Finding happiness and healing, UMI’s happy im is a warm hug for the soul.
The moment you sit down with UMI you’re immediately encompassed in an aura of warmth. You can’t mistake it or call it anything else. Her personality shines brighter still. Kindness permeates through the conversation as we start to overcome the initial awkwardness that comes from doing an interview. There’s an instant connection, the feeling like you’re sitting down with a friend you haven’t spoken to for years and picking up right where you left off as if you haven’t missed a beat. A streak of color in an unforgivingly grey world, UMI strives for connection with her audience and beyond, hoping to make them see that happiness truly is all around if you know where to look.
With every piece of art, she puts into the world, she shares a little of herself with us, allowing us insight into her world. But it’s so much more than that. Soulful folk music with layers of depth and artistry, every lyric you hear is written with the express purpose of relaying a message, emotion, or both. With happy im, UMI gives us a peek at her vulnerability. Not all artists wear their hearts on their sleeves, but she wears it like a badge of honor. She shows her audience, that it’s okay to allow yourself a moment to break, that it doesn’t make you weak and can, in fact, be the spark that leads you down a path to healing.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe, UMI discusses where her love of music comes from, fighting through stage fright, happy im, and so much more.
Before we dive in – how’s your day been so far?
It’s been good. It’s been really busy, but a joyfully busy day. Meaning, I wouldn’t rather be busy with anything else than what I’m busy with. So, happily busy! It’s been a full day [laughter].
In a way. I feel like I started the day off kind of sad. But as I’ve been going through the day and moving, I feel better and better. So, I’m happy about that.
Sometimes, it really is about finding little ways to make your day brighter. What do you do to get out of a negative headspace?
Well, I just went to the gym. And that always helps me feel better. And then I ate some food that made me feel good. My mom made soup. So, I ate some of her soup and I got some sunlight – that always makes me feel better. And I laughed, talked to some friends, and had a good laugh.
Going to the gym like you said, talking to good friends, having a home-cooked meal made by your mom, or eating with people that you love will definitely put you in a more joyful mood.
The little things add up.
Yes, they do! Thank you, UMI, for taking the time to speak with 1883 today, we really appreciate it. To start off, who were your major musical influences growing up and where did you pull inspiration from?
Thank you for the question. I was heavily influenced by a mixture of both soul and Japanese pop music. My mom is Japanese, and my dad is African American. So, I grew up listening to Sade and Erykah Badu and D’Angelo and gospel music and then also listening to Japanese artists, too. It’s a mixture of that. And then my mom listened to a lot of classical music. So, all that came together to create my subconscious music taste.
And when did you start experimenting with singing and dabbling in music?
I started when I was little. I have these home videos from when I was around two, or three, when I started learning to walk, I was doing little shows for my mom or like sitting in front of the window reflection and performing. And when I was four, or five, maybe five, I started learning how to write music. Ever since then, I’ve been singing but, I’ve had a bit of stage fright for most of my life. That was something I started learning to overcome, as I was creating.
How did you overcome it? Do you still kind of get a little bit nervous or do you suck it up and be like, ‘Okay, I guess I’m doing the thing.’
I did a bunch of open mics. The stage fright encouraged me to start a YouTube channel and develop more of an online presence. Because, you know, you don’t have to be in front of people to be in front of people. That’s what led me to start being online. I started doing open mics when I went to college because I was like, ‘Okay, I want to be able to perform the songs I’m posting.’ And I remember I was so scared. I would close my eyes so tight; I couldn’t even breathe. I would perform every week just to get a little bit over the fear. My first show I opened for this artist, and I started the show with a meditation to help calm myself down, and then help calm the whole crowd down. It’s become my thing. I think ever since incorporating that, plus the practice, it’s really helped me. I get excited to go on stage. I don’t feel any nerves, which is crazy.
I love the fact that you meditated your way through the nerves, and basically said, ‘Screw the stage fright!’
Yes, exactly! [laughs]
What’s it been like to become more established and see your music really connecting with people?
It feels awesome. I think it’s one thing when you see numbers online but when you see people in person they’re deeply resonating? They’re crying, they’re laughing, they’re screaming, they’re feeling free, it makes me feel my purpose. It refreshes me and puts everything in perspective. It helps me realize how far I’ve come and what I’m doing it for. I really love live performances. It’s important for me, I think to perform frequently to keep that in mind and keep the human connection at the forefront.
That being said, do you have a favorite moment that comes to mind from being onstage? One that particularly sticks out?
