“I want to use my music to help people heal.” UMI ミュージシャン

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今年5月にリリースしたデビューアルバム 『Forest in the City』 の米国ツアーを終えて、ロサンゼルスの自宅に戻ったばかりの UMI(海:うみ)さん。インタビューのために電話をかけたところ、歌声と同じ、穏やかで優しいエナジーに満ちた声で「もしもーし!」と応答してくれ、場を一気に和ませてくれました。

筆者が UMI さんに初めて出会ったのは約7年前、母親の亜希子さんがシアトル地域で当時経営していた日本語教室でした。当時は双子の妹たちとともに女子400mリレーのワシントン州史上最速記録を持つチームの選手で、ジュニア・オリンピック出場経験を持ち、教育問題を解決するためNPOを設立するアクティブな高校生だったUMIさん。サザンカリフォルニア大学への入学を機に、生まれ育ったシアトルからロサンゼルスに拠点を移してから自分の歌声をインターネットにアップロードし始め、満を持して音楽の道へ。日本人の母親と黒人の父親の元に生まれ、日本語のポップスからゴスペルまでさまざまな音楽に囲まれて育った経験がすべて今の自分を形作っていると話してくれました。


Seattle-born and now LA-based Tierra Umi Wilson, better known by her stage name UMI, just returned to her home in LA after a U.S. tour for her debut album Forest in the City released in May this year.

I met UMI seven years ago at a Japanese language class that her mother, Akiko, was running in the Seattle area. UMI was an active high school student who was an athlete on the fastest women’s 400m relay team in Washington State history, along with her twin sisters. In addition, she competed in the Junior Olympics. She also founded a non-profit organization to solve inequality in the educational system. But since she was a little girl, she envisioned herself as a singer. After moving from her native Seattle to Los Angeles upon entering Southern California University, she began recording her singing and uploading to the Internet. Finally, she realized the time had come to do music full-time.

I recently spoke with her by phone. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, she spoke about her growing up in a bicultural and bilingual household, the impact of her move from Seattle to Los Angeles, what “forest” means to her, and what she is working on now as her next project.

I first met you briefly when you were still in high school. Then I heard that you moved to LA for college. The next thing I knew, you started performing professionally. It moved pretty fast! Can you tell me how and when you realized that you wanted to go all in for a music career?

Yeah. That’s a great question. I’ve always known deep down that I wanted to do it. When I went to LA after high school to go to USC, and I was just doing like little open mics on the weekends, doing sessions here and there, but like slowly, it just got to the point where I felt like being in school was taking away from my creative energy. It was making me tired at the studio to do a show. And I got to a point where I was like, either I have to do music full time or school full time. I can’t do both and have to commit all of myself to either. Music is my passion, so I decided to go into music. But it’s always something that I knew in my heart. I feel like I just waited until almost like it was too much to do both. Since I was little, I’ve always seen myself on stage performing. Oh, it feels like something I’ve always had my little sisters watch me perform, like be my crowd, and I would pretend to record songs in my room, like on my bunk bed.

So the music was always in you. Did you grow up in a household where music was always around? I read somewhere that your dad was a musician, and your mom played the piano.

My dad is a musician. My dad plays, he raps, and he sings. My mom plays the piano. So, I always grew up around music, and I learned how to play the guitar and the piano when I was young. So, music has always been in me.

I took guitar lessons for a little bit, and then my mom taught me how to play the piano. But with both things, I was kind of stubborn, and I was a kid, so I wanted to do it myself. So then, I just started watching YouTube videos.

You also spent a lot of time on track and field while in high school. You are a record holder with your sisters.

I am, yeah. That’s amazing. It feels like a past life! It was a fun time. I feel like I did it because my sisters did it. It was kind of more of a sibling thing. Like, they did it, so I did it, but I also love exercising, and I think it was important for me to build discipline. It built a lot of discipline in me.

You just mentioned that it’s like a past life. So when you decided to go into music, did you feel like you were moving onto a completely different chapter in your life?

That’s a great question. Definitely. Definitely. It felt like a complete mindset change. As an artist, I now don’t have a schedule. When I left school and the track, it was hard for me to adjust because I always knew practices at this time and classes at this time. I had homework. It was like things that would keep me on track or tell me that I was doing something, like, I had a productive day or did well because I did this and that. So when I left, I had to figure out what success meant for me. What does productivity mean for me? What does a day look like for me? So that was a big shift of learning the flow instead of learning to follow a schedule. But I will say, when I went on tour, I realized that, oh, that’s why I did track because it increased my athletic stamina. I can dance so much, perform and run around, and do so many shows because I spent so much time running and building up my endurance and strength. And so I was just like, oh, that’s what it was, like, everything happens for a reason.

