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CJ Temple takes a long and winding road to making her debut album, ‘Smoke’

Her goal out of college was to perform on Broadway, then tackle the film, television and music industries.

But by the time she graduated in 2010 from Virginia Commonwealth University, CJ Temple had soured on the idea of being an entertainer.

“The first day I was there [at VCU],” she recalls, “the head of the [theater] department met with all of us. And one of the first things he said was, ‘You can either be fat or skinny. You can’t be in between or you’re not going to get work.’ And that’s what we heard for four years.

“And then during the last year, it was all about marketing yourself: It was all about getting the career to make some money. And I was like, ‘I just care about acting.’ It made me so anxious.”

The idea of “becoming a business, becoming a product” terrified her, so Temple took a professional detour, working for many years in retail and other industries.

She wrote songs along the way, though, and discovering TikTok in late 2019 would ultimately reignite the artist within Temple.

In her mid-30s at the time, Temple says her initial impression of TikTok was “it’s a stupid app.”

“Then I realized how much fun it was, how informational it was,” she admits.

In late January 2020, Temple made her first post on TikTok. Her a cappella covers of such songs as the Julie London-popularized “Cry Me a River” and the Bonnie Raitt hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” along with vocal performances backed by karaoke tracks and posts portraying a character with a 1940s mid-Atlantic accent, helped Temple to build a sizeable audience on the platform.

In November 2020, not long after she reached 1 million TikTok followers, Temple heard from Olivia Management’s Erin O. Anderson, who saw a cover song Temple posted on Instagram from TikTok.

“She sent me this message on Instagram,” Temple says. “[It basically said], ‘I’m in the industry. If you have any questions or need any advice, let me know.’ So we talked, and she asked me if I wanted to do an album. And in my head, I’m thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Someone is interested in my music?’

“That sparked something more in me. For someone in the industry to want to help me … I told her I had 13 songs for an album to kind of close that chapter of my life and begin this new one.”

Temple left her job as a legal administrator at the Richmond, Virginia-headquartered Brink’s Company in December 2020 to pursue music full-time. The singer-songwriter turned to Kickstarter in mid-February 2021 to raise money for recording an album, and on the day before the campaign was set to end, she reached her goal of $40,000.

Armed with songs she’d written from ages 18 to 33, Temple teamed with Nashville, Tennessee-based produced Josh Kaler last April to record her debut. Smoke was released Jan. 28 via Olivia Records.

Once work with Kaler was underway, Temple says she didn’t change many of the lyrics or melodies to her batch of songs, and her demos were used as reference points as well as musical foundations.

“I told [Kaler] the style that I wanted each one to be, and I gave him examples of music for the vibe that I wanted,” she says. “I gave him a lot of creative freedom to use different instruments.”

Speaking of freedom, should Temple feel the urge to tour in support of Smoke, she can hit the road with relative ease in her converted school bus.

“I [recently] moved it — and myself — up to Michigan,” she says. “So for now, home base is in a small town on the east coast of Michigan.”

— By Chris M. Junior

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