This past weekend, I performed at LMU (Loyola Marymount University). I hadn’t done a college show in a minute, and it was exciting. There were a lot of freshmen in the audience, and I just saw this joy and freedom and excitement in everyone’s eyes like, ‘I’m in college now, no parents!’ It was probably one of the first few weeks of school and it reminded me of when I was in college, when I was going through stage fright and I was starting to really call myself an artist and do it for real. It made me go, ‘Wow, I’ve come a long way and now I get to inspire people.’ It made me feel like I’d come full circle.
When you look back on how far you’ve come, what’s a piece of advice you’d give to your younger self with all the knowledge you have now?
I would tell myself it’s all going to work out. I would tell myself – one step at a time. Focus on the now, don’t get discouraged, and don’t get too ahead of myself.
I think that is very sound advice. Everyone wants to get ahead of themselves, but they forget to take in the present and appreciate what they have. Circling back to music, for someone who hasn’t listened to your music before, how would you describe it? What’s the elevator pitch?
I love this question [laughs]. I have a different answer, depending on the time of day, [laughs] which is okay. I would describe my music as folk music for the soul. Music that by the time you’ve finished listening to it, you feel more uplifted. Music to fill spaces and make memories. Music that feels nice, like a fresh smoothie and a hearty soup at the same time. Music that feels like a warm hug but with sound.
So then, I have to ask: what’s on your playlist right now?
Let me see. I recently made a playlist for my dad. My dad does not like technology, so I have to burn CDs for him. So, on that playlist, I’ve put some throwbacks; some Sade, the Neptune’s remix of this Sade song called ‘By your Side.’ That’s such a good song. I’ve been listening to an artist called Devon Morrison he has a song called ‘Love.’ That’s really soulful, and then I’ve been listening to the Doja Cat album, and she has a song called ‘Agoura Hills.’ Just thinking about that song, it gets stuck in my head. I think it’s cool.
What about it, like, sticks with you?
The melody is so catchy. Also, I think it’s dope she made a five-minute song. Everyone is like, ‘Don’t make long songs, don’t make long songs,’ but made an almost six-minute-long song. And it’s catchy and you still play the whole song because it’s catchy. That’s bold to me.
Absolutely. Doja is so bold when it comes to her artistry and honestly, I don’t feel like six minutes is that long. Bohemian Rhapsody is also a six-minute song and that was received well.
You’re totally right!
If you could jam with a musician, living or dead who would it be? And why?
Erykah Badu. Because she’s so cool. I feel like she would bring the coolest instruments I’ve never seen before, and she has jewelry instruments and she’s just really cool. I feel like we would have a great conversation and a great jam.
I think you’re manifesting it.
I’m feeling it already. Her music is such a warm hug.
You said in the description of happy im to ‘think less and love more.’ When did that realization hit you?
It hit me about a year ago when I wrote the song. I went to a therapy session. My therapist was like, ‘UMI, when are you just going to give yourself permission to just be happy?’ And it clicked. I was like, this is me versus me. I keep poking at this relationship and poking at life trying to find problems or trying to find things to change about myself when it’s just life. It has its own course of doing its own thing. I clicked during that session. I feel like I’ve been integrating that into my normal habit of thinking more and more and writing songs helps me do that too. Because every time I listen to the song, it reminds me of that message. And so yeah, that’s kind of when it clicked. I feel like it still hasn’t stuck all the way but it’s a lot more seeped in than a year ago.
It takes time to implement those things, right? We’re constantly in the works. Love it. What I found interesting about the music video for happy im is that it feels like a found-footage film. The song is incredibly personal and heartfelt. I felt like I was peeking into your diary. Was that the intention? Did you want it to feel that personal?
I did. I think everything about my art is very personal. And I love that about it. I don’t see a lot of videos with representation of queer couples. A lot of the conversation is more about, ‘I went through this, and I fought through this’ and needing to prove your sexuality and prove your relationship and I was just like, I want to make something that no matter what the sexuality of us is, you can just look at it and see that there’s love between two people. The film does a good job of just stripping everything down to the basics of what you need to see. I didn’t even color it I just wanted it to be as raw as possible. It allows you to look at it and take it in for yourself.
It’s beautiful. And you’re right. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I’ve seen a music video where it highlights a queer couple and shows that love between two people. So, thank you for doing that. And my last question for you today is what is something you would like to manifest for yourself? Other than Erykah Badu [laughter] What is something you’d like to manifest for yourself this year?
There are so many dimensions and directions to answer this question. I’m coming from a more emotional place. I would like to feel excited and fully confident about my upcoming EP and call-in success for it, which exceeds my expectations.
UMI’s new singles happy im & why dont we go are out now.
UMI’s new EP talking to the wind is out on January 19 2024.
Follow UMI by clicking here.
Interview Dana Reboe
Featured image Spencer Middleton
Additional photography Eddie Mandell