Meet UMI, The R&B Songstress Who Swears By Her Morning Meditation

Photographer Allegra Messina

When I first meet Tierra Wilson, she’s laying upside-down on a bean bag in an apartment in the East Village. We catch a glimpse of one another and share a shy, lazy, “heyyyyy.” She’s sunny, giggling, and as I thought, just a normal 20-year-old. The next time we meet, on an early morning Whatsapp call, it’s Tierra, but it’s also UMIthe middle name and single stage moniker of the up-and-coming R&B star.


The Seattle-born, LA-based musician, touted by British Vogue as “the next Corinne Bailey Rae in the making,” is currently in the middle of a big change. She’s finishing out her sophomore semester at USC where she’s studied business for the past two years, before leaving school to pursue music full time. “It just wasn’t doing it for me,” she encapsulates her feelings about college in what is probably the most right-brained, Gen-Z statement I’ve heard in a while. The ease at which she made a decision most 20-somethings would find cataclysmic is in part due to UMI’s family background; both of her parents were musicians, so “they get it.” But it appears that slow, smooth finesse is the sharpest tool in her arsenal.


UMI is chill. Like really chill. Her words are cushy, docile, laced with a nonchalance only possible when your days start with a big ass blunt or a 20-minute meditation. Hers start with the latter, in a daily practice that’s become essential to her mental health and well-being and likely contributes to her groundedness as she wades through the murky waters of adulthood. Below, the singer shares her thoughts on social media, self-confidence, and what it feels like when the world is constantly watching.

Meet UMI, the R&B Songstress Who Swears by Her Morning Meditation 6

UMI wears shirt, pants and jewelry model’s own

So, you’ll be moving into music full time.

“Yeah. I’m excited to see what that will do for me, it’s just a completely different headspace.”


When did you start?

“I started when I was like four or five; I would write songs and perform for my family. I guess UMI kind of began in high school. I was putting stuff up on YouTube, mainly because I used to have really bad stage fright. I thought ‘how can I do music without singing in front of people?’ I’m happy I did it because it helped me to build a little audience, but it’s just so cringe-y. I took all those videos down.


“Then I transitioned to SoundCloud and put my covers [there] as links. Those started to get flagged for copyright, so that was the reason that I started putting original music up on Apple Music. I stopped doing covers. I was like, ‘I can’t live this lifestyle anymore, I gotta do my own thing.'”


Would you say that UMI is different than Tierra?

“Not really, they’re the same [person]. But I’m starting to learn how to be UMI on stage so I can let go more and be more free. I’m a little reserved. But it’s like, I can’t be that on stage, I have to embody someone else.”


For someone who has stage fright, didn’t putting your songs on the internet or videos up on YouTube feel kind of daunting?

“Daunting, sure, when you first do it. Because I was like, ‘are people even going to listen?’ But my fear wasn’t sharing my music, my fear was singing in front of people live. You have to be so vulnerable to do that. I’m still learning how to fully let go on stage. Now I’m in a place where I feel I’m comfortable performing. I’m more free.”

Meet UMI, the R&B Songstress Who Swears by Her Morning Meditation 1

UMI wears shirt and pants by LAROXX, jacket by Harley Davidson, earrings by Of Arc

Meet UMI, the R&B Songstress Who Swears by Her Morning Meditation 3

UMI wears shirt and pants by LAROXX, jacket by Harley Davidson, earrings by Of Arc

Where do you start your writing process?

“A lot of the new stuff is from sessions. I’ll listen to the track and think, ‘what energy is this giving me?’ Are these sad vibes, is this a love song? I get specific about the purpose of the song. Sometimes I’ll be humming and I come up with a line and I’ll try to dissect what I meant by that line and then I write the rest of the song. I also have a list of different concepts in my phone that I refer to when I get stuck.”


It’s kind of amazing—with your generation especiallyhow progressive your mindset is and how you guys think about the world. It’s not even just that you’re thinking progressively, it’s that progressive thinking is second nature to you. In your video for ‘Remember Me,’ you feature couples of different gender and sexuality. It seems like something that’s just kind of intrinsic to your music. Do you feel the same way?

“Thank you so much for noticing that. I’ve always said that I want to use my music and the platform that I’ve built as a way to advocate for marginalized and underrepresented communities and groups of people. ‘Remember Me’ was like my first chance. I was like ‘okay, I need to do something special.’ When I wrote that song, I was trying to express the universality of heartbreak. We all go through it, so how can I show that visually? By continuing to use music—whether it’s through video or the companies I work with—to continually represent and advocate for other communities.”


What are you passionate about socially? Politically?

“As a Black woman, supporting the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement and fighting for racial equality—especially in the social justice system—is something I’m really passionate about. Later on, like when I have an even bigger platform, I want to put on events to advocate for [these causes].


