“I want to heal people – that’s my plan” says UMI when I ask her what her plan for next year is, both of us praying 2021 will be a much better year than the one unfolding currently. This response sounds all too fitting for UMI, given the radiant energy in her music emitting straight from the warm-hearted soul of the young songbird. UMI is a flower ready to bloom, in a garden full of the most vibrant flowers.
While still fairly young, she has personified the experiences you’d find from someone who has lived an entire lifetime, putting these into words and using her answers to bring us together. “I’m very inspired by my life experiences and just the different emotions I experience… I’m very empathic, I feel very deeply and I tend to channel that into my music and into my journals”. Using these journals to dive deeper into the emotions that she sings about, her music is effortlessly beautiful, and deeply resonating. “I’ll look into my journal entry that day and see what sort of words I was using, what colours were I feeling, and I like to put that into the music”. Perhaps this empathetic side of UMI is what makes her music a shining light for many, the fact that she dives into not only her own life experiences, but also into those of her friends… “I’m also very inspired by the experiences of my friends, and people around me – I feel like I can feel those energies really deeply as well”. Every note of UMI’s resonating anthems fills our minds with memories, situations we once found ourselves in. Her music is simply expressions of what it means to be human – diving into the sounds, colours and languages of love, happiness, sorrow, uncertainty and peace. This raw, honest nature of her words has helped her on her journey to finding inner peace, and love for herself. She is able to channel her experiences, whether it is victory or defeat, and help find the answers to what often feels greatly unanswerable. UMI extends this past herself, and is acting as a guiding light to many – truly flourishing into a symbol of self-love and empowerment.
“I think that creating music is a spiritual exchange, it’s a time where I’m channelling my experiences, and it’s like alchemy.”
What was the first song you ever wrote?
First song I ever wrote that I remember was this song I wrote when I was 5 or so… it’s called ‘I Belong in Hollywood’. My mum got me this two piece sweat-suit and it said “I belong in Hollywood” on the back – and so that inspired the music. I still remember the melody. I would sin it in the parking lot. I have two little sisters, and they would pretend to be my little fans. From there, I would write songs so often, like every week I was writing a song. I would have little song writing sessions with my sisters to try and get them to write songs… they weren’t into it.
You left school to pursue music, right? Did you feel more pressure taking that leap?
Very much, especially because everyone around me were taking internships and job shadowing… and I was just thinking about how I didn’t want to do all that, I didn’t want to job shadow, I didn’t want to get an internship, I just want to make music. I felt like I was going against the normal, going against what everyone around me was doing, and because of that I felt like I was putting pressure on myself… do I really believe in myself? Is this really what I want to do? I got a tattoo on my wrist, and I said “once I get a tattoo I can’t get a corporate job…” which is not true but I told myself that, so once I got this tattoo I need to commit to dropping out, commit to making music… and that helped. There was a lot of fear, but I’m happy I did it – it was a risk I needed to take.
Now that you’re 21, what would you tell the teenage version of yourself?
I would say… just be yourself. I feel like I so badly wanted to be cool, and to be popular growing up, and I was not cool and not popular growing up… it created a lot of inner turmoil. I didn’t like myself because I wasn’t “cool” but now as an artist, what makes you cool and what makes you unique is being your most authentic self, so I would tell myself “fuck the haters” just be you, wear what you want to wear, eat what you want to eat, like the music you want to like, you don’t have to fit into any mold.
You are part Japanese – how do you stay in tune with that side of yourself?
My mum moved closer to me recently, and just talking to her and visiting her often helps me to stay connected. She only talks to me in Japanese, so every time I talk to her it’s a nice re-jogging of my memory. I facetime my grandma a lot, and just catch up with her which helps me keep me present in that world. Growing up I watched a lot of Japanese television, which I want to start doing more of now to keep the language in me. Also eating the food, I love to make different Japanese foods at home, I love to cook and make lots of ramen, miso soups… I make a lot of fusion foods, I’ll take miso soup and add all these different soul food elements and seasonings and spices.
Tell me a little about the process of making Introspection
Introspection was actually meant to be an album – two years ago I had the idea of starting my first album, and as I worked on it, it wasn’t clicking, and I thought “why is that?” I sat back and listened to all the music I had written and I thought I think it’s meant to be shorter, with a more focused message to it. So I picked the songs which fit into the line of the narrative in Introspection, which is my journey inwards and the different inner emotions I’ve felt and that I’ve reflected in music, and the six songs that are on the project reflect six monumental moments in my life – each song I can remember a distinct memory or a transformation I went through during the period of time when I was writing the song. It’s interesting because some of the songs are two years old and some were only written a month before the project came out, they really range in terms of a timeline. So it’s cool that they could all sound very cohesive.
“I’m learning that anxiety is not an emotion I have to be ashamed of, or that I have to run from or suppress, but lean into and meet it with love and tell myself it is okay.”
