In a world where live music feels like a thing of the past, artists are trying their best to stay inspired and keep live music alive. UMI, a 22-year-old Black and Japanese singer whose sound can be touted as R&B and neo soul amongst other genres, is doing just that. Following the release of her Introspection EP in summer of 2020, she felt the need to bring new life to her project. Introspection Reimagined was recorded at Shangri La during quarantine, following two years of recording for the original EP. UMI gathered with a live band for an ethereal sonic experience that is available to stream now and transport listeners to the festival they’ve been longing to attend.
UMI made waves with her 2018 song “Remember Me,” her Love Language EP from 2019, and a diverse spread of singles in addition to Introspection. Known for her emphasis on meditation, mental health, and openness, UMI’s earthy sound and all-around good vibes have made her an artist to watch. From live performances, acoustic versions of her songs, to a mini movie she wrote herself, her artistry doesn’t stop with music, and she’s constantly finding ways to stand out while staying true to her values. Ahead of the release of Introspection Reimagined, I sat down with UMI via Zoom for a lengthy chat to discuss her inspiration for the project, quarantine, and how her cultural identity has played an important role in her artistry.
Why did you decide to do a reimagined version of your EP this way?
All of last year, like beginning of quarantine I was listening to so much soul music, as in like a lot of music from D’Angelo, Erykah Badu… and that music has just been so healing for me during the time and I remember thinking, “I don’t think artists now make music like this and like I wonder why,” and I thought wait, why don’t I do it? Because the Aquarius in me, I’m always like let me try something new, let me try something different, and I wanted to explore the idea of just the malleability of music because in the industry, you know there’s just a very quick turnaround to drop project and drop another project and it’s all this new music constantly coming out. And I think it’s important to be able to sit with a project for a while as a listener, and so I wanted rather than recreating a whole new project to take the songs I’ve made before and sit with them longer and allow them to have new life and that’s why I decided to reimagine introspection and spin it and make it soulful in a new way.
So how did you choose the location to film at, get the people involved, and how long did it take?
It started last August, well actually the idea came last summer, like the beginning of the summer and I kept just thinking about it for a while and I asked my friend, my guitar player Mia who’s just a super talented musician to help me and arrange music and direct this together, and so, then in August we sat down and we listened to each of the songs on the original project and referenced how we wanted to flip the song. Introspection was really inspired by “Feel like Makin’ Love” by D’Angelo and when you listen to it you’ll hear similar bass, similar drum vibes. So we did that for every song and then we went through and thought of all our friends who are really talented musicians, and this is a bit of a long process, so we we reached out to everyone and then me and Mia, for I think four days we went through and arranged all the songs and then we did a week of rehearsals with all of the band members in San Diego. We had them all come down, and we just jammed out and came up with new arrangements and then after that we did another week of rehearsal in LA, and then after that we recorded all the songs in four days top to bottom live and that was magical. We got to do it at Shangri La, which is just like this iconic studio. Every artist is like I want to step foot in Shangri La. I’ve been manifesting it since the beginning of summer, just writing down “I’m so excited to be going into Shangri La” And like three months later, we got the OK to record there and we got to finish off the project in the studio.
The cover art for this is very different from the original EP. Why did you want that change in the visuals?
I wanted to, off the bat, when you saw the artwork for this project for you to be able to kind of get a sense of the energy of it and, to me, the energy of it is like classic vintage like the era of vinyls is what I wanted to convey, which is like where that deep warm red color is coming from, and the theme of introspection. With the original one, two, was the idea of the mirror and doing that inward reflection and my project being like my journey of inward reflection and hoping to inspire inward reflection in others, and so the consistency in both the cover arts is the mirror, but I wanted to show like everything around the mirror has changed like I’ve completely changed as a person, so what i’m introspecting upon now is also completely different. Colors are different, the field is different so yeah that’s kind of the inner thoughts that me and the creative director for it, Eddie, went through while we were brainstorming.
You seem to really like the outdoors and have created this healing space with your music, with a focus on meditation and spirituality. Why is that important to you, and how do you incorporate that into your music?
