meta-scriptUMI Is Ready To Manifest Her Way To Stardom With 'Talking To The Wind': "I Learned All The Lessons I Needed To" | GRAMMY.com
UMI Press Photo 2024
UMI

Photo: Eddie Mandell

interview

UMI Is Ready To Manifest Her Way To Stardom With 'Talking To The Wind': "I Learned All The Lessons I Needed To"

Nearly six years since her breakthrough hit, singer/songwriter UMI has focused on growing as both an artist and a human. She sits down with GRAMMY.com to detail the vulnerable and meditative process that led to first independent EP, 'talking to the wind.'

GRAMMYs/Jan 16, 2024 - 04:43 pm

For UMI, there's comfort in spontaneity. When you take a look at her typical creative process, it's not an exact science — and that's precisely the point. In between those moments where the neo-soul/R&B singer/songwriter felt inscrutable or moments where she wished there'd been an easy Google answer for how to be happy, she found herself in nature. No plan, no schedule, no pressure — just reveling in the resilience of the wind. 

This confidence is intrinsic, almost woven into her DNA. Born Tierra Umi Wilson to a Black father and Japanese mother, UMI's stage name translates to ocean in Japanese; she's much like her moniker, imperceptibly strong as a wave, beguiling and powerful like the sea. Even as her artistry has metamorphosed — from independently releasing her viral song "Remember Me" in 2018, to partnering with Keep Cool/RCA Records for her projects from 2020-2022, back to being an independent artist —  the nucleus of her music has always been sitting with her emotions in nature. 

UMI's first independently released EP, talking to the wind (due Jan. 19), is a sprawling, sparkling and cinematic experience that translates life's delicately vulnerable moments into angelic, earthly croons. Lead single "happy im" is UMI at her most gloriously honest, detailing changes in her team, pondering attachment styles, and finally embracing both fear and joy. "I was afraid so I ran from you," she sings with curious clarity over a dreamy beat. "Why don't I not think too hard about love?

The release of talking to the wind is a celebratory look at throwing caution to the wind and trusting herself. Born from mood boards, raw and unedited music videos, and last-minute song overhauls, the EP is UMI at her most carefree. "I didn't really know my path, but just one step at a time it was revealed to me," she tells GRAMMY.com. "The whole project has taught me faith in the process." 

After finishing a meal with her mother in the home she purchased for her family, UMI chatted with GRAMMY.com to discuss finding the peace of mind to create talking to the wind, her organic collaboration with BTS' V, and healing she's doing with fans-turned-friends. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

This is your first project released independently — congratulations! How did you come to the decision to release talking to the wind independently?

When I first started making music up until my EP Introspection, I was dropping all those independently. It's something that I feel like is a foundation to me. And when I was at the label, I think that I just kind of got the label experience of being asked to be someone that I'm not. 

That just was so counter to who I am as an artist, and also feeling like I was labeled difficult for having a strong opinion and knowing who I am. I think that coming face-to-face with that, I just realized in order for me to have the most authentic expression of my music, it was important for me to go back to being independent again. So that I could reestablish, for myself, who I am, come back to my joy, and then from there, kind of decide what my next steps are. 

I learned all the lessons I needed to, but the world is in completely different places. It's way more about authenticity as you feel, than it is about fitting some kind of mold that already existed. 

The music video for "happy im" is a really celebratory look at a queer relationship. What kind of creative decisions went into that? 

I'm an intentions-first kind of gal. So I sit and brainstorm a lot before I even start to create, especially visually. I have this binder in my closet — I scrapbooked a whole binder of what each song felt like to me. What type of visuals do I want? What do I want people to feel? What do I want people to leave feeling with? And once you figure that out, everything comes together. 

With "happy i'm," I want people to take a look into my relationship, and I want people to see what healthy love looks like. And then I was like, What's an intimate way to film? [Kodak] Super 8 [cameras] and film are really intimate, and I'm not going to color it either. I'm not trying to make it something it's not, so let me just show people the raw footage. 

