Next Wave #1172: Pem

"It compels me to keep pouring my heart out..."

Turning life’s dark moments into cherishable art is one of music’s most powerful qualities. Bristol-based singer-songwriter Pem is acutely aware of this. Her new project ‘Cloud Work’ teems with the pain she experienced after the passing of her father last year. The depth of vulnerability she showcases on the EP is extraordinary. But through her use of symbols and metaphors such as water and birds in her songwriting, not only has this helped her to process the loss of her father, it’s allowed her to create an achingly beautiful body of work which can also comfort others through challenging times.

“I started writing very soon after [my dad passed],” says Pem. “I was on a plane that had just landed when I was told that he wasn’t going to make it. Just moments before I was looking at the sky and couldn’t believe how otherworldly the clouds looked, so blue and orange (his favourite colours) and I remember thinking something was about to happen. Clouds mean a lot to me now and that’s why the EP is called ‘Cloud Work’.” 

Produced with Ali Chant (Sorry, Katy J Pearson, Portishead), each track’s raw, stripped-back arrangements allow for their messages to be placed front and centre. ‘Gulls’ – inspired by her father’s nomadic nature – features layered field sounds of seagulls and crashing waves which Pem recorded on the same day her father passed away. ‘Martin Pêcheur’ which means Kingfisher in French (her father’s favourite bird) is another fittingly emotive tribute. ‘Grips’ is the only outlier on the EP, evoking slithers of hope among the sadness. But though ‘Cloud Work’ may brim with melancholy, there’s an essence that these same songs, with time, could serve as catalysts for Pem to look back on fonder memories with her father.

On her first experiences with music, she says: “My parents were always supportive of me pursuing music. I grew up listening to mum playing Goldfrapp and Kate Bush. Dad played the 12-string and liked to sing. In car rides he’d play Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Bowie. Mum always said she knew I was happy when I was singing around the house or wailing along in the car.” After teaching herself guitar and discovering her own musical taste through Radiohead and Elliot Smith, Pem found confidence in her self-proclaimed “strange, husky, trembly voice” by listening to icons like Billie Holiday and Eartha Kitt. Her 2022 EP ‘songs about hands’ elegantly showcased those dazzling vocals, with support slots alongside The Last Dinner Party and a shortlist for Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition soon following in her path.

Navigating grief since then has been visibly difficult for Pem. But her mesmerising new music is testament to her bravery in sharing the journey that she has been on with listeners. “Sometimes it feels terrifying [sharing vulnerable songs],” she says. “But when a listener or an audience member tells me that one of my songs made them cry or made them think of a loved one, it all feels completely worth it. It compels me to keep pouring my heart out.”

‘Cloud Work’ is out on Friday June 7th. Pem will also headline The Lexington on Friday June 14th

Words: Jamie Wilde

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