Operating on the cusp of the underground and mainstream space - meet the self-proclaimed search-engine-optimised musician umru. Through merging intense, somatosnareal production with infectious protohyperpopular vocals the Brooklyn-based visionary distils his tracks with an infectious alchemy. As a masterful curator of digital décollage, he’s collaborated with the likes of Charli XCX, 100 gecs and Tommy Cash. And now, once again he delivers a punch of euphoric pleasure, this time featuring Rebecca Black and Petal Supply, to bring us the latest release, heart2 - out since Thursday.
Hey umru - welcome to METAL! Within the musical sphere today we often observe a sort of hyper categorisation of genres. Your music is often labelled as hyperpop or variations of this dressed in lavish adjectives. So, if any, what genre would you ascribe to your music?
There's obviously always a need to categorise and differentiate what I do from what’s on the top of the charts but I still like to generally say I make pop music, that’s the goal and that’s such an increasingly difficult thing to define anyway. Pop doesn’t necessarily have a sound anymore, becoming a chart topping artist is so much more accessible that there isn’t a formula to follow or expect and I love that.
Your latest single heart2 is out - congratulations! What can you tell us about the release?
heart2 started as an instrumental idea - as something to play in DJ sets more than as a song - but I ended up sending it over to Petal Supply who was able to write such a solid, catchy hook over it that it changed the entire direction of the track. Suddenly it felt perfect to ask Rebecca, who’s been stuck in everyone’s heads since 2011 to bring the track even further into the pop world. It's not relevant to the song but Petal Supply and I barely knew each other when we started this track and we’ve now been together for a few months. She's one of the most talented songwriters and producers I know and I couldn’t be more excited to release this together.
This track is featured on your upcoming EP via PC Music, comfort noise. The explanation behind the EP title is incredibly nuanced and meditative. Can you share this with our readers?
Digital phones and early online call services would often save bandwidth by gating out the transmission of audio whenever someone wasn’t actively speaking, but because the complete silence could cause uncertainty whether someone was still connected, still listening, artificial ‘comfort noise’ would play on the receiving end to assure the listener that they’re still in contact. It’s an idea I really liked, not only have I spent a lot of time forming relationships and friendships online and through calls like this but I also try to position my music in this area between synthetic and natural where there isn’t necessarily a difference - I like to hope my mostly synthetic, noisy production can evoke emotion as much as its natural, ‘real’ counterpart might.
On this track we see a collaboration with the chart-topping pop-star Rebecca Black and the innovative Petal Supply. Would you say collaboration is one of your core enjoyments when creating music?
I’ve definitely solidified myself as a producer first and foremost and I’m happy with that, it’s a collaborative, supportive role by definition and although this project is released under my name I don’t see it too differently from my other work. It’s fun to have a bit more creative freedom with the visual and sonic world around the music but at the core are still songs written with and performed by other people.
Your catalogue of collaborations spans a diverse base of artists, from the viral underground rap phenomenons of Tommy Cash to the masterful pop song writing of Sophie Cates and Cecile Believe, yet all the while never compromising on the sonic genius that hallmarks an umru composition. How do you go about achieving this? Is this a conscious consideration when you’re in the process of collaborating?
It's at times more conscious than others, but I still don’t have a clear idea of what the hallmarks of my own sound are - from my perspective it ends up evolving with each artist I work with but I’m glad there’s a common thread that shines through. As a producer it’s definitely more important for me to be malleable and make the artist comfortable than to ensure I’m not compromising my own sound. Compromise is a practice I’d like to say I’ve learnt to improve over time, to complement a collaborator’s work rather than clash with it.
As a young creative granted with such success in this experimental field, would you say a musical career was always on your radar?
I can’t deny I’ve had every privilege I could need for such a career growing up, I had access to my dad’s old computer with Ableton installed super early on, took jazz drums and piano lessons, etc. but I honestly was never very sure I’d continue with music as any sort of career until I quite suddenly had a Charli XCX production credit after A. G. Cook sort of discovered me and I was considered a pop producer almost out of nowhere.
You previously mentioned how you got your start after producer A.G Cook stumbled across your Soundcloud Tommy Cash remix. Do Soundcloud, Splice and other audio distribution platforms play any role in how you find new creatives to work with?