I have a whole PowerPoint of what each song means to me, when I want to come out, how I want to communicate it on social media. Then I scrapbook it and I get a bunch of references. So it's a very all-in process for me. 

My hope is when people listen, if they have a question or something on their heart, by the time they finish listening to the project, some inspiration of clarity comes through them. Which is a meditative experience to me. 

UMI

In the past, you've talked about your ancestors really speaking to you when you write songs. "happy i'm" features Japanese lyrics —  how did you decide which lines to write in Japanese? Were there specific emotions you could only express in Japanese? 

That's such a beautiful question. It's interesting, because when I first wrote the song, it was all in English. And that was it for a couple months. And I was like, I don't feel like it's expressing everything that I need to. My whole heart isn't in the song right now. So then, I decided maybe I need another language to explain myself all the way. 

And the thing I love about Japanese is it takes a lot longer, in a way, to say something in the space of one sentence in English. You could say five different things, but because of how Japanese is one syllable, one letter versus it being one word — you can really take your time expressing something. 

That whole verse is really about the feeling of expressing gratitude and also the vulnerability of getting things off your chest — and how once you get things off your chest, it makes space for more love. I feel because I was using Japanese, I was able to say it so patiently and poetically, in a way I couldn't in English. I definitely feel my ancestors, and my family, and my culture moving through me when I mix languages. 

There's a line in "show me out" I thought was very poignant: "of all the places I go to I choose you." Are you ever afraid to put that much vulnerability on a track?

Sometimes, I could be writing a song about an experience I had with somebody that I'm making the song with, or I can be talking about an experience that I've never told them — but I'm going to put it on the song. I think that's more nerve-wracking to me than writing a song to people I might have not met yet.

I think it's because vulnerability is really connecting. A big part of my intention for making music is for people to remember the invisible thread that connects us all and how we all just live the same lives — just different colors or different hues of the same color. We go through the same things at the same time, in our own ways. So, I think the more vulnerable I can be, the more I can reveal that to people. But it is scary sometimes, especially to the people that I'm closest with.

How did the collaboration with BTS's V for "wherever u r" come about? 

V has been a fan of mine, I've been a fan of V for a long time. He had been sharing my music online with his friends for a while and he would post me on his story and tag me. A couple months ago, he did it and, on a whim, I sent him a message — and closed my eyes and threw my phone across the room. [Laughs.]

He was like, "Yeah, I'm down!" At this point, I did not know he was going to the Army. But after we finished this song and after everything had happened, I've just come to realize why he picked the song. 

The song is all about love, long distance love, and love of all kinds. The idea that you can have love for someone and share love with someone, no matter where they are. No matter what time it is, you could send love to the past, to the future, to someone and they don't even know you sent it. Love can be felt, love is so infinite like that. 

When I first wrote the song, I wrote about my grandma — who lives in Japan. I don't get to see her often and, sometimes, I forget to call her. I just wish I could be wherever she is. But, I know that when I close my eyes and go I love you, Grandma, she can feel it wherever she is. Now that [V's] in the Army, I feel like a lot of his fans are going to be doing that, too.

Has there been any moment, or person, or career move in the last year or so that helped you heal? 

A big moment for me was when I opened for Jhené Aiko at the Oakland Arena [on Dec. 2, 2023]. I had some intense impostor syndrome happen before the show and usually, I'm very calm and confident. But, I used to have really bad stage fright, so I feel like it came back up again. I've also been taking voice lessons again, so I'm relearning my voice. I was throwing a fit, I was so nervous and I was so confused, but also just letting it all come up. 

One thing one of my mentors taught me is fear is false evidence appearing real. I just had to keep checking myself and being like, none of my fears are real. I'm allowed to feel them, but I don't have to get into them. 

In the end, I was writing out all the things that scared me and how they weren't true. I really took the time to really dissolve all my fear. And that was very healing for me, because now, when a fearful thought comes up, I have an example of an experience to be like: that's just false evidence appearing real. It's not real.

Have you had a recent fan interaction where you were like, "Wow, I am actually influencing people with my music"?