I’m going to dive into some of the themes spread throughout the album. How do you combat the feeling of anxiety?
It’s so good to have you ask that, today was actually a really anxious day for me for some reason, but what helps me is breathing and staying focused. In every moment I’ve been focusing in on the one thing I’m doing – like right now, I’m putting all my focus into speaking with you… a few months ago I would have been speaking to you, but my mind would be in thirty other places at the same time. That seems to create a lot of anxiety when my brain is just not present. But yeah, breathing deeply, zoning in on one moment helps, journaling really helps, it takes all the clutter in my head and puts it outside of my mind. Being in nature or in the ocean helps as well, I’ve been swimming in the ocean more recently, and that’s been really good for me. Being grateful too… reminding myself of what I’m grateful for in this moment, so that I don’t feel so overwhelmed.
Do you think it is important to know that feelings of anxiety and loneliness are still prevalent even when you’re surrounded by people that love you?
Yes, yes, yes! Sometimes I feel the loneliest even when I’m in a big group of people. I think it’s totally normal, what I’ve learned is sometimes loneliness comes out of a disconnection with myself, I don’t feel like I’m being my true self or like I can be my true self, so I feel disconnected from other people. Whenever I feel those emotions it reminds me to take time to be with myself and understand myself and love myself more. I’m learning that anxiety is not an emotion I have to be ashamed of, or that I have to run from or suppress, but lean into and meet it with love and tell myself it is okay.
Can you tell me a bit about your experiences with self-love?
I feel like it’s an ongoing journey, you can love yourself infinitely deeper every single day, and this year has been a really important year for my self-love, I feel like a year ago I really didn’t like myself, and that’s not a bad thing, I just felt like I wasn’t content with where I was. There was so much growth that needed to happen. But now I’m realising I can see all the growth that will happen, and still love who I am in the present moment. Again, what’s really helped with my self-love is journaling, meditating and realising that I have so much peace and love within me… knowing I’m a good person. To help with self-love I send affirmations to myself, reminding myself that I’m doing well and that I don’t have to have everything figured out right away.
How does your spirituality impact your music?
My spirituality is so tied to my music because I think that creating music is a spiritual exchange, it’s a time where I’m channelling my experiences, and it’s like alchemy. I’m alchemising an experience into a creative outlet and into a sonic experience – It’s very magical when you think about it. Just having or holding a meditative practice helps me to be more in the zone when I’m making music, I try meditate before I write every song, so that I can be more present when I’m writing. I like to bring my candles and my palo santo and my sage with me to the studio so I can make sure the space I’m in is conducive for creativity. Sometimes I’m not feeling creative, and it is because there’s a weird energy in the room, and you’ve got to clear that out. I think the spiritual practice has helped ground me.
I love how the album art really reflects the idea of being introspective – Could the album be used as a mirror for you, and the audience?
Yes! That was my intention, I wanted the project for me to be a reflection of my experiences, but then for someone to be able to listen to that song and reflect on if they’ve been through that too, and allow them to think deeper on that experience. Whether it’s a break-up or coming out or dealing with the thoughts in your brain, I wanted it to be a catalyst for other people’s introspective journeys, and I feel like a lot of people have been able to go deeper within themselves after listening to the project.
“I feel like it’s an ongoing journey, you can love yourself infinitely deeper every single day”
You’ve been very vocal about the current political and social issues that have been happening over the year – Why do you think it’s important for musicians to use their platform wisely?
I think the world is so overwhelming right now, there’s just so much news and I feel like it makes people not want to know what’s happening, because there is so much happening. But I think people will always come back to artists and musicians as safe spaces for art and for creativity… so I feel like I have a responsibility as an artist. I’m not a media outlet or a news outlet, so I think people don’t have that same overwhelming feeling when they come to my platforms. I want people to be able to use that opportunity to share information about the current state of the world, but not to do it in a way that is overwhelming or to do it in a way that doesn’t make people feel like everything is over… but to do it in a way that lets people still feel hopeful. I think it’s an artist’s responsibility to use their platform to inform their fans, because people are always going to come back to the artists.
Since the world is kind of a mess at the moment… what are your plans for the time being?
My plan is to keep creating, and to keep making art. Art and music really help me get through the tough times – and I feel like it helps other people to do the same. Remembering that I have to be hopeful about the world, because a lot of people look to me for those hopeful messages, so just reminding myself to find the light in every day and channel that light into my music I want to heal people – that’s my plan. I’ll also be working on my album too, putting my energies into that process. I think I’m going to spend next year in Europe and find some new inspirations… and maybe I’ll come to New Zealand if it’s open. That’s my vision for the next year… but also taking it day by day, I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Words by Oli Spencer
Photography by Oli Spencer, shot over FaceTime
UMI is the third cover star for Tenner Magazine Volume One. Order your copy at www.tennermag.com/shop