The Gems shine brightly in this week’s Meet The Band spotlight. After splitting from Thundermother, the Swedish trio formed a new group. Their debut album is Phoenix. Drummer Emlee Johansson introduces us to her band.
Chad Bowar: What led to your exit from Thundermother and formation of The Gems?
Emlee Johansson: Long story short, Filippa decided on her own to fire Guernica (Mancini, vocals) from the band – out of personal reasons that the rest of us did not agree on. And we had always been a democracy and working together as a team so for her to start making decisions of her own all of a sudden was a big betrayal. I told Filippa that if she fired Guernica, she would also have to look for a new drummer. And so that’s what happened. And Mona (Lindgren, guitar/bass) of course joined me.
This came as a big shock for us, but we had each other and there was no doubt that we wanted to form a new band and continue to play together. And because we had been working really hard and played a big part in getting Thundermother to a certain level, we knew exactly how to do it properly. I am very proud of how much we’ve accomplished in less than a year.
Describe the songwriting process for Phoenix.
We started writing songs right away. We didn’t even have the band name set when we wrote ”Send me to the Wolves.” We worked really hard, songwriting was our main focus the first half of 2023 to be able to record a debut album as soon as possible. We really wanted to make use of the momentum we had built up in our previous band. We did write most of the songs together from scratch, some of them with songwriters and some of them just the three of us. We all brought ideas and demos into the songwriting and we’ve done different amount of writing on different songs – but we have always finished all of them together.
We all have different strengths in songwriting and we need all of them to create the best possible songs for us. And then when we had a bunch of songs, we picked our favorites and went into the studio. And I am really happy with the outcome. We have had so much fun writing these songs and we have been able to fully be the musicians and songwriters that we are, taking in our favorite inspirations and playing around with interludes, etc.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
The team effort. To be together in a safe and fun environment creating this album together. And how professional everyone of us has been in the process. I am just really proud of that.
What was the biggest challenge in the creation of Phoenix?
To deliver the product fast. And of course we did put big pressure on ourselves delivering an epic album. I don’t feel that the songwriting was stressed and that it had any impact on the songs, but when we went into the studio we had a really tight schedule, and it wouldn’t have been possible we hadn’t believed in ourselves. Everyone did their part so well, especially Mona who had to do double jobs playing both guitar and bass. It’s just a lot of hard work behind this album. And on top of that we have had an emotional rollercoaster. I’m not gonna lie – it’s been tough. But we’ve had each other’s support though all this and that has been our key to success.
How would you characterize its style/sound?
’70s and ’80s classic rock with a modern twist. And Guernicas voice is one of a kind, she has that deep strong voice with the perfect rasp.
What lyrical topics do you cover?
A theme that goes through the album is to stand up for yourself and overcome hard times. We have been taking a lot of inspiration from the heartbreak we went through last year and that we decided to rise again, stronger than ever. I know a lot of people can relate and we hope that this album can help give people some strength.
How did you come to sign with Napalm Records?
They reached out to us as soon as we announced the Thundermother split and that we were forming a new band. It meant a lot for us to have such a big label believing in us before we even had a product. We had some other labels approaching us as well but Napalm was the one that gave us the best deal. We are super happy to be a part of the Napalm family and very excited for the future.
What are your goals and expectations for the record?
We really hope that the album will get well received by people, and when we have an album out we can finally start working proper tours and future plans for the band, and continue to grow. We never planned to leave our previous band, and for sure never planned to stop our careers, so we just want to continue where we took off. The sky is the limit!
How was the Sabaton cruise?
It was amazing. We love the guys from Sabaton and we were very honored to be invited to their cruise. It was obvious that most of the audience was there for one band only, (laughs) but I think we managed to get some new fans too. We had so much fun, meeting amazing people and seeing great bands. Actually, me and Sabaton drummer Hannes Van Dahl went to high school together so we know each other very well and have always tried to meet up when we play the same festivals around Europe. Hannes was wearing a The Gems T-shirt during one of the Sabaton shows on the boat and his support means a lot.
In addition to your release party, what other show/tour plans do you have?
It’s all in planning at the moment, but we will do some Swedish shows in the spring, then some festivals in the summer and a big European tour in the fall… stay tuned…
How was the video shoot for “Undiscovered Paths”?
It was fun, running around in a small car tunnel. There were cars coming once in a while so we had to interrupt the filming and run to the sides with all lights and smoke machines (laughs), but besides from that it was a smooth video shoot where we just decided to get a little more emotionally deep. It’s a standout song on the album and we wanted to have a music video that fit that feeling of being lost, and then finding the light at the end of the tunnel – it’s very symbolic.
How important are videos in the promotion process?
I think music videos are slowly dying. I know that most pop artists work more with shorter videos on social media instead. But it’s still kid of a big deal in rock music, and it reaches people for sure which adds value to the promotion of the song.
What are some of your non-musical hobbies and interests?
I love movies, both to watch them and to create them. I edited all of our music videos, so I guess it’s not a hobby anymore (laughs). I also enjoy gaming on my Playstation 5. I know that Guernica is very interested in spiritual things such as tarot cards and astrology, and Mona enjoys to work out in nature such as biking and skiing.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Rival Sons, Ghost, Iron Maiden, Toto and Beethoven.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
We just wanna thank everyone that supports us, it means the world. We really hope that you will enjoy Phoenix and that we will see you at a show soon!
(interview published January 27, 2024)
Watch The Gems – “Undiscovered Paths” Video