Yeah, I have this one fan [who is also a] friend. They've come to so many of my shows and they've been going through their transition right now. I've seen them changing their pronouns. I see them finding a new name for themselves. I see their whole confidence and self shift and expand. When my album [Forest in the City] came out is when they decided they were going to start transitioning — and my album was a big part of them accepting and coming out to their parents. 

Their mom came to the [Jhené Aiko] show and me and their mom — we just had this moment of such pure joy, seeing her child coming to self-acceptance. Then, they came to the next show and the way they dress is changing and their confidence is going up and then their voice is changing. Every time I see them, they're embodying more and more of themselves. 

These people really love, care, and support me, but also, I'm actively witnessing them heal in front of me. The fact that I can encourage someone to choose that over unhappiness is so powerful.

You've done some manifestation sessions with your fans on Instagram. What are you manifesting for 2024?

2024 feels so big. I feel like I went through my "Avatar [the Last Airbender]" initiation training phase, for years, on how to be an artist. I really feel like I mastered the elements of artistry for myself. 

I'm manifesting a Billboard hit. I'm manifesting a GRAMMY nomination. I'm manifesting a world tour. I'm manifesting all of my music reaching a broader audience that far exceeds my expectations. 

What I have to share in my life experience is very unique and important for people to hear. And it doesn't come from ego, it comes from a space of love and a space of inspiration. I just get excited for more people to have access to understanding mental health or understanding manifestation — or just hearing the music. 

I always say my success is my mental health and my peace of mind. My career has helped me do that, and that makes me proud. 

When I look at my career, it hasn't made me more stressed, or hasn't made me feel disconnected from my family, or hasn't made me lose myself at all. It's made me become more clear and grounded — in all those areas. It makes me know that I'm going to have a really long, fulfilling, and fun career.

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UMI It Goes To 11 Hero
UMI

Photo: Ryusei Sabi

video

It Goes To 11: UMI Shows Off The Studio Gear That Streamlined Her Recording Process

Neo-soul singer UMI introduces her Apollo Twin X interface, the piece of musical gear that allows her to crank out her ideas "immediately."

GRAMMYs/Apr 10, 2024 - 05:00 pm

Neo-soul singer UMI describes herself as a "multi-dimensional artist" whose ideas often come to her in the spur of the moment — and she "needs to get it out immediately."

Thanks to her favorite musical gear, the Apollo Twin X interface, she can bring her ideas to life on the go.

"Instead of going directly into your computer [to record], you can use something like this," UMI explains in this episode of It Goes to 11. "It helps to enhance the sound of what you're recording and makes the recording process easier."

Before she invested in her Apollo interface, she says she used to buy cheap ones for $50 or $100: "I thought I was getting the best experience, but then, I went to a studio. They had one of these. Ever since then, I've been like, 'This is my baby!'"

As a self-proclaimed "studio gear nerd," UMI exclaims that the Apollo Twin X isn't just a fancy part of her collection — it's changed her process altogether. "I don't have to book studio time anymore," she says. "I can do it all in my house!"

Press play on the video above to learn more about UMI's cherished Apollo Twin X interface, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of It Goes to 11.

UMI Is Ready To Manifest Her Way To Stardom With 'Talking To The Wind': "I Learned All The Lessons I Needed To"

Miguel

Miguel 

Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images 

news

Sol Blume Festival Returns To Sacramento With Miguel & Jessie Reyez As Headliners

Additional festival performers also include a great array of emerging artists and 61st GRAMMY nominee Tierra Whack

GRAMMYs/Jan 31, 2019 - 05:33 am

Sacramento's Sol Blume Festival has announced it will return for its second year to Cesar Chavez Plaza in Sacramento, Calif. on April 27. This year the festival is headlined by 61st GRAMMY Awards nominee Miguel, joined by Jessie Reyez and a great array of emerging talent.

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Emerging artists at Sol Blume include Snoh Aalegra, Dave B, Jess Connelly, J.I.D, Kiana Ledé, Tobi Lou, Masego, Queen Naija, Parisalexa, Raveena, Ivy Sole, Umi, Summer Walker, and Tierra Whack whose "Mumbo Jumbo" is nominated for Best Music Video at the 61st GRAMMY Awards. Billboard has more detail about artists' backgrounds.

