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Get to know UMI, the queer alt-R&B artist the music world needs right now

Get to know UMI, the queer alt-R&B artist the music world needs right now

Ryusei Sabi

The "Remember Me" singer speaks to Out about her art, her new EP, her partner, and who she makes music for.

UMI is solidifying herself as an alternative R&B princess with her consistent, feel-good records that you can play while driving in the wind on Mulholland Drive. The 25-year-old songstress began on SoundCloud posting covers before sharing original music with the world. One of her biggest hits to date, "Remember Me," pushed UMI to the forefront and made the world pay attention.

The artist is back with new music, having dropped her EP Talking to the Wind earlier this year. In a fun, laid-back environment, the singer spoke with Out about the project, dream collaborations for her upcoming album, working with her partner, and her relationship with vulnerability.


Ryusei Sabi

Out: You recently traveled to Japan. Is this a place where you get back to your center? Any new experiences?

UMI: This time was fun because I was doing press but also spent time with my family. I also did my first television appearance in Japan and had an interview with Rolling Stone out there. It was a big press moment for me. I was speaking Japanese out there the whole time. Something about being on the land, it comes right out of me.

If you could travel and stay somewhere for six months, where would you go and why?

I have a few places. I'd love to travel to Spain because I think I would be inspired by the architecture out there and I would go surfing there, too. People wouldn't think I'd be into surfing, but I am. I also love painting and eventually, I'd love to host exhibits at museums. I also like to cook, but make it like a creative art project and follow your own recipe. I also like skateboarding, too.

So tell me, because you do many things. If you weren't an artist, what would you do instead?

I would be a surf instructor that works seasonally and then travels to experience different countries.

At your EP listening party, we did an exercise where you had your fans meditate and call in manifestations, etc. Why did you decide to incorporate this into your sets?

I love this question, Ty, so keep them coming. I love meditation because you never know where people are coming from — whether it's a busy or stressful moment, running from a busy traffic moment, so when we meditate together and you open your eyes, there's a sense of clarity and peace. If I can provide a space for people to come back to while enjoying the music, people are there and present so people's presence is the most blessed gift you can share with somebody.

What are you calling in for yourself?

I'm manifesting being nominated for a Grammy this year. I see it, and it's time. Manifestation becomes super powerful when you embody the energy, and the years of preparing for this moment have prepared me for this moment… my craft, and I'm calling it in.

Why did you make the EP so short after having a full-fledged project back in 2022?

Oooh, this makes me happy, because I wanted people who listen to it to want more. The EP was a taste of UMI to prepare people on what's to come. I'm working on my album at this time. It was never meant to be a thorough album, but dive in a little, get a flavor, and get ready for this deep album I'm going to put out.


Eddie Mandell

The music space can be a bit oversaturated with so many talented artists fighting or pushing to be seen in the industry. How are you actively making sure to stay in the conversation, and in the right rooms, to be amplified?

This is such an intentional question. If I'm meant to be somewhere, I'm meant to be there. And if not, that's okay. It's something about that confidence that is magnetic. Everything, to me, comes back to energy. So if it's not in the right place of abundance, you're repelling things from you. If I'm in a place of self-belief, I'm in the right conversation, and things are coming to me. I will also say, consistency. I could have not dropped the EP or singles, but if I feel inspired, I commit to it and see it through to the end.

Sounds like this project is a love letter to someone in particular. Did a past lover inspire this EP?

You're right because it is a love letter, Ty. My current lover and partner, V-Ron, this is our first baby together… creating and curating together. It follows the journey of us falling in love, expanding, almost breaking up, and coming back together again. It weathered the entire journey between us. So when you listen to this love letter, you're tapping into the frequency of our energy.

Relationships have ebbs and flows. What's one of the greatest things V-Ron has taught you?

Communication. The value in honest communication will make a relationship last. I used to be scared to be fully myself, or afraid to communicate my full thoughts and possibly hurt someone. But then you realize that hiding it hurts other people. It has transferred into all areas in my life, from my team to music to interviews, so it's a very important lesson.

Can you talk about the dynamic between you and V-Ron when it comes to your working relationship and separating it from your personal? Anything you learned from V-Ron in the process?

One thing I will say about us… because of our self-awareness, it's very clear. We can be in the studio where it's V-Ron and UMI, then revert back to girlfriends after the session is over. We know when to tap into the energy that fits the environment, and we understand how our purposes intertwine, career and relationship-wise. We let each ebb and flow place itself and not mix them. This is why I feel it's healthy and meant to be. She's taught me to be close to the people I work with and hold boundaries. You communicate and can be in a relationship with people you work with.