Thank you for picking up on that. I love, oh my gosh, I love nature. I feel like, where do I even begin? It’s important for us as a whole human species to spend time in nature, like that’s kind of where we did most of our evolution was like co-evolving, along with nature and so I noticed in the recent eras as we’ve returned to the city, I feel like a lot of things like anxiety, lack of inspiration, depression, a lot of that is caused by our lack of connection with nature and feeling really distant from our natural elements and so every time I spend time in nature, I am refreshed. Ideas come back to me, happiness almost doubles within my spirit, and so I feel like that love I have it just naturally comes through, but I also just like to give thanks to nature and and showcase nature in my music to almost like inspire others and a subconscious way to go back out go to a park because it sit at the beach and feel the elements.
How does this EP differ from your older ones?
Every project in the past I’ve used like computer production. Synths, different DAWs, like Logic, to make the music, but this is a project where everything is live. Every sound you hear was touched by a human being produced by another person and I’ve never done that before. Also this is my first project where I’m singing live top to bottom, like with other songs you recorded and you can like piece together different takes, and then kind of like make the perfect song, but this was like I have one chance to get in and get out type of thing so it almost feels like you’re coming to my concert in a sense. I will also say that’s what really makes it unique, the sonics of it.
I know you’ve toured in the past with Conan Gray. Do you have any future visions of a tour you would want to perform on or artists to collaborate with?
So after this EP I’m planning to release my debut album, and that will be the first world tour I’m planning to go on and my first headlining tour, which is really exciting. I’m so excited for touring because I just have very different vision for touring. I want it to feel like you’re almost coming to like a wellness retreat when you come to my show, and you leave a more high vibrational being from the show But apart from my own show, I would really love to open for artists like Erykah Badu, like D’Angelo, but also artists like SZA and H.E.R., Jhene Aiko, Frank if he ever does a tour, Miguel…so the portal has been open if, like all those are very possible.
You did a collaboration with Joyce Wrice where you guys sang in Japanese. How does your mixed Black-Japanese heritage tie into your music?
That’s a great question. I feel like with music every melody that comes to mind, every lyric that comes to mind, is a result of what’s in the subconscious. And I think a lot of my subconscious, because of the way I was raised, has Japanese pop in there and I have Japanese jazz and classical music and then I also have like gospel music and soul music, so when I’m just flowing, the melodies that come to mind, I think the result of those cultural influences I had growing up and then I also feel like an aspect of Japanese culture is this very specific attention to detail in the natural elements and I feel like you can see those motifs in classical Japanese art, the way kimonos, the detail of Japanese, just like traditional Japanese music and I think just on a subconscious level again that is influencing me.
Would you ever release a project in Japanese? Are you fluent?
I am fluent in Japanese and, yes, I would love to. I feel like after my album I want to do something like that.
The international market is really opening up. People can sing in whatever language they want now.
It’s time, and I think people are realizing that it doesn’t really matter if you don’t understand the lyrics because you can feel the lyrics.
Have you learned anything amidst the pandemic, just letting your music sit and not touring? Has it made you feel any different about your music over time?
I feel like the biggest thing I learned was the value of taking my time. I feel like, before the pandemic, like everyone, I felt the need to constantly output and that’s how you stay relevant as an artist is you always make music, always make videos and I had this epiphany that I’m in this for the long run. I want to have a very long and fruitful career, which means it’s OK for me to take my time with every project. I remember learning that D’Angelo’s Voodoo album took him seven years to make, and I was like yo, no one these days takes seven years to make an album but why not? Like why not let yourself take time? So learning the value of time was very important for me.
My album for example, that’s like four years in the making. And I’m not rushing it anymore like I was. I was like “It has to come out this summer,” but now I’m like, “It’s gonna come out when it comes out and that’s when it’s meant.”
Do you plan on experimenting with other genres on your debut album?
The album is really expansive. I would say the main thematic sonic is indie R&B, so it has this alt feel to it with a lot of acoustic guitar, but it’s like the drums and I think that’s what makes it R&B, but I’m exploring a lot of new genres like hyper pop, some pop elements, even some rock elements, Afrobeats as well, so I’m excited. I like to say I’m not an artist that stays in a box. Even my personality is ever expanding and changing, so I want my music to feel like that too.
What are your goals now?
I want to learn to produce more, and I want to learn to play guitar better, and I want to live more. Because every time you work on a project you like get zoned into it and you’re just kind of in the studio or in your room for like three to four months just focusing, so I’m ready to get out and not do music for a little bit to do music a lot again.