Festival organizers told the Sacramento Bee attendance last year was about 6,000 and said, "Creating and producing this event is an amazing milestone for Sacramento's thriving music community, and we just couldn't be more excited about what the future holds."

Tickets, VIP packages and more information are available at the Sol Blume website. See why Sacramento music fans hope this is the beginning of a long tradition.

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Koe Wetzel Press Photo 2024
Koe Wetzel

Photo: Jody Domingue

interview

Koe Wetzel On How New Album '9 Lives' Helped Him Tap Into His Feelings

After establishing himself as an outlaw country act, Koe Wetzel wanted to dig deeper with his fifth studio album. The buzzy star details how new collaborators and unintentional therapy helped him show a new side of his artistry.

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2024 - 06:37 pm

The word "rabid" may often be tossed around in conversations about fan bases, but Koe Wetzel's die-hard followers truly deserve the distinction. A quick search of the Texas-born singer/songwriter's fans reveals videos of Wetzel breaking up audience fights, arguments over featured vocalists and many, many Koe-inspired tattoos.

So, what is it about the 32-year-old country star that gets people so riled up? For starters, Wetzel, like Zach Bryan or Cody Jinks, is an outsider in the genre. He found his footing and honed his unorthodox sound — which defies traditional genre conventions to include influences from hard rock and hip-hop — as part of the Texas music scene rather than on Nashville's Music Row, the genre's commercial epicenter. Wetzel debuted in 2015 with Out on Parole, an album released under the name Koe Wetzel and the Konvicts. That record and its follow-up, 2016's Noise Complaint, made Wetzel a star on the college touring circuit, and by the time 2019's Harold Saul High was released, he was charting on Billboard while fielding management and label offers.

Wetzel's rough-and-tumble persona is another draw. He's outlaw country in his music and in life, with the Feb. 28 date of his 2016 arrest for public intoxication now known as "Koe Wetzel Day." He's known for working hard and partying harder — though, as he tells GRAMMY.com, he hopes to soften that image with his new album 9 Lives, out now.

As Wetzel puts it, at the heart of his gritty, irreverent persona is "just a goofball" who "probably should" go to therapy more often. Accordingly, his songwriting on 9 Lives is his most vulnerable to date, mingling meditations on fame and mental health with party anthems and hardscrabble tales of life on the road. Produced by Gabe Simon (Noah Kahan, Lana Del Rey), the record takes the gritty, rough-hewn country rock of Wetzel's earlier releases and lets it breathe a bit, adding touches of pop and roots to his grunge-leaning, hip-hop inspired beginnings.

Highlights on the record include the gritty and groovy title track and "Bar Song," a hypnotically infectious ode to a wild night out; "Leigh" shows off Wetzel's comedic side, as he playfully laments falling for "girls with names ending in Leigh." He also includes two drastically different covers: "Depression & Obsession" by late rapper XXXTentacion, and "Reconsider" by Keith Gattis, a country singer/songwriter who died in 2023 — further proof that Wetzel is anything but your typical country artist. 

On the album's July 19 release, Wetzel chatted with GRAMMY.com about his switch-up with 9 Lives, from recruiting a new producer to covering a rap song and more.

It's rare to speak to an artist on an album release day, so I'd love to hear how your day is going and what the feedback from your fans has felt like so far.

I'm just glad that everybody's taken [the album] in the way I wanted them to, you know? I didn't know how people were going to react to it, because it is a little bit different from the sound that we put out before. But the reaction has been great. I think people are getting a little bit more of a feel for the stuff that we put out in our earlier years. 

Your fan base is so passionate, and it seems like they are also really open to you taking risks and hearing new sounds from you. Does that resonate with you?

Yeah, for sure. It's not that they were getting used to the same sound we had been putting out for the last couple of records, but I felt like they were wanting something a little different than the country rock stuff. And I think with this record, we give them that. We're giving them  something that they haven't heard from me before. 

