Neo-Soul star Umi is the anti-anxiety remedy we need right now

House Nights: UMI at DTLA | Soho House

Ahead of her ‘Forest In The City’ release in May, the artist breaks down the references to nature in her tracks

Thursday 31 March 2022    By Abigail Hirsch    Photography by Loamis Rodriguez

In three quick minutes, Umi will change your life. Born Tierra Umi Wilson, the singer-songwriter is creating audio meditation with her ethereal, lo-fi sound. With almost three million monthly listeners on Spotify, the Seattle native is gaining momentum for her unique earthy vibe and soft tone. Fresh off the release of her single, ‘Sorry’, she announced that she’ll be debuting her first album on 27 May; 15 tracks of her signature, calming alternative sound. We caught up with UMI after her intimate show at Soho Warehouse to chat about her upcoming album, Forest In The City. 

Hi, UMI. Congratulations on your single, ‘Sorry’. You just announced your debut album, Forest In The City, releasing this upcoming May – what can listeners expect?
‘This project is so cool because it really documents my growth as a person; you can hear it in the music. I wrote part of this album while I was in a state of self-discovery and a harder place in my life. Then, as I’ve evolved in my human experience, I’m now drawn to sing about more uplifting concepts: love, unity, songs like “Bird’s Eye View”. It’s a track about understanding self-love for the first time. 

‘So, within the album you see this evolution of my self-awareness. I also produced every single song with a different person. There’s a track for every person, one for every moment.’

House Nights: UMI at DTLA | Soho House
House Nights: UMI at DTLA | Soho House

What role does nature play in your album?
‘It plays a huge role in my creative process, because nature is where I centre myself. It’s a place where I can hear myself more clearly and draw inspiration from. Every time I feel blocked, I find myself returning to the forest or the ocean.

‘The name Forest In The City came about when I was sitting in the park last year, hearing birds chirping alongside loud sirens. I began to question what impact existing in the city has on my state of mind, values, and mental health, and is it possible for us as humans to find the peace we feel in nature while existing in concrete environments? Meditating on these concepts, I realised the forest exists within me. This album was created in the city, but I birthed my own forest within it to channel for this project. And then the album itself serves as a forest for people to realise all the ways that they can exist within a physical space.’

You play a number of instruments, right? Which ones can we expect on the album?
‘I play the guitar, piano, bass, ukulele, and then I play my voice. You can expect all the instruments, but the album is definitely guitar heavy.’

How do they complement your voice and work in unison to create your sound? 
‘I approach music from a multidimensional perspective, and so it’s not just me that’s singing. The rhythm and melody of the guitar complement the cadence and vibration of my voice. I’m really mindful about what tones I select, and not putting too much in each song, so every instrument can breathe.’
You mentioned that ‘umi’ means ocean in Japanese – what does that represent to you? 
‘Umi embodies my state of being, which is a state of flow. My music has this flowing, peaceful frequency to it. I feel like one of my purposes on Earth is to create music that’s soothing.’ 

Spirituality and meditation are tied to your music – what role do these elements play in your album?
‘This project in itself is a meditation. It’s cool to see that it’s not just about sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed and entering that space. It can also be good music. Just by listening to the album, it can put you in a place of meditation. My spiritual truths have been integrated into this project; topics like the connection between humans and nature, the subtle energies that we feel, the interconnectedness between all people, the idea that reality exists beyond this 3D realm, but that there’s so much potential in the non-physical.’

House Nights: UMI at DTLA | Soho House
House Nights: UMI at DTLA | Soho House

What artists are inspiring you right now? Who are you listening to? 
‘I am so inspired by artists like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, SZA, Jhené Aiko, FKA Twigs, D’Angelo, Q, Stevie Wonder… so many people – Hiatus Kaiyote, James Blake. I’m inspired by their uniqueness in the way that they share their human experience, that inspires me to stay true to myself.’ 

You’re about to embark on your first tour this summer – what are you nervous about and what excites you? 
‘I want to put on a show that’s unique; something people haven’t seen before. A show that’s healing and leaves people feeling uplifted. But the “how” part of it – the set design, putting the show itself together… I’m expanding and doing things I’ve never done before. That’s what makes me nervous. But the same things that make me nervous make me excited.

‘I’m also looking forward to meeting and singing to my fans. I’ve been on tour before, but never performed for my very own crowd.’ 

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