Uma: Distance and Intimacy

Uma appears on my screen against the stony-walled background of her home in Northern Spain, sunlight bursting through a window. Seeing her surroundings reminds me of the samples of nature captured on new EP, The Moth and the Dove. The project teems with authenticity as the sounds of the Catalan countryside are scattered throughout; moments of birdsong and running water give the impression the tracks sprouted from the earth in a Mediterranean orchard.  

In her second EP, Uma gently guides you by the hand through the light and shade of her sensual dream sequence along with friend and collaborator Lucy Lu. The project meanders with ease through different moods and moments as the pair demonstrate their dexterity and ability celebrate a variety of genres.

Uma’s breathy, enveloping vocals, delicately harmonising with Lucy Lu, carries with it an overwhelming sense of calm. The pair’s musical styles blend wonderfully; Lucy Lu’s jazzy undertones rest perfectly against Uma’s Latin influences. The idea of co-operation is at the core of the EP, Uma skilfully protects her identity as an artist whilst inviting creativity from her peers. There is real comfort in seeing the success in this new, more collaborative way of creating music in a time of mass solitude. For its exploration of jazz, folk, electronic music, as well as traditional Spanish music, the project feels worldly and inclusive. In ‘Talking Walls’, Uma quietly invites us to ‘drift on this breeze for a while with me’ – the album is reassuring in many ways, in particular for Uma’s lyrical skill and ability to transport her listener away from the loneliness of a lockdown.

For an artist still in the early stages of their career, over a year of isolation and the inability to connect with fans and promote music in a traditional way could be a very daunting and infuriating. Uma, however, has used the time to nurture her sound and investigate new ways of writing and recording. I had the pleasure to sit down with her to discuss her most recent project, The Moth and The Dove and how the last 12 months has changed her relationship with the creative process.

I have spent the last week inhaling your music and enjoying little live snippets from your socials – I’m a huge fan of the EP. How are you feeling about releasing a project in a time where live performances are so limited?

Well, I was very frustrated by it for a while when I released my first EP at the start of the quarantine. In terms of the live show, I’m finally taking this time as a gift to restructure. I think the second EP has quite a different sound to the first EP anyway – so the live set up has changed over the last year. The way I think about the live set-up has changed a lot and it has actually been quite exciting to think about future projects. Obviously it’s frustrating because there aren’t any live opportunities at the moment, but the idea of being able to play live again is incredible, and having this time to sit down and plan out how to do these shows musically and my performance way has been fun.

You say you have kind of reframed the lockdown. Of course, the past year has been very restricting and painful for artists all over the world, but has the last year taught you anything about yourself or the artistic process which you are grateful for?

Yes – so much. Just having to sit down without having any plans to do any work and figuring out how to work like this has been a whole process. I’ve been really lucky as Luke [Lucy Lu], who produced this last EP, and I have been working together and writing together a lot. Having somebody with me in that process to help each other out and explore, take things to each other and say “I wrote this! I did that!”. That’s really helped and has taught me a lot about myself, making me rethink and reframe how I want to continue working once this ends.

Collaboration seems to be intrinsic to your ethos as an artist. I’m wondering what you look for in your collaborators?

I love the idea of collaboration and I love collaborating. On the first EP, I hadn’t really collaborated with people in that way. I had written songs with people, collaborated with friends but never really to this level. This has been another learning curve. We have really learned how to work together and we work in such an easy way we feel very at ease with each other. In the end, that is what you want in a collaboration; to be able to go in and be honest, without judgement, and not to be too shy or second guessing yourself. Our collaboration is very free – that’s the best word to use, free.

I’d love to know more about the In Can Obert residency and whether you think this has developed your identity as an artist?

I started it kind of selfishly as I wanted to see these people working, to see my friends and people around me being creative. I was lucky enough that I could offer that space in that moment. It started as me really wanting to be a witness to these people’s great talent. It’s been really inspiriting to see people collaborating in lots of different ways. It’s pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to be less shy. Those are the biggest takeaways I think.

Tell me a little bit about the themes and inspiration behind The Moth and The Dove.

