1883 chats with UMI about her latest EP Introspection, the current social & political climate, and the importance of meditation.
The past two weeks have felt like some sort of alternative reality; waking up and going through each day has felt like there is a heaviness in the air. As we wake up and continue to fight for the Black Lives Matter movement and ensure voices are heard and that justice is served, it is very easy to lose sight of our current mental state. Turning to music as a form of escapism can help us and remind us to celebrate Black creativity, Black stories and Black voices. From going back through the vaults of the classics, to my childhood favourites and discovering the new voices it has all been able to remind me why Black Lives Matter will always matter.
One of the new voices I have been drawn towards that has provided me with everything I need at the moment is rising R&B singer UMI. UMI’s music is a relaxed, laid-back R&B sound that is perfect for moments where you want to just be carefree and not think about anything which, given the current social and political climate, is needed sometimes.
Her musical journey began at a young age and was formed through growing up with a blend of both Japanese and African–American heritage. Influenced by a range of different musical genres like R&B, Gospel, Soul as well as a lot of different Japanese music from her mum, UMI started making music by writing to beats she found on YouTube and created music out of her dorm room whilst studying. Last year she released her first EP, Love Language, and since then UMI has now moved from her dorm room and now works in studios and still creating the low-key chillout R&B vibes she’s known for. Already this year, she has several singles ‘Introspection’, ‘Open Up’ and the latest ‘Pretty Girl’, all of which are on her latest EP Introspection.
Amid all the emotional turmoil and everything at the moment, I had the chance to speak with UMI about her upcoming project, making music in quarantine, the importance of Black music, intentions, meditation and more.
I know that up until recently you always had a very DIY approach when it comes to your music. How has that approach changed in the past year and what made that naturally the way you create?
When I started, it was kind of like the only way for me to put my music out in the world so it felt natural to be like if I want to share an original song that I’ve written with the world I’m just going to figure it out. I’d like, get a part-time job so I can get the mic and record myself, be my engineer, be my mixer. I think that it is cool to start in that place because as my career has grown and I’ve been able to work in studios more and have engineers who help me record, so I know exactly what I want to hear, how my voice sounds best, or what setup is best. I have been able to take the learning that I had when I was younger and apply that to where I am now and how I make music. Being in quarantine I have been going back to the home studio vibe and I think it is cool that for me, in general, it feels like ebbs and flows; it’s cool to be in those studios, but I also like being able to make music in the comfort of my room. I think each creates a different sonic world.
What tends to be your approach when you make music?
I feel like every time is different and that tends to be my flow; I allow inspiration to come to me. Last year, I was going to a lot more studios and it would be like ‘Oh, this week I’m going on a road trip with my friends’ for example and I would know a couple of days after that I would want to write a song because I was going to be inspired from that experience. I don’t want to say schedule but I would kind of schedule my songwriting around moments that I would have in my life because I learned that for me to have a creative inspiration, I have to go out and see the world and do something. Now I feel that not being able to go outside and do things, I find inspiration just hits me out of nowhere so when that happens I’ll just go and record something. It just depends, but the process tends to be the same even if I’m recording at a studio; I take my crystals with me so no matter where I am I feel at home. I bring my incense and my sage, I meditate before I start the session. It’s all just so I am in a clear headspace and channelling what I am trying to express.
Your EP Introspection was just released. Following the release of your last EP, what would you say was the moment that led to this one?
I’m excited about this project because I feel like I have gone within myself deeper than ever before. Just in taking the time to understand myself deeper than I had in the past, so the music that is coming out is an even more authentic expression of me and my experience. The EP is called Introspection because I feel like this past year for me has been a very introspective year; I left school so I had a lot more time to focus on my creative energy and harness that. I’ve been meditating and journaling more, so this the first project where it’s my whole day could be spent creating versus my energy being split between school and work. I think it’s just a better channelling of the thoughts on my mind and I feel like when people listen to the music, I want them to not see it as an expression of me but to also be like a mirror for people who listen so they can find themselves in the lyrics and the melodies. I hope they can use the project as a jumping point for their introspection and their journeys of self-discovery.
