Hemlocke Springs didn’t plan for any of this to happen. She might be the most unlikely emerging pop star of 2023—that is, at least, if you ask her. A year ago, she was still in school at New Hampshire’s Ivy League institution Dartmouth