I think the key themes are the darkness of our humanity. All of the gritty dark side that we don’t like to talk about or show but we all go through. That was a starting point. Listening to the EP for me is a bit of a time capsule as we started the whole project at the very start of the pandemic around March 2020 so it was very rooted in worry and uncertainty. I think you can really hear that in the songs we wrote at that time, such as ‘Bring Me The Mountain’ and ‘Black Bees’ they have this darkness to them that comes out and the underlying worry. Then ‘Nebula’ and ‘Talking Walls’ are a bit more hopeful and we wrote them later in the year so i’d say theyre very much of this year. Worry and hope go hand in hand.

Who, or what, would you consider your main influences?

I’d say the people close to me – my family, friends and partner. They influence me a lot. We have a record player and a CD player in the kitchen and we spend a lot of time cooking. We listen to a lot of old school Brazilian albums, Spanish influences but then also a lot of Little Dragon, or folk artists like Laura Marling. 

I’m such a believer of listening to music in album format.

Well it’s mainly because we can’t connect to the wi-fi so we really only listen to our old CDs and then my parents keep buying more.

What is your relationship with nature as an artist?

I’m definitely a country girl. I grew up in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere in the north of Spain so I have spent most of my life running around in the countryside, and it makes a lot of sense to hear it in the music. I love being here and the confinement has been amazing to spend all the time in the garden and with the animals.

I love the crescendo from folk into the Spanish rhythms in ‘Talking Walls’: can you tell me a little bit about your ties to Spanish and South American music? 

I grew up in Spain so Spanish music has always been around and its te music that makes me feel most at home. When I was living in London, I would listen to a lot more Spanish music than I do now as I would get so homesick. My parents have an incredible collection of music and they used to listen to a lot of bossa nova, Portuguese and Brazilian music.

This is your sophomore EP. Was the recording process noticeably different to your first ep Bel·li

I don’t think I intended to do anything different, I don’t even think I set out to write a second EP it just kind of happened. Luke was here, we were writing a lot and it just came together. The songwriting process was different; Bel·Li is made up of some quite old songs that I had been playing and singing for a long time. For my second EP ‘Nebula’ and ‘Talking Walls’ were already written but the arrangements were very different – we workshopped them a lot. It was a much faster process. We had to figure it out quickly, there were so many musicians in the industry who were left suddenly without work, people who have been touring for years and recording for years and haven’t stopped working for a really long time were just suddenly forced to stop. I think it not only the economic situation but also effected peoples mental health, it was difficult for a lot of our friends and for us on many different levels. A big part of how we ended up recording this ep stemmed from the necessity to keep working and keep well, as well as give our friends work.

We’d send it to Ellis, who has done drums on pretty much all of the tracks, and he would record some stuff and home and then edit it and send it to someone else. It’s been such a change in mindset; we can actually do this from wherever, it doesn’t matter if we aren’t in the studio. In a way as it’s so personal and we weren’t able to be in the space saying “I want it like this”, there was a lot more freedom for the other musicians on the tracks to bring their personality.

I suppose there’s a lot less of a time restriction. If you want to spend four hours on something small there’s not someone coming to kick you out of the studio.

Yeah, it’s been incredible, it’s been a lot of fun.

‘Nebula’ is a real moment of joy on this project. I love the atmosphere you create, particularly with harmonies and your wonderful voice. Can you tell me more about this track?

I wrote ‘Nebula’ with a friend of mine called Amy May Ellis, she is an amazing musician. We were living in London at the same time so we decided to start writing this song together. I moved away and then she moved away and  the songs got left as we didn’t have the time to finish them together. Then I came up with an arrangement that really fit. Lyrically, it may not be dissimilar to Bel·li but for me it was a turning point in the way I wrote and how I felt about my writing. The original version and the original demo are going to be out pretty soon as well but I don’t know when yet.

I know you only just released your EP but I’m wondering what your plans are for the rest of the year? Have you have managed to schedule any shows in Spain or the UK as of yet? 

There are a couple of releases coming up which I will be announcing very soon but that’s it for now. I’m laying pretty low for the rest of the year working on the live set, hopefully some new gigs and writing new projects.

Words: Rachel Mercer // Photos: Ay Mama Studio

Uma’s ‘The Moth and The Dove’ EP is out now via Slow Dance. Stream or purchase the album through Bandcamp.

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