Kem, who wrote, produced and financed his self-released debut album Kemistry was later signed by Motown Records in November of 2001. He released his sophomore project Kem II, which sold over 500,000 copies nationwide. "Love Calls," the single from his debut album, became a hit on the urban adult contemporary and smooth jazz radio, and USA Today tagged him as a "Motown Classic." "I Cant Stop Loving You," from his second album, went to No. 1 on Adult Contemporary Radio for several weeks. Additionally, Kem enjoyed success with another single, "You Might Win," which featured Steve Wonder on harmonica.
Kem has been touring for the past three years to promote his various albums. I caught up with him after his red-hot performance at the City of Miami Gardens 3rd Annual "Jazz in the Garden" that was held March 15-16, 2008. Here is how we "chopped it up."
JazzReview: I hear that you are in the studio now recording tracks for the new album. How is that going?
Kem Owens: I am currently working on my third album entitled KEM III Intimacy. We are working on bits and pieces of the three or four songs at a time. At this stage would say it’s working in progress.
JazzReview: Let’s talk a little about your performance at Jazz in the Garden. That performance will be on my mind for a long time. The crowd loved you. How did you feel being on stage delivering such great music?
Kem Owens: First of all, it was a relief to come to South Florida during this time of year because of the weather back in Detroit. I was excited to be a part of Jazz in the Garden due to the fact that it would be our first real performance in Miami. We have performed as part of the Tom Joyner Morning Show Sky Show, but doing the Jazz in the Garden gave us the opportunity to reach out even more to old fans and new. It certainly felt good to be on stage, using my God-given talent to entertain the people.
JazzReview: How do you get mentally prepared for a performance?
Kem Owens: I normally get together with my band to rehearse, figure things out with my production team, and eat well and rest. The day of the performance we do our sound check. We pray prior to the show, asking for guidance through the set. Since every audience is different and the cities are not the same, I am always adapting to my environment. You have to be mentally prepared to be able to communicate with the audience, and to deal with any unforeseen events during the performance.
JazzReview: Do you feel that as a performer, you need to practice more or prepare more mentally?
Kem Owens: Practice is good and it makes for a smooth performance, but the mental preparation is important if you want to deliver a great show over and over again.
JazzReview: Tell me about the journey from your birthplace in Nashville to where you currently reside in Detroit?
Kem Owens: I was born in Nashville and moved to Detroit where I started Pre-K. I still have a large amount of my family members in Nashville. Even though I was raised in Detroit, I was still influenced by the music that my family grew up with. I grew up listening to Steely Dan, Grover Washington, Hiroshima, Steve Wonder and Fleetwood Mac. Living in Detroit, it was divine landing in the Motown music era.
JazzReview: Exactly how would you describe your genre of music?
Kem Owens: My music certainly has some jazz overtones, but it’s also R&B. So I would say that it’s R&B/Jazz/Adult Contemporary. However, my new material will be a little different.
JazzReview: Tell me about what motivates you?
Kem Owens: Being spiritual is very important to me and it’s definitely at the forefront of my life. At the end of the day, your value system and your spirituality is all you have. Life is about finding that spiritual solution.
JazzReview: Has anyone ever told you that you sound like Al Jarreau? If so, how do you feel about that?
Kem Owens: Yes, I have been compared to Al Jarreau, which I think is the highest honor anyone could obtain. I have met Al personally and we have shared the stage performing together. We have also talked about doing something together. I admire his work and consider him a friend.
JazzReview: Who has been your musical influence over the years?
Kem Owens: I am definitely inspired by the work of Michael Jackson and Prince. Although we have totally different styles, I admire them because they make you feel good. You definitely feel something from listening to them or seeing them perform. Prince has great musicianship and is so prolific in composing songs and producing them. I admire him especially because he has the atomy on his projects, and that’s what I would like to continue to do.
JazzReview: Some of your love songs are said to be about your spirituality and not necessarily about boy meets girl. Was that your intent when you wrote the song "Each Other?"
Kem Owens: When I write my songs, although they might means something special to me, I want my listeners and fans to take the lyrics for what it means to them, whether it love or spirituality. I leave it up to them.
JazzReview: I hear that you are a self-taught musician. What instrument do you play?
Kem Owens: Yes, that is true. I play the keyboards and am planning to learn to play the guitar.
JazzReview: Having produced both of your albums, have you produced for anyone else?
Kem Owens: We are getting requests to produce other artists and have recently produced a song on the Madea’s Family Reunion soundtrack, which is entitled "Tonight." I have also produced the track called "Fascination" for the soundtrack of the movie Take the Lead, but I want to continue to pursue my career by building on what I have now.
JazzReview: Tell me about your days as a wedding singer, share some of your stories.
Kem Owens: A friend of mine introduced me to the leader of the wedding band. Being a wedding singer has given me some of the greatest experience as a singer. I did a bunch of cover tunes and got a chance to hone my craft. It taught me to interact with the audience and develop my stage presence. I did it for four years and did not regret a moment [of it].
JazzReview: Since your first album, who are some of the artists that you have toured with?
Kem Owens: I have been going non-stop for the last three years and have toured with some great artists--people like the OJays, Nancy Wilson, Will Downing, Reuben Stoddard, Fantasia, Kindred & Family, Boney James, Michael McDonald, Ashford & Simpson, Al Jarreau and Chaka Khan, among others.
JazzReview: Have you toured abroad?
Kem Owens: Yes. I have gone to several European countries and to South Africa.
JazzReview: Was it difficult to finance your first album? What were the pitfalls, if any?
Kem Owens: I financed my first album on my credit card. I did whatever work I could on the album and hired musicians to do what I could not. It was a learning experience for me.
JazzReview: What experience did you take to the making of your second album?
Kem Owens: I have gained a wealth of knowledge from the first album, like learning to budget my money and my time. I have definitely learned what not to do. I would recommend this hands-on approach to young artists who are starting out.
JazzReview: Well, good luck on your new project.
Kem Owens: Thanks. I will get it into your hands as soon as it’s ready.