Hop onto TikTok and you’ll find hundreds of hopeful musicians trying to make it big but for Isimeme Udu – AKA hemlocke springs – that dream has become a reality. Far from a quirk of the algorithm, hemlocke springs’ first track ‘gimme all ur luv’ drew comparisons to an early synthpop Grimes, her slightly awkward demeanour standing out in a sea of overconfident content producers. Grimes herself even showed the track love and it blew up further when Bella Hadid used it to soundtrack one of her blogs. Next came second single, ‘girlfriend’, which proved that hemlocke springs was far from a one-hit wonder: it’s been streamed 17 million times and counting. With Steve Lacy shouting out Isimeme as one to watch for the year ahead, we just had to learn more about what’s next for hemlocke springs.
Hello hemlocke springs! Tell us a bit about you – Where did you grow up? What were you like as a kid? What do you love aside from music?
Hello! Well, I was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, but grew up in a small town called Concord, North Carolina. As a kid, I didn’t really talk much and kept to myself a lot. Middle school was when I started opening up a bit more. I think at one point in elementary school, teachers thought I was autistic. I know I had an IEP (Individualized Education Program; a document to address my academic needs) until middle school. I also had to take English and Math remediation classes (turns out, I am just a slow learner). Aside from music, I really enjoy daydreaming. I do that a lot, to escape reality. I should probably stop low-key. I also like reading. I’ve kind of gotten into erotic literature (honestly…. it’s just mad interesting seeing different synonyms for “penis,” it’s hilarious!)
How (and why) did you start making music?
My friend MJ had a lot to do with it. They were a freshman, I was a sophomore in high school. I took Chorus and on the first day of school, pretty much everyone already had their friend group except us, so it was meant to be. We opened up to each other a lot. MJ showed me a song they made on GarageBand. At the time, I didn’t even know about Garageband, that I had access to it, that you can make music with it, none of that. From there, it was kind of a slow rabbit hole. I would play on it, then stop. The process would continue again and again. Music has always been an escape for me, so whenever I wanted to escape from reality, I just pulled it up and started jamming!
You recently graduated from Dartmouth – congratulations! Was there much of a creative community at your college?
Thanks! I concentrated in Medical Informatics, and the experience was fruitful. There was very much so a creative community, but to be honest, I wasn’t focused on things creatively… at least musically. I had a different trajectory for everything, so I didn’t really immerse myself as much as I wanted to. However, I will say this: I was a Residential Fellow (RF) at Dartmouth (it’s similar to being a residential advisor, I basically was in charge in helping/hosting a lot of events for students)! Interestingly, all of my fellow RFs that year were also very musical, more than me! We were all housed in the same dorm. One of them lived downstairs from me, and he happened to play the guitar. Another RF played the piano. And one is even doing their master’s in music! Such an interesting coincidence!
Your song ‘Girlfriend’ has been streamed 15 million times. That’s a lot of streams! Does it feel abstract or unreal or like ‘heck yeah, I’m a superstar!’
It is a lot. Everything definitely feels more abstract. It’s so crazy! I am not feeling the superstar thing yet though. I don’t even think I put the “s” in superstar at this point!
You’ve mentioned being influenced by eighties synth pop and we can certainly hear that in your music. What is it about that type of music that you love?
It’s the nostalgia for me. I feel swept away. Like I’m on a boat sailing to the middle of nowhere and I’m enjoying it. That’s how the genre makes me feel, so I want it to reflect in my music.
Steve Lacy recently named you as one of the artists he’s most excited about this year. A man of good taste. What was that like? Have you interacted with him at all? How about Grimes?
OK, that was crazy! He also sent really sweet messages! Like what?! WHAT?! It’s still so hard to wrap my head around what has happened, I am eternally grateful! Grimes commented very early on my Tiktok for my first song “gimme all ur luv!” Honestly… I think that’s the reason why it started getting more views (and that I am at this point where I am today)! Grimes reached out too via message – it’s such a blessing to receive such kind words of encouragement from people you look up to musically! My heart was in my mouth, I wanted to be cool but I also was like I’M SUCH A HUGE FAN! Crazy stuff!
Can you share any tips for new musicians hoping to blow up on TikTok?
Tips from me? Well, it’s a process! Views go up and down, that’s just how it is. The most important thing is to engage with your audience, no matter where you are in your career stage, but especially early on. From a TikTok point, you can drive up comments that way, and make it so that the algorithm shows your video to more people. But from a personal standpoint, don’t know, that should be something you want to do anyway! They will make or break you. They will recommend your songs to people. They will show up to your tours, buy merchandise, etc. If you’re not engaging with them in some way it looks inauthentic. A lot of the things I got positive feedback on was my honesty and authenticity, so I try to keep those key points when doing videos! Finally, say something a bit inflammatory. Play it safe, but not too safe. For “girlfriend,” I was like “do you wanna hear the weirdest bridge you’ve ever heard in your entire life?” I didn’t think it would be the weirdest thing anyone has heard, but I knew that snippet was a bit weird, so I played into it!
Your new track, ’Stranger Danger’ is an anti-capitalist anthem. Tell us about writing it.
That was a funny occurrence! I was watching this video where it was basically describing a group of people who…didn’t want things to change, but not for reasons I thought. Like socioeconomically, things aren’t working out for them, but because there’s a chance they might “make” it, they don’t want change. That sliver of potential success just blinds everything! It baffled me, so I wrote about it. It kind of reminded me of people searching for the American Dream! However, I read Linden Hills, so take that as you will! The song wasn’t hard to write as much as it was to compose! Wow, that was a process. The drum track took forever.
What are you most excited for in 2023?
Getting this album done. I want it done so bad! I want to be able to tell my fans when I am releasing songs, the whole project, all that jazz! I am also touring this year (I don’t know if I should be revealing this now, but oh well it’s out there!), so I look forward to seeing my fans in person. I want to make sure I am giving an engaging performance and something different from my TikTok personality. I also want my fans to grow with me! I look forward to meeting them, – aah it’s all so exciting!
What’s one thing you want people to know about hemlocke springs?
What a way to end! Hmmm… my feet are slanted! They’re shaped pretty weirdly. Both of my big toes are kind of in a 45 degree angle *cue disturbing mental image*. So I probably won’t wear heels or anything else revealing my feet. Sorry to disappoint.
READ MORE: See who else made this year’s Future Five