The stories and lyrics behind the EP naturally flow into each other. Was this intentional or did it just come together in this way?
Interestingly, it all just came together. All of the songs I had written at random points in my life. ‘Introspection’ is the most recent song that I wrote and then ‘Open Up’ I wrote 3-4 months before that and all the other songs were written maybe 6 or 7 months before. Each song I just wrote in the moment and then when I decided I wanted to release another project, I pulled the different songs that I felt expressed different parts of me. When the whole project comes out, you’ll see each song has a different sonic world that it exists in but they are all connected at the same time.
You’ve given us a taste with ‘Introspection’ and ‘Open Up’. With those two being the first two releases, why did you feel they were the ones to lead with in representing the project?
It was very intuitive. When I was sitting down and thinking of the rollout for this project, I gravitated towards those two songs. I felt like whenever I released the EP, it would fit the moment in which it would come out and for me, that is what happened. ‘Introspection’ came out when the world was entering an era of introspection with the pandemic and then ‘Open Up’ came out when I feel like a lot of people are learning to connect with themselves and learning to look within themselves more. It just happened to be divine timing.
What do you want people listening to the EP to get out of it? What do you think you are saying with it?
First and foremost, I always want my music to be a form of healing; that’s also just my main intention with my music in general. I hope, and I trust, that when people listen to this project it will serve as a form of healing especially in the world right now. Whether it is just feeling like you can take a break from what is happening and just be in a different space, or you have an experience that is relatable to something that I wrote and you can feel heard and be seen through my music. I also hope the music can connect people and they can fall in love with the music, friends can have road trips and when we start doing live shows again, the music can be an expansive experience for people at the shows and becomes connective.
The visuals that accompany your songs are also something that seem important to you. What is the process when choosing which visuals marry which sounds?
Usually, I do the visual after I write the song; it’s not something I think of as I am creating often. It’s a moment where I am thinking and dreaming out what it looks like. I’m like, ‘Okay, now I have the sonics; what do I want the visuals to do be?’ I tend to sit and play the song on repeat and I worked with Joyce, my creative partner, who is kind of like my soul sister. Our brains just kind of work alike and she helps me and sits down with me and we think about what the song is about, what colours do you feel when you hear the song, what do you envision when you hear the song, and that tends to be the jumping-off point. With some songs, I’ll be recording and I see the music video in my head and, in that case, I write it down and that’s where the inspiration starts.
You released your previous EP as a series of music videos for each song, can we expect any sort of cool visuals for this one?
Yes! Similar to the last EP, with this project we have a short film that will be accompanying this EP. I’m so proud of it and it’s like nothing that I’ve created before. I have felt so connected to it like never before. With that also coming out, I feel like it will also bring another dimension to the music and find more ways for people to connect themselves to the music.
I know you are a spiritual person and you have mentioned meditating and how that process helps you create. In terms of how that comes through in the music, is that something that naturally happens or are you thinking about ways to incorporate it?
I think it just naturally happens, partially because I am very particular about the music I listen to just because I am so swayed by energy. If the music is too intense, then I become intense so I feel like I’m just naturally drawn to music that is calming because I want to feel calm when I write the song and I want to put calm vibes out there. It just flows intuitively, but also because music heals me; it helps me to know what sonics I want.
With everything happening at the moment in the world, how do you maintain your peace and your energy?
I remind myself that for me to bring about the most change in the world, I have to in the best headspace and I have to be at peace and find peace within me. I take breaks from the world and I engage with the world when I feel ready. I do my research about what is happening when I feel ready and I allow myself to take time. One thing I have been learning, especially with quarantine, is that up until this point we were in an era of being overstimulated and not realizing that we were being overstimulated and that our anxieties and depression often comes from too much information and not have the space to process it. I think that what is happening is expanding our knowledge and asking us to apply what we learned in the first half of this year to the revolution and to this new era of change that is coming, while also reminding us that we still need to take time for ourselves and feel good before we can go out and make a statement or go out and do something. I just make sure I feel good within myself before I open up to the rest of the world. I also realize everything happens in divine timing and I don’t have to rush it; I don’t have to say something right now. Instead, I can say something when I am ready and it makes the ripple effect much greater.