“I’m also passionate about women’s rights, of course. I’m trying to put together an all-female band, using more female directors, and getting more women involved in my music. And the LGBTQ+ community.


“I also want to become an environmentally conscious artist, from selling merch that is environmentally conscious to I’m touring in a way that’s good to the earth, like using a bus that’s low emission.”


You don’t really hear of artists that are touring sustainably. I don’t know if there’s anyone on your radar that’s doing that well, that’s awesome.

“Thank you.”

Meet UMI, the R&B Songstress Who Swears by Her Morning Meditation

UMI wears jacket by LAROXX, shirt, pants and jewelry model’s own, shoes by Vans, socks by Adidas

What artists do you admire?

“Right now, artists I look up to are SZA and Frank Ocean. I want to do what they do, but take it in a different way and make it my own. There’s so much to learn from their music, I can just sit and observe. I’m also inspired by older artists, like Stevie Wonder, Sade, Erika Badu, Lauryn Hill—they’ve been influences lyrically and melodically in my life.”


What exactly draws you to their music? Is it their way with words?

“Frank [Ocean] is like a rapper who is also the most amazing, melodic writer in the world. First listening to him, I learned to appreciate rap way more that I did, and I started listening to more rap music because of him. I realized as I grew older, through Frank Ocean, how beautiful rap music is. SZA, [I love] how carefree she is about talking about the female experience.


“I just want to write music that is shameless, but also very clever. So I’ve been working on that in the newer stuff.”


To still have that same universal appeal, but it makes people think twice about what you’re saying, you know.

“Exactly. And to say it in a way that’s weird but works. Then that becomes the norm. I’m really passionate about the new stuff I’m doing because I’ve grown so much.


Do you ever feel like A) you’re too young to be doing so much, or B) you haven’t done enough yet?

“I feel like, because of music, I’ve been thrown into adulthood. I’m paying people, people are working for me, I have to think about taxes in a different way…I’m a business now. There’s a lot of learning I’m doing in a short amount of time. But I feel like I was meant to do it, so I’m ready.


“But also, there’s this weird pressure where you always feel like you should be doing more at your age because someone younger than you is always doing something. I just meditate on it; everyone has their own timeline and I shouldn’t be stressed. Putting everything in perspective, I’m relatively young for what I’m doing. I’m balancing those two worries—not even worries, but thoughts—in my mind.”

Meet UMI, the R&B Songstress Who Swears by Her Morning Meditation 4

UMI wears jacket by LAROXX, shirt, pants and jewelry model’s own, shoes by Vans, socks by Adidas

Meet UMI, the R&B Songstress Who Swears by Her Morning Meditation 5

UMI wears jacket by LAROXX, shirt, pants and jewelry model’s own, shoes by Vans, socks by Adidas

To be completely real, that’s kinda like what the next five to seven years are gonna look like.

“I’ve heard! That it doesn’t get any clearer, you’re just constantly trying to figure out how to be an adult. It’s cool, it’s another universal experience.”


It is, but with social media, I really feel it perpetuates this need to compare and feel inadequate. Do you feel that pressure?

“For sure, but at the same time, if you want to be an artist, you have to maintain an Instagram account and a growing social media presence. I don’t even want to go on Instagram because I know it’s not good for my mental health, but I need to as an artist. [It’s about] learning how to take breaks from it. I’ve always had the tendency to compare myself [to others] and get really down. But at the same time, I try to post stuff on my Instagram that’s really authentic [so that I don’t do that to other people, hopefully]. Comparison is normal, but social media just puts in on blast.”


And are you able to engage with your fans that way?

“Yeah, I’ve been able to use social media as a way to connect with people. And I can just tell that people are receptive of the content But, like anything, I have to take it in doses.”


What doe your average day look like?

“Now that I’m not in school it’s a lot better, because I used to have an 8 a.m. class. Now I wake up, I meditate, I light my Palo Santo and cleanse my room, and go work out. Then I usually go to the studio every day unless I have a meeting or a shoot.”


How long have you been meditating?

“Two years straight, consistently. When I got into college I started meditating every morning. It’s been so good for my mental health.”


How so?

“Before I [started] doing it every day, I would only meditate when I was stressed or when things got overwhelming. But when you start to meditate [consistently] you don’t really get stressed or anxious because you know how to breathe through it. Also, I don’t go on my phone before I meditate; I connect with myself before putting my energy into other people. It’s been a way for me to calm my nerves and become one with the music. It’s helped me worry less. That’s been the main thing: worrying less, stressing less. The not fun feelings—you just don’t get them as much.’


I think I should start.

“Yes, do it! I started with a three-to-five minute guided meditation and now I meditate for like 20 minutes and it feels like two. It just takes a little growth. It feels so good. I think you’ll love it.”

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