Definitely, as problematic as they can be I wouldn’t have a career without such platforms and the communities around them. I’ve met most of my closest friends and almost all my collaborators somewhere online, including Petal Supply and Rebecca. Before 100 gecs had dropped the album that made them a household name, Laura Les and I actually got put in touch with Rebecca to produce for her when she had spoken out about how difficult being the Friday girl had been online, and our friend wanted to introduce her to an online music community that unironically was playing songs like Friday at Minecraft events and loving it. My friends and I were just doing stuff like that for fun pre-pandemic just because we were all over the world and often didn’t have the means to meet in person.
You also mentioned Splice, where my new sample pack has actually been the top pack for the past 2 weeks. I talk a lot about pop music but this will probably end up being my farthest reaching contribution to popular music, which is wild to think about. I’m really lucky to have got on board with the platform quite early on but it’s definitely validating to know my sonics have some appeal far beyond my own small following.
I have to mention the enigmatic visuals for heart2 - the signature umru flair intertwined with the sleek aesthetic of a paradigmatic Sam Rolfes masterpiece. What was the inspiration behind this?
Sam and I met at the first PC Music show I played, and my set ended up being the only one without visuals so before we even really met Sam was doing live mocap visuals for me. I’ve always wanted to work on something with Team Rolfes and I’m glad I was finally able to with this project, their work feels by far like the closest visual companion to my music I could think of - they’re some of the few primary digital artists that excel in the abstract and painterly as opposed to just representing reality in a 3D render.
The heart2 art is heavily inspired by Petal Supply’s flower iconography originally illustrated by Jackson Love, but the sort of visual world Sam has been creating with me, as seen in the previous single’s visuals too, revolves heavily around the prominent puffer material to physically represent the comfort in the EP’s title.
The movement of the musical sphere into an overtly digital space comes with its advantages, yet conversely it also brings light to data privacy issues: one of these being song leaks. Is this something which has affected you personally?
I’ve certainly been a part of some highly desired releases that have been leaked, but I’ve never had it affect me very negatively. The landscape and attitude for a lot of artists has changed in the past couple years for sure though. Even Charli XCX, who’s been heavily affected by major leaks in the past, has ended up embracing the feverish demand for a bit, we planted some intentional leaks and she’s also herself been the one to play our unreleased tracks in easily recordable online shows.
Within the artistic community the pandemic imposed a creative split: for some the copious time served as a muse yet others were stunted by a sense of creative futility. As a creative, what was your experience of the pandemic?
I was definitely very lucky to have been able to continue work and school remotely, the pandemic didn’t affect me as negatively as many besides losing the income and real time feedback of live shows. Early in the pandemic I spent most of my time organising Minecraft music festivals as part of Open Pit, which were of course suddenly in very high demand. the prevalence of virtual events in this period definitely helped me keep making music - there seemed to be this sense among a lot of artists that we’d have to make new music, edits, visuals, etc for every set to keep things interesting enough for audiences, it was a unique and new motivation compared to being able to repeat the same set in different cities in a live setting. Some of my favourite work ended up being made for such events, like the remix of dante red’s movinglikeazombie which I made very last minute for PC Music’s halloween event.
From personal experience your live shows are ethereal events, often housed in brick-clad basements and coruscating clubs. With the ease of the pandemic’s restrictions, how was your return to live performance?
I got really lucky to be able to fit in some shows before cases went up again. Like a lot of my peers, I think I gained new audiences over the pandemic that were really excited to see me play for the first time. Late last year I played a series of search party shows in the US and Glasgow, then Trance Party and PC Music’s event with Pitchfork in London. It was really a much needed change from the past year, I’m super grateful to have been able to play these and book so many of my friends to join me. I used to only play on a laptop, but since I got it stolen in early 2020 I’ve decided to force myself to use CDJs, which I’m definitely still learning.
And lastly umru, fresh into 2022 - what’s to come from you this year?
I’m very excited to share comfort noise with everyone soon, and I’ve also executive produced an album for Aj simons - who appears on my EP as well - which will be out early this year. Beyond that I think I’d like to further establish myself as a pop producer this year and try reaching new, broader audiences and new collaborators.