m inspired by everything around me, and the music enhances that experience. I think (inspiration comes from) reading and ideas and those moments where you feel like your mind just opens up and you feel like you’re awakening from a sleep that you didn’t realise you were in.

What do you think people listening to your album should take away from it?

I don’t think I’d want to dictate that because I’m just really interested to see what people take away from it. I’ve had my time with it, I wrote it, and now it just is what it is, and it doesn’t feel like it’s mine anymore, it’s for everyone else. I’ve moved on from that period. It has a colour to it, it has a story, and I can’t tell anyone cohesively what the story is, but I know that there are connections between all of the songs and connections between the images. I think the things I’ve written about and that space in time – what I was thinking about, what I was reading, what I was looking at – that all kind of feeds together into the record. All of those things are there to be found for everyone. There are poetic references, there are literary references, there’s imagery and things that I know what it is – I’m the link in the spiderweb – but I’m interested to see how everyone else pieces all those things together. But I hope they come away from it and say, “wow this is a good album” (laughs).

So, what are some of those books and poems you read while writing the album?

There’s a poem called For Grace, After a Party [Frank O’Hara] that I think people should read. It’s what the album is named after. There is also an amazing poem that is in French. It’s by a guy called Henri Michaux. The poem is called Quelque part, quelqu’un, which roughly means “someone somewhere”, and it’s basically a list of things happening in the world, but it feels very expansive, and I feel like in some ways there is an element of that in the record where there are lots of things going on at once.

You’re also about to go on tour. What do you like about performing, what do you enjoy about showing your music to the world?

It feels special to be able to sing to people and have that rush of “oh shit, I need to do things right, right now” and then also having that sort of balm afterwards of being able to interact with people who were there to see you. For me, it feels very liberating, rather than restrictive. I think there are people who find being on stage really stressful and I’m thankful I’m not one of those people. It probably makes me more of an obnoxious person – it feels like well, everyone is kind of here to listen to me, so I can kind of say whatever I want. It feels like a thing I should keep tamed rather than anything else (laughs). It feels very special though, you get to create and curate an environment. I always try and do that with the aim of making people feel like they’ve had a good time. Not just in terms of “the music was good”, but “it was nice in there and I felt connected to me and the people around me”. Maybe they struck up a conversation with someone they hadn’t met. I think it’s much more about that than the music for me.

Words: Clara Bullock // Photos: Christina Russell

‘Grace After a Party’ is out now via Hand in Hive. Stream and purchase the album via Bandcamp.

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