Photography by Georgia Seizis
UMI, or Tierra Umi Wilson, is a genre-bending artist generating lush and dreamy soundscapes, amalgamating the sonic elements of R&B, neo-soul, and lo-fi alternative music. The 19-year-old Seattle native has balanced both music and school, as a student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles; in the past year, UMI has released four singles and an EP.
UMI’s latest single, River, seamlessly combines dreamy and lo-fi guitar and an R&B beat with her mellow and dulcet vocals, reminiscing about a past relationship. The imagery of the lyrics beautifully captures the feelings experienced in a breakup, as UMI sings, “Now that this is over / All that’s left is broken pieces oh / Swimming in your waters / But I’m trying to find my way back home.” The continuity of the river is contrasted with the end of a relationship.
I spoke with UMI about her latest single, River, scooters and friendship, and the intersection of music and politics.
How did you all first get into music?
I come from a very musical family, so I’ve been writing songs and playing different instruments since I was four or five. But I didn’t start putting my music online until my freshman year of high school.
What are some of your biggest influences?
In terms of current artist, I’m really influenced by SZA and Frank Ocean for their melodies and lyricism.
Where do you draw inspiration for your music, outside of music itself?
From personal experience, experiences with others (friends, family, etc.), and imagined experiences (that are more universal).
What is the creative and production process behind your music? Is there a kind of feeling you try to communicate?
When writing songs, I usually just search through YouTube for hours to find a beat I like. I then use the voice memo app on my phone and hum melodies until I find one I like; I start building from there.
Usually the beat/instrumental has a certain vibe to it and I naturally gravitate towards lyrics/themes that fit the natural energy of the song (ex: sad, loneliness, happy, love etc.)
In my lyrics I just try to convey a sense of relatability, which I think is important.
I loved your recent single “River.” What inspired the song lyrically?
Some of my friends were going through breakups at the time, so I just wrote a song about what I imagined they were feeling. I had also written “River” down in my journal as a word I wanted to use in a song one day, and it all came together.
The music video for “FRIENDZONE” is so fun; I love how it features a group of your friends all on scooters together. What inspired the video and its visuals?
Thank you so much <3
All I knew when I was conceptualizing the video was that I wanted something that didn’t directly relate to the topic of the song, but had the same energy. I love my scooter and I love VHS, so I knew I wanted to incorporate that for uniqueness. I also really just wanted to create something that embodied my energy and spirit! Something fun. Over time, as I started location hunting and talking to the guys who helped to direct/shoot/edit the video, the ideas of it all came together. Also, a lot of what’s in the video happened on the spot while we were shooting. So spontaneity played a big role.
I also have really amazing friends with crazy energy, so they really brought everything together. We didn’t style people or anything, they just came dressed super cohesively. Also – fun fact – the video was completely free (although we almost got shut down by the police a few times).
How have you managed / Have you found any difficulty balancing the demands of being a student at USC with your music?
I plan everything and set goals every day. I always plan my next day (hour by hour) the night before and set goals for what needs to be done. As long as I stay organized, it’s not too hard to balance things.
What music are you excited by right now?
Genre blending / bending is the new wave right now. It makes making music so much more fun and creative. The industry isn’t about fitting into categories anymore, and that makes me excited.
Are you looking forward to going on tour with ODIE? Is this your first tour?
Sadly, I’m not going on tour with ODIE. I’m just opening for his show in LA. But I’m super excited to share my music live with a band! It’s going to be a whole new energy.
I love your Instagram and the political message you communicate, with pictures at the Women’s March and “Dear Donald Trump.” How does music intersect with politics for you?
Music, to me, is another platform to spread awareness and to become a catalyst for social justice. I hope as I get bigger I can continue to use my platform to share a message and lend a hand in bettering the world.
Favorite flavor of kombucha?
Cranberry or Mango – I love fruity flavors.
With an impressive EP and 2 singles in 2018 already, what can we expect from you all down the road? Any upcoming releases?
Thank you! I’m hoping to release a few more songs later in the year and a big project either by the end of this year, or beginning of next year.
Any words of wisdom / anything else you want to add?
To anyone making music, POST YOUR MUSIC! STOP HOLDING ON TO IT!
Thanks so much UMI for taking the time to talk to us, and to you at home for reading our content! Comment down below so we can become friends, and make sure to check out UMI on her socials, as well as music streaming platforms. She’s seriously one to remember and keep an eye on. Can’t wait to see all the bright things she will do!