In this current climate, I feel like it also serves as a reminder of what we, as Black people, bring to the table, whether that’s through our art and using art as a way we tell our stories and share our truths. For you, as a Black artist sharing your art, how do you feel about putting this out at the moment?
I would say now more than ever I am feeling fired up about creating and fired up about the project and the music. Music tends to be tied to every Black movement; music goes hand-in-hand with the expression of change and I feel like in one way, music can serve to enliven and bring more fire to a demand for change but it can also just serve as a thing for people to have, like protestors who need a break and need to chill out and to take a breath. I want my art to serve as if I am making a statement with my music, but I am also just making fun and happy music so people can take a break and recharge. I know that because of the climate of the world, it is important for me to be careful about when I am releasing music and how I language music and how I language the expression of my creativity because sometimes things can be misconstrued if I’m not being very clear about my intention. I am grateful because it’s making me dig deeper and ask myself why I am releasing this song, what is my message, and then how I am going to communicate is what this time has evoked in me. I did question whether this was the right time but then I also realized that while we are fighting and having these dialogues about the movements which are important to have, it is also important to have the space for music and creativity to prosper because you do need that and also they go hand in hand with the movement.
What does introspection mean to you?
It means… almost like getting to know the voices in your head. Getting to know what they sound like, what do they tell me, what is the tone of the voices in my head and then realizing that they impact my outward feeling of self, my outward reflection of self and the manifestation of the world around me. Becoming best friends with my mind is kind of what introspection also means for me. I would also say just being more real with myself and allowing myself to feel all those emotions because I have taken time to sit with them.
As you continue to embark on your journey and everything that you have experienced so far, what have been some things that you have learned about yourself?
I would say recently I have learned how sensitive and also how receptive I am to the energy around me and how important it is for me to make sure I am in a good headspace and preserving my peace is very important for me in realizing I am the best artist when I am my best self. Putting my mental health first has gone hand-in-hand with my career because when I feel good I make the best decisions, I make the best music, I attract the best opportunities and the right people, so that has been a very important lesson for me. I’m also learning to be intentional about the people I surround myself with and the people I create with. Like I mentioned earlier, I find my music flows best when I like the people I am creating with. I also just want to flow more and not be so rigid about schedules and timelines. I feel like quarantine has taught me that more than anything, my best work takes the amount of time it takes, so I am never going to know how much it’s going to take; I just do it and flow with it and then it always just manifests as it’s meant.
As a creative person, what do you think your work and your art says about you and how you express yourself?
By listening to my music, I want to communicate authenticity to people and that music is just my expression of self. It helps me to keep going every day and I hope and trust that people can hear that honesty in my music and that I just love to make music; it is my life purpose and I feel that people can feel that. Healing work is so important to me and being a person who can create healing in this world is also one of my purposes and I hope that people can take that from my music.
What can we expect next and what are you looking forward to next in your journey?
I am excited about the tour next year just because I have had a lot more time to think about what I want the live show to feel and look like, so trust that when the tour happens every show is going to be like something no one has ever gone to or experienced before. People are going to meet other people they’ve never met before and create communities and tribes, so I am excited about that. I am excited for the film to come out and for people to receive that; I feel like that’s going to be something that continues to carry the project into the rest of the year because this film opened me up to how much I like to create films and be a storyteller in that way. In the next coming years, I’m looking forward to channelling my creativity into more films and animation and more content in that world for people to connect to. Finally, the music that is going to come out next year! I’m excited to write and record it. The biggest thing for me is the tour whenever divinely time works out because it’s going to be such an experience.
interview by Seneo Mwamba
Listen to UMI’s latest EP Introspection below!