North Carolina breakout hemlocke springs – aka Isimeme Udu, otherwise known as Naomi – has arrived in a whirlwind of buzz to become the hottest and most vibrant new name in art-pop.
Words: Martyn Young.
“I’m like yeah!!! This is a project. This is something to be passionate about!!” hemlocke springs is excited. Very excited. And so she should be. She’s only three songs in, but cooking up in the background are all sorts of future concoctions and big plans from a new artist who once was studying a biology degree and has now swapped that for being a scientist of a different kind, making some of the maddest pop experiments around.
Before we get to those big plans, though, let’s have some facts. hemlocke springs is Isimeme Udu; she goes by the name Naomi. She’s 23 years old and from Concord, North Carolina. And she’s one of the most exciting new pop sensations around. The name doesn’t mean anything, btw. It was just taken from a random name generator online. Like everything with hemlocke springs, it’s all super instinctive and driven firmly by her hyperactive imagination. From the minute people heard her first song ‘gimme all ur luv’ in May 2022, and it blew up online, Naomi has been riding the crest of a wave. “It feels new,” she says breathlessly from the studio in LA where she’s making her debut album. “I feel like since May, I’ve just been what’s happening, and I still feel like I’m on that path where I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“I scrolled on TikTok and saw in the comments Grimes saying ‘this is good’. I was like, what is going on? Maybe you’re on to something, Naomi”Hemlocke Springs
Her creativity initially was very much self-discovered and DIY in nature. She discovered music back in middle school by hearing Avicci’s ‘Levels’, and it opened up a whole world of possibilities once she was introduced to Garageband by a friend. “I don’t know why, but I was like, oh my gosh, this is the craziest thing I ever heard, so I went down this electronic music phase,” she remembers. “It was such an art form. It was so accessible. I could just go on my computer and do stuff. I could click on keys and make a song. That was crazy.”
Initially, she was just creating for fun, but having a tiny bit of validation from a musical hero made her realise this might just be something she could take further. “It was when I released ‘Gimmie All Your Love’ and scrolled on TikTok and saw in the comments Grimes, who was somebody I never thought would even know my name, saying ‘this is good’,” she beams. “I was like, what is going on? Maybe you’re on to something, Naomi. I thought it would always be a little thing and not something like this where I’m getting asked questions about it.”
One of the most endearing things about an artist is when they don’t even realise the extent of their talent, and Naomi’s blend of alt-pop experimentalism aligned with super melodic bubblegum hooks is truly intoxicating. She’s so focused in the moment though it’s almost as if rising pop stardom has crept up on her. “It sounds redundant, but I’m just going with the flow,” she says. “Being in the moment is how I’ve worked out, ‘Oh yeah, you’re an artist now’. In early interviews, I was like, ‘oh, I guess I’m a music artist now, and I have a little bit of a fanbase’. Now I feel a little bit more solid with it.”
That solidity comes from experiencing viral success online on TikTok. As a new Gen Z artist, Naomi is super engaged with how to be creative online, and a platform like TikTok is a perfect way to experience hemlocke springs. The challenge for any new artist is how you translate that virality. “It’s a double-edged sword when it comes to TikTok and artists, and I totally get it, but for me, I owe a lot because that’s how I’m here,” she explains. “I see the positives and the negatives, but it’s an obligation for me in a way now. It’s how I directly connect with people and with my fans. Virality is great, but it’s temporary. You have to think about how you are able to sustain something to last for a long time. You have to go back to the main source. You have to interact with the people. Especially since I got my start off TikTok. TikTok comments or Instagram DMs are the closest I get to an interaction. I try to take time out of my day; I want to do these things. I want to maintain that relationship because those are the people that will be buying your merch. Those are the people who will wait in line to see you in concert.”
Naomi is not beginning to think about how she can truly bring the hemlocke springs world to life. Her last single, ‘stranger danger’ felt like a big step up, and the new music she’s working on promises to be similarly revelatory. “The ultimate vision is to have more people find me. In order to do that, I need to work on more music, and I’m working on more music that feels like a reset in a sense. It’s a sonic reset but still maintains the sound of hemlocke springs. It’s not that I didn’t take myself seriously in the past, but I’m trying to take myself a little bit more seriously when it comes to hemlocke springs.”
She’s now doing more work in actual studios with a creative team behind her and cites the expansive creative pop of Caroline Polachek as an influence. “I listened to the new Caroline Polachek album, and I was like, oh yeah, this is awesome. This is the future. This is where it’s going. She uses her voice as an instrument. It’s just crazy how good her voice is. You hear it, and you’re like, oh yeah, that’s her. That’s something that I want in my music. I want people to listen to a song and be like, oh yeah, that’s hemlocke springs. I’m trying to do crazy things with my voice.”
Naomi has elaborate plans for touring and an expansive stage set. “You only get a first impression once. I want people to come to my shows not out of curiosity but because they want to see a hemlocke springs show,” she says. From humble beginnings, Naomi is ready for the whole world to hear hemlocke springs; even if, in typically unassuming fashion, she still can’t quite believe it herself. “A pop star? Who am I kidding? I’m trying to. Maybe in the future,” she laughs. Well, Naomi, we think the future for hemlocke springs is right now. ■
Taken from the April 2023 edition of Dork.