When you produce an album, how does it all comes together? Do you know what you want to create or does it evelove as you work on it?

That’s a great question. It depends on the project. Like with this album, I feel like I didn’t know what I was making until after I made it. And it was like, “oh, that’s what I was trying to do.” Because it took four years to create writing, writing, and writing… to create, it was more like an evolving process. But the next project I’m barely starting is that I feel like the seeds are planted, or I know what I want it to be. It will be something about having a sensitive soul and my world experience. So, I feel like I have a start that I’m growing from. Each project is different.

As you mentioned, the recent album took four years to complete. How did the pandemic affect you?

That’s a good reflection. Honestly, I’m happy that I had that time to reset and clarify what I wanted to do. During the pandemic, I barely wrote any songs. I wasn’t really feeling super creative, but I was experiencing a lot of life. I was just by myself, so I got to know myself more, so coming out of it, I was more like, okay, I’m ready for an album. I feel like I understand what I want to do more. I was supposed to go on a tour right before the pandemic, and I knew deep in my heart that I wasn’t ready to go on a tour. Like I didn’t know what I really wanted to say or do. I just felt like it was very much like a system. But, with this recent tour that I just finished, so many thoughts went into it. So much of my heart went into it. So I was like, I’m ready to go. I know what I wanted to say. I now know what I want to do. Now I have that. I know how to get there, like a process of getting to know more. So everything I do now feels more intentional and more like me than before.

In the interview with Rolling Stones, you mentioned feeling not entirely Japanese or black while growing up with a Japanese mom and a black father, but you now feel like you can be whatever you want. I’m interested in learning about how you felt growing up in a bicultural household and how it influenced the way you are now.

It’s such an experience for the youth today—so many kids from many cultures. I would say it was confusing, but also, I would say, it was empowering. I’ll start with “being confusing” because I think we were growing out of this mindset, but there was this need to put yourself in a box every time. It was like, “what are you? Are you this? Or are you that?” There are so many labels you put on. And I was like, I don’t feel like just one label. It was more like a lot of “labels.” What if I don’t want to be this label today, or what if I want to be this label today?

And then, people would comment on my looks. I didn’t look like my mom, or I didn’t look like my dad. People would comment on that a lot. And this feeling of like, where do I belong? Or do I look like my parents? These things confused me a little bit while growing up.

But then, at the same time, coming from different cultures allows me to have so many different experiences and listen to different types of music. I get to listen to gospel music and also Seiko Matsuda at the same time. Such a range! Also, I very much feel like the music I make now is coming through, not just me, but through my ancestors on my black and Japanese sides. And the way I make art is like a mixture of both things. The way I see the world is a mixture of both perspectives. So I’m now like, I wouldn’t want it any other way. And I don’t even care about labels anymore. Like, I could feel more Japanese one day, I could feel more black one day, I could feel like neither one day, or I could feel like both one day. I could feel like whatever. You know, being more fluid with myself helps me accept myself more.

Do you and your sisters talk about these things?

Yeah. We talk about it a lot growing up. Like I feel like we would always get like, “oh, you’re so black, but you act so this,” or “”you’re Japanese, but you don’t do this.” We just laugh about it. Kids are so funny, and they pick it up from their parents, or they pick it up from the TV, and then they tell you at school and don’t even really understand what they’re saying. And you don’t even understand what they’re saying, and we laugh about it now. Anybody could tell me that now, and I don’t even care anymore. I know who I am right now. And it’s different from who I was yesterday, but I know who I am now. We all had very similar experiences, especially because we grew up in a relatively white neighborhood. So, on top of being mixed kids, we were the only mixed kids. Everybody was confused by us, and we were confused. We laugh about it now, and we are all pretty confident in who we are and accepting who we are now.

When you transitioned to being who you are, how did that experience influence the themes of your albums, Introspection and Forest in the City? Also, how did you decide on the title, Forest in the City?

Forest in the City is this overarching metaphor for the idea of the piece or the answers I seek in my life. It all exists within me. And that, even though I’m here in a city with all these noises and all this movement, I can still choose to be still like a tree or like a forest, no matter where I’m at. And so it was like a reminder to myself that I am the piece. Like I don’t need to go anywhere to find peace. It’s always here. And I just have to remember to access that. And all the songs on the project are songs that bring me peace, and I feel that I can bring other people peace. So it’s like, when you feel like you are in the city, there are a lot of thoughts and sounds, but you can put on this project and go back to the stillness that we really are.

