Jhm: Santorini in her sights

Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Jhm on her particular brand of music.

Reading Time: 4 minutes


For her parents’ 25th anniversary last year, Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Jhm wanted to gift them something special, but her hands were tied with the state’s lockdown.

In the end, she took them to Santorini… in song, at least.

“We wanted to travel and do something nice for them, but plans changed, so I came up with my own gift,” she grinned. “‘Santorini’ was written in my bedroom and demoed in the space that is now my dad’s makeshift office.”

A colourful, jazz-infused melody that’s paired with strings from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, ‘Santorini’ evokes happy summer vibes amid these cold winter days.

According to the musician, who hails from Kerala, it’s about the way love “can put a glow around any situation if you choose to let it.”

“I hope it feels like laughing and being warm and drinking juice,” she added.

jessie hillel jhm
Behind the scenes of the ‘Santorini’ music video shoot. Source: supplied

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Jhm (pronounced ‘Jim’) first rose to fame in 2012 as the runner up of New Zealand’s Got Talent. Performing under her real name Jessie Hillel, the then 11-year-old was praised for her powerful and evocative voice beyond her years.

Today, though, she’s in a different chapter of her musical journey, combining her classical musical training with soul, pop, R&B, and jazz influences while she pursues a degree in music from Monash University.

“It was obviously an amazing experience, but I think of this as a reset. As an artist, I’m still exploring my sound, finding my bearings,” she told Indian Link.

Last year, she was crowned the winner of the Fed Live music competition, a collaboration between Fed Square and music heavyweights like MTV, DITTO Music, and Melbourne Music Week, and won by popular vote with her original song ‘The Rain’.

“I happened to see an ad for the competition on Facebook, just three days before entries closed,” she shared. “I had this song ready from a previous university assignment, and as for the music video element, I put an ad on Fiverr and ended up collaborating with a designer in Nigeria. It all just came together so well.”

Jhm, performing as Jessie Hillel, took home $100,000 worth of career kick-starting prizes and also won the opportunity to perform at the iconic Federation Square.

jessie hillel jhm
Source: supplied

“My songs are inspired by experiences and interesting things that I see in other people. It’s an introspective process. I’ve always loved this quote by James Taylor about song writing as an unconscious process, that the song already exists and you’re simply the first to hear it,” she smiled.

After winning the competition, the 20-year-old was selected as one of five upcoming artists to be signed to Push Labels, a youth-led record label delivered as part of Creative Victoria’s Victorian Music Industry Recovery Program. ‘Santorini’ is one of the little treats served up from this endeavour.

“The past year has been an eye-opener; the pandemic has been tough on the Australian music scene. I do miss the collaboration aspect of music, two people coming together to blend their different experiences,” she mused.

Still, she notes, creating music during lockdown allowed her to upskill and be a bit more self-sufficient.

“The past year has been a steep learning curve. I’m thankful for this opportunity from Creative Victoria to turn the songs I wrote and demoed in my bedroom into full fledged tracks, and work with other musicians to learn and grow.”

READ ALSO: On the spirit of music: meet Sydney band Goldfynch

Source: supplied

Drawing on the orchestral sounds and percussion from her classical background, Jhm’s sound takes inspiration from her Indian-Australian identity. She counts KS Chithra and KJ Yesudas, along with Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, as her musical influences.

“As musicians, we’re just trying to make art for the world. It’s about trying to preserve a feeling and share it with the world,” she said.

And what inspired this stage name?

“I wish there was more of a story there, but really, it came from the name of my Mum’s first dog,” she laughed.

Up close and personal

Currently reading? Libraries have been closed during lockdown, but I’m going through a giant collection of Jane Austen novels.

Currently listening to? “Prepared” by Jill Scott.

Currently watching? The Big Bang Theory – can you believe it’s my first time?

Favourite karaoke song? Probably something from Whitney Houston.

Favourite Indian musician? S Janaki. The scoring is beautiful. It breaks my heart that her recordings are from so long ago and are not necessarily the best quality.

Favourite Bollywood film? Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

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Rhea L Nath
Rhea L Nath
Rhea L Nath is a writer, editor, and content creator based in Sydney. In 2021, she was the winner of the Alan Knight Student Award (NSW Premier's Multicultural Communications Awards)

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