Take me back to the early days of plotting this record. What got the ball rolling for you?

Well, we really didn't go into it expecting it to be a full record. We hadn't put out music in a while, so we went into it with [the goal of] get[ting] a couple singles out, just to get stuff going for a record, possibly, in the future. I hadn't put out my music in almost two years at that point. And so, the idea was to go in and write some newer stuff. I knew the direction that I wanted it to go — a little bit softer, more honest, vulnerable route. 

We got in [the studio] with Gabe Simon and Amy Allen and Carrie K and Sam Harris in El Paso, and we were there for, I think, two or three days. We wrote four songs: "Damn Near Normal," "Sweet Dreams" and a couple other tunes. We kind of sat back and looked at everything, and it all came really easy for us. 

We looked back like, "All right, man, this sounds great. We should do it again." So, we hooked back up in Nashville at RCA, and we knocked out a couple more. I think we did four or five more songs in a couple of days there. Before we knew it, we're like, "Man, we got a whole record in there." It wasn't planned at all.

It must feel good to go in without any major expectations and come out of the studio with music that fits your vision.

Yeah, for sure. Gabe Simon — he really brought that out. It was my first time working with him. It was kind of scary, going in to write and work with somebody that you've never met before and being so open and honest with them. He pulled out everything that made all those songs [right for] the record.

It sounds like the two of you have a special creative partnership. What do you think it is about your work with Gabe that made him the right fit for the record?

One thing is just us coming from two different worlds. I'm a Texas guy, and he's coming from Nashville. It's just those two worlds colliding, pretty much. And he really cared about me and cared about my life, — things that are going on in my life instead of just being about the music. He cares about my well-being. We're friends now, and he'll hit me up on any given day and ask, "How you doing? How you feeling?" It has nothing to do with music. That's the type of dude Gabe is. 

I think that played a big part in this record. Of course, he cared about the music, but he also wanted everybody to understand the stories that were being told. 

You mentioned earlier that you get into more vulnerable territory on this record. What was it like for you to open up in that way in your music?

Honestly, it was kind of freeing. I don't go to therapy as much as I probably should. And I've said this a couple of times, that when I first met Gabe and Amy and all them, they all sat me down and picked my brain, just trying to get song ideas and [figure out] which way I wanted to go with the record. I always say that was my first real therapy session. And it was total strangers. 

I don't talk about my feelings and stuff as much as I probably should, so whenever I get to write this music and play this music, that's pretty much how I express how I feel.

On the other end of the spectrum, you're great at incorporating humor into your songwriting. On this record, I'm particularly thinking about "Leigh," which is just so clever. What role does humor play in your writing process?

I'm a goofball. [With] my persona, people want to think I'm just this hardass, kind of outlaw dude, but I'm really just a goofball. I like to have a lot of fun. I like my records to have a lot of fun. So throwing in songs like that to keep people on their toes, you know, it's just to let them know it's not always so serious. It's a lot of fun and games. 

We had a lot of fun making that song. At first, it kind of started off as a joke, and then we kind of sat back like, "Holy s—, this is pretty good. This is a fun song." We can't wait to play that one.

The two cover songs on the record fit so well, even though they are from drastically different artists, XXXTentacion and Keith Gattis. How did you choose those, and what made them fit the rest of 9 Lives?

Keith Gattis, I didn't really get to know him or do a deep dive into his music while he was alive. He passed away last year. And Charlie Robison was one of my favorite Texas artists growing up. They passed away pretty close to each other last year. 

Once I figured out that Keith wrote a lot of Charlie's songs, I really dug into his music a lot more… Something inside me was just like, "Yo, you gotta cut this song." I feel like it rounded out the record. We just tried to do it as much justice as possible. 

[It was] kind of the same with "Depression & Obsession." XX is one of my favorite underground rappers. I love that era of music. I love what he did. He was another artist that was gone too soon. There's no telling what more we could have gotten from him. So, I wanted to do it justice and give a nod to them by putting those songs on the record.

You have Jessie Murph joining you on "High Road." How did the two of you connect?

