A friend once told me that San Francisco was “a loose place”. A place where you’d find more human shit on the sidewalks than dog shit, where people played bongo drums and danced in the park till sundown, where the tie dyed shirts mirror the churning of minds painted by acidic dreams and new moons. The lost children, illegal and legal immigrant, bay-area natives, vagabonds and tech-bros all coexist within the city’s 47 square mile parameter. The riff raff in the air can be felt long after the indian summer shrinks into the foggy mist.
She was at a bus stop with New York on her mind. Her ring finger was now bare and had been for some time now. She paraded just her knuckle and self-rule amidst tattoos, including Beevis and Butthead on her thumbs and cascading, dark brown hair. Beauty school had been a bust, getting tangled in the hair of others was no detour to finding purpose. Comfort came in song, the melody created by Celine Dion’s voice or a track from Les Miserables. It took her back home, to childhood and growing up in a family of nine, to Oahu, to Mililani and to roller-skates and the ravines. She believed in this, in music but reality’s logic always set in. A career as a singer or songwriter didn’t seem attainable. Thinking. Thinking. She closed her eyes, blinked maybe. Upon opening them a gun was pointed at her, a voice, she handed over the iPhone 3 in her hand. Darkness.
Her name was Jae-Mi and the light flooded as she awoke. The plane was making its final descent into New York’s JFK Airport and the exhales were stuck in her chest. She had made it. Perhaps this was just another “gypsy” move as some of her friends had deemed it, maybe she knew she was moving for a guy again but she had tried to plan this one out. She had always been good with the open road. New York was home to the musical stars she dreamed of being, to Broadway. To be there maybe she would be a step closer, scratching away at reality’s glass ceiling. Embodying Jae-Mi’s move, Hurricane Sandy hit a week later and she begun to find herself borrowing coffee from her neighbors and at job interviews, smiling, nodding. The legendary Momofuku Noodle Bar and Dr. Martens opened their doors to her first and after some time she found herself at Cienfuegos and Bourgeois Pig in New York’s Lower East Side, where Jae-Mi’s musical career began.
She worked under dimmed lights, surrounded by white, tufted furniture surrounded by teals and pinks at Cienfuegos and like many New York stories, things happen when glasses clink and people get to talking. A blonde Texan by the name of Kat McPhee, who had roots in the music industry but we’re not talking American Idol here, found herself at a table at Cienfuegos one night with Jae-Mi as her server. They talked about music, about drinks, an immersion into detail, verbal chemistry. “At some point I asked her if she wouldn’t mind listening to a song I had just completed with my friend and DJ, Mel Debarge. She asked me what I was doing in the restaurant and said to email her”, Jae-Mi said via email. The email was sent and a time and place was set. Come that day though, Jae-Mi was at the beach, it was her first day off in what felt like ages and her skin welcomed the sunshine. “I honestly almost didn’t show up”, she said. But with encouraging words from her roommate at the time, she went. “The last thing they said was, ‘okay we’ll get back to you’. In my head that sounded like ‘okay cool, we’re not interested’ but they showed up to my work two days later and said they wanted to represent me and help with pushing my music and career.”
Jae-Mi was on another flight, a different plane with a new destination, Los Angeles. She refers to it as “the scariest move I have ever made in my entire life” and for good reason. “It was the reality of your dreams at the tip of your fingers and the though of what if I fuck up?! What if I get off the plane and it’s the biggest con that has been pulled on me? I didn’t want to disappoint myself and the urgency to make something happen with my life in music on a grand scale was a lot to think about and suddenly just transition into”, she said.
Jae-Mi is now represented by ForeFront-Music, a talent management and music publishing company based in Los Angeles. She believes her voice lives somewhere between the likes ofStevie Nicks and Amy Winehouse. With this new sense of wind beneath her wings Jae-Mi has been able to reflect on this union of singing and songwriting that is her calling, as well as a form of therapy. “I would say 90% of the time when I write anything it’s because I’m struggling with something. Songwriting is like an audio diary for me. When I write about how I’m feeling and turn it into a story it allows me to think from an outside perspective after I’ve gotten rid of the emotional side by singing it out”, she said. With her strong sense of melody and dewy confidence when she steps up to the mic she ultimately wants to make people feel something when they hear her voice.
When she sings, she closes her eyes and her eyebrows wiggle, tensing and releasing. What she has found is that living a dream means having everything to lose. Doubt sets in with writers block and she often turns to YouTube performances which serve as reminders that people do make it. The passion and journey that live within her vocal cords that have become like a second beating heart. “I want to sell out arenas, travel at the world and meet people from around the world. When my life takes this direction in full speed I want the money to go towards my family. I want to make sure my family has a roof over their head, that if they choose to pursue a higher education, they can do so without worrying about college debt. On a larger scale, I want to create happiness for as many people as I possibly can and I think I can achieve this by creating music”, Jae-Mi said. So from Hawaii and coast to coast and back again, Jae-Mi’s story is a testimony that things do come full circle.