In this Emerging Headliner interview powered by JBL, singer-songwriter UMI opens up on how her African American and Japanese heritage is reflected in her music, how her experiences as a queer woman have become a beacon of acceptance for others in her artistry, why recent single, happy im, was inspired by a time she was running from love. And when it comes to overthinking? She turns to the wind. UMI gives Headliner the tea…
UMI’s voice is putting Headliner into a trace, and she hasn’t sung one note. After making herself a homemade tea (more on that later), the Seattle-born singer-songwriter settles down to speak about her music from her now-home in L.A. Her voice is so soothing it feels like being lulled into a guided sleep meditation.
“That’s lovely,” she responds, genuinely delighted. “That’s an amazing compliment. I actually have this series called Full Moon with UMI on YouTube where I talk about mindfulness topics, and a lot of my fans will put it on as a sleep playlist. That is so lovely that I can help people fall asleep. That's an honour!”
Away from helping people sleep, the singer-songwriter has been steadily making waves in the world of R&B and neo-soul with her profound, ethereal sound and heartfelt lyrics. Raised by an African-American father and a Japanese mother, a young UMI (real name Tierra Umi Wilson) absorbed the music loved by both of her parents, both of whom are musicians – UMI’s mother plays the piano and her father plays the drums. UMI reflects on how her unique African American and Japanese heritage has fed into her musical identity as an artist.
“I've been noticing it more and more,” she muses. “Japanese culture is very tied to a Zen way of living; a very calm, peaceful, holistic way of living. When you go to Japan, the traditional food is very subtle and there's depth in the subtlety – there's no extra fluff added to things. That's really how I create my music. It's a very functional way to think: ‘Why am I adding this sound? What is it doing for the song? Why am I adding these lyrics?’ I feel like not a lot of artists naturally approach music from that lens, and it's not even something I thought about. But as the question has come up more, it's made me step back and be more introspective about things.
"Then on my dad's side, I grew up listening to gospel music, with music playing all the time, versus my Japanese family where there's literally barely any music playing in the house. It's very peaceful, quiet. It's like, ‘Let's enjoy the sound of the wind’. Then my dad's side of the family is cookouts, music playing, R&B, gospel music – all lively. Both parts show up in my artistry. That side of my family makes me very bold, so I don't hold back much of the way I feel when I write and express myself. I feel very uniquely created.’