Ron Perry with Columbia, he signed her a couple years ago. When we signed with Columbia, he asked if I'd heard of Jessie Murph. I wasn't familiar with her at the time. Then I looked her up and instantly became a fan. She's a f—ing superstar. Her voice is amazing. 

We talked about having a duet on this record, but I couldn't find a singer that I wanted to have on the record. But it was kind of easy because Jessie worked with Columbia and, like I said, I was a huge fan. So, we hit her up. We let her put her own spin on it, and she absolutely crushed it. 

You're certainly busy enough, with a new record out and a tour coming up. What else are you looking forward to in the second half of 2024?

More new music. We're already trying to get more new music going. We've got a lot of songs that are still in the vault that probably should have made the record but it just didn't feel right at the time. I can't really say a whole lot, but we've got a lot of songs in the vault and I'm still writing. So, once the tour's over with, we're hoping to put on some new music pretty quick.

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GRAMMY GO's new specialization "Crafting Award-Worthy Songs" is now open

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The New GRAMMY GO Music Production Course Is Now Open: Featuring GRAMMY Winners Hit-Boy, CIRKUT, Judith Sherman & More

Enrollment is now open for GRAMMY GO's new specialization, "Music Production: Crafting Award-Worthy Songs," featuring appearances by GRAMMY winners and nominees. Learn music production and creative strategies from today's industry leaders.

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2024 - 04:12 pm

The Recording Academy continues its mission to empower music's next generation with the launch of its second specialization in the GRAMMY GO platform: "Music Production: Crafting Award-Worthy Songs."

This new course, a partnership between the Recording Academy and leading online learning platform Coursera, aims to bolster the technological and audio skills of music producers of all levels. The course, taught by Howard University professor and GRAMMY nominee Carolyn Malachi, features appearances by three-time GRAMMY winner and rap icon Hit-Boy, chart-topping and GRAMMY-winning producer/songwriter CIRKUT, artist and celebrity vocal coach Stevie Mackey, five-time GRAMMY nominee and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and 15-time GRAMMY winner Judith Sherman.

Enrollment for "Music Production: Crafting Award-Worthy Songs" is open now.

Mixing a unique blend of theory and practice, the course teaches music creators of all levels the advanced skills and tools to develop the mindset and confidence of an experienced producer and produce songs of the highest industry standards across all genres. Explore the wide-ranging roles of a music producer, develop critical listening and analysis skills, and master the technical aspects to create music and compositions that cut through the noise. The course's applied learning approach allows learners to sharpen their pre-production skills, utilize Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) effectively, and produce vocals, instrumentals and samples collaboratively. Through critical listening exercises and discussions, learners will refine their abilities to deliver professional-quality demos.

To celebrate the launch, the Recording Academy will host an Instagram Live session today (Tuesday, July 23) at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET with Harvey Mason jr. and Stevie Mackey. The session will include a discussion on the evolving role of music producers, strategies for working with artists, key elements of top-notch productions, common mixing mistakes, and tips for keeping the creative process fresh. Enrollment details for the course will also be shared during the live session.

Read more: How The Recording Academy's GRAMMY GO Is Building A Global Online Learning Community & Elevating The Creative Class

Building on the success of its first specialization, "Building Your Audience for Music Professionals," GRAMMY GO continues to offer industry-focused education tailored for emerging and established music creators and professionals alike. The innovative platform provides learners with real-time insights from leading music industry figures, ensuring the content remains practical and up to date. GRAMMY GO will also serve as an essential tool in the Recording Academy's global expansion into Africa and the Middle East, empowering music creators through enhanced training, bridging knowledge gaps, and fostering connections within the global music community.

Launched in April in partnership with Coursera, GRAMMY GO is the Recording Academy's first creator-to-creator platform, offering innovative courses tailored for both emerging and established music professionals. The initiative accelerates the Academy's global mission and reinforces its commitment to music education, providing a seamless bridge between all Academy initiatives.

Learn more about GRAMMY GO and the "Music Production: Crafting Award-Worthy Songs" and "Building Your Audience for Music Professionals" specializations.

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