How do you navigate or overcome any societal stigmas that don't resonate with your queer relationship?

I would say the idea of "one is masculine" and "one is feminine..." keeping the heterosexual dynamic out of the non-heterosexual dynamic. Me and her ebb and flow where sometimes I'm in my masculine energy in heels and a skirt while she's in her feminine energy in baggy sweatpants, and we switch. We don't abide by gender norms and it's about what serves the moment and the best way to show up for each other. It will free a lot of people from trying to be something that they're not. We are more fluid than we believe to be.

What are you happy about today?

I'm so happy about the sun right now. To be in the sun is great. I'm happy I'm alive right now. Me and V-Ron spoke about this at the park — it's a crazy time to be alive. We're in an evolution of human expansion right now. People are seeing the power of their minds. We're no longer discovering new land physically. But it's cool to be in the forefront of it. This is the time, and it's a cool time to be alive.


Eddie Mandell

Listening to your music, it has this feel-good, garden-sequence-like appeal similar to a SZA or a Willow Smith. How would you describe your sound?

This is such a fun question. My sound is a feeling, like you said. My music feels like a cup of warm soup, the wind in your hair, and the walk on the beach. It makes you feel comfortable, and it makes you feel free. I emphasize my music isn't tied to a genre, but I will be making all types of music for the rest of my career. I can do punk music, or any music, 10 years from now. But consistency will always be the energy in it.

Who do you make your music for?

I make music for all people and who want to listen to it. The people who find my music, they find it when they're ready to heal and step into more joy, which is a consistent thing I've noticed.

Give me the rundown on your upcoming album — collabs, dream team, producers you want to work with?

This new album is folk-inspired. [It's] inspired by my roots in Seattle. I'm making folk-fusion music. I want to push music in a new direction, as [in], you've never heard music like this before. A lot of organic instruments, but it's not organic [laughs]. It feels out of space but here at the same time.

I'm making my wish list for collaborators. I'm manifesting everyone from 6lack, Jhené Aiko, SZA, Kehlani, Billie Eilish, Willow Smith… and in the K-Pop world, maybe New Jeans, possibly. I would love to work with Pharrell on this album. V-Ron and I are executive-producing this album, and it's a lot of female energy. So when people listen to it, they will hear the feminine touch. There's a lot of queer people on the album. If you want to hear what music can be next, it's the diversity in the creatives.

This project feels very vulnerable, and one can pick up a theme surrounding love. How would you describe your relationship with vulnerability and love, then and now?

I would say I'm more vulnerable than ever. I love being vulnerable. It's a strength I'm leaning into. The more vulnerable I feel, the more I can freely find the words that people can't put into words with such clarity. V-Ron is recording most of the songs I'm making, so the more safety I feel in the relationship, I don't feel ashamed to talk to her about it anymore, or hiding it.

What have been the ebb and flows of going independent?

Since I've had both experiences so fully — I was independent, then signed to a label for three or four years, and back to independent — I can say that I'm happy to be independent again. The label wasn't serving my growth. I needed to be able to learn new sounds, because you can't be on a timeline as an artist. So now I'm able to lean into the freedom, to take my time and try out different sounds. The creative flow is very divine. The last song, 'Show Me Out,' was written the day I needed to submit my EP. I told them I couldn't deliver it, that I needed to record it.

I could see myself signing again, but this time around, I have more clarity in what I'm looking for and the support I need. The music industry is shifting in a way where you can maintain ownership over your art, which hasn't existed before. I'm going to go in with boundaries, but I also feel confident it will be respected and work in a mutually beneficial label experience. EPs, for me, are great being independent… they're freeform projects. Albums are great with labels because of the big visions and tours — that financial support is nice to have.


Ryusei Sabi

You incorporated your Japanese roots on "Happy I'm." How important is it for you as an artist to include your background in your music despite the genre you're in?

I love using Japanese because there are some words I can't find in English but I can find in Japanese. Like a feeling that's one word in Japanese but a full sentence in English. So I'll use the languages where I see fit to express what I want to convey and see fit.

The title of the EP is Talking to the Wind. At times, if you listen closely, the wind can guide us to happiness and success. Why did this title and metaphor resonate with you?

You hit it on the nail. When I feel crazy, I let the wind speak to me and it tells me very simple truths to release control and follow your joy. Without the wind, I wouldn't have been able to make the EP. This is a gratitude to the wind and a reminder to talk to the wind. If you don't know how to talk to the wind, listen to my EP, because I took the frequency of the wind and put it into the music, so it feels like the wind.

You can listen to UMI's Talking to the Wind EP on all music streaming platforms.

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