And I think it’s important for people to hear that because there’s so much music out there where people just make music and don’t realize how powerful it is. It’s like I have the power to get my words and my melody stuck in somebody’s head. So, in my personal experience, I want to use my music to help people heal. It would be important to create a project and a body of work for people in this environment where so many types of music exist.

Do you think growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where you can find forests everywhere, affected you to use forest as a metaphor?

Definitely. It’s interesting because I grew up there, you know, I didn’t really realize its influence and healing effects on me until I left. I came to LA, and I was missing the forest a lot, and I felt like I needed to do more to feel more peaceful than I did when I was living in Seattle. It made me realize that nature has such a healing touch that is so powerful.

But then, because I was away from it, it forced me to find new ways to be as peaceful as I felt when I lived in Seattle. Being in nature does help. There is healing energy. So I’m like, how can I take that, like the trees of Seattle, anywhere I go? That’s why I practice yoga, meditation, and journaling. I practice relaxing more. So, that’s like my forest. Now I feel like I can be me no matter where I go.

And how did you feel when you were on the tour then? How did you feel when you came back to Seattle on the tour?

You know, the thing is, I felt really great on tour. I think it’s because I made a point every morning when I woke up, no matter what time or where I woke up, I did my yoga. I did my breathing, and I did journaling. That kept me so grounded. I felt like nothing could throw me off, and I felt honest.

I was really surprised that my mom saw that too. She was like, “something is moving through you. Like, it’s not just your power.” So I feel like I was opening myself up to the power of something greater than me, giving me the energy to continue on this tour. But I felt very peaceful and very powerful because I was very aware that, as I was touring, I was bringing this force to people, and, like one day, these people could come and meet people who were like them and liked music that made them really feel expanded and peaceful. Like I could tell people were waiting a long time for this experience, and they left feeling more connected to them after the show. So there was this responsibility I felt while touring that I’m bringing pockets of peace across the country. So I was like, I got to make sure I prioritize my peace.

It was so nice that your mother was there on the tour with you. She is such a strong woman and has been very supportive of you and your siblings.

Yeah. I agree. It’s nice. She was so busy when we were growing up. We were all so busy. Her being a single mom taking care of us and other kids at her school. So I feel like we now have a second chance for her to be a mom and for me to be a daughter again. She can come to see me perform and come travel with me. It makes me really happy. I was hoping my mom could see me on this journey.

What’s your next project? Can you tell us more?

For this next project, I’m like 99% sure. It’s going to be called Sensitive Soul. It’s interesting because Forest in the City came to me a couple months before the album came out, but this one is here before I even start. I want this next project to be more experimental. Forest in the City was definitely more of a commercial project that I intentionally picked songs that I felt would appeal to anybody. But, for this next project, I just want to make songs that people have never heard before. I want to bring old analog gear, use different pedals, and try other effects with my voices. I’m so excited. I feel people will listen to it and be like, “whoa, this is different.” Of course, it’ll still have that healing, peaceful touch because I feel like it’s just me. But it’ll be this new version of me that I’m excited about.

You’re constantly evolving. I’m so looking forward to the next album.

Yes. And it’s so cool. When I was about to finish Forest in the city last year, I remember I just got this message and feeling in my body while on a trip that I needed to make Forest in the City or I was completely going to change as a person, and I’m not going to feel connected to this music anymore. So I’m really happy that I released it. Like you said, I’m evolving, and I’m happy. I trusted that voice and dropped that album so that I could share this next chapter with myself, too.

UMI 略歴: ワシントン州シアトル生まれのシンガーソングライター。本名は Tierra Umi Wilson。2017年に5つの楽曲を収録したEP 『Interlude』をリリースし、楽曲『Friendzone』が Spotify の Fresh Finds Best of 2017 プレイリストに選ばれる。同年、ラップ歌手 ODIE のロサンゼルス公演のオープニングを務める。2019年にサザンカリフォルニア大学を中退し、音楽の道へ。2018年にリリースしたオリジナル楽曲 『Remember Me』 でブレイクした。2019年から2021年にかけて、『Balance』『Love Language』『Introspection』『Introspection Reimagined』 の4つのEPをリリース。2022年5月にデビューアルバム 『Forest in the City』 をリリースし、米国ツアーを行った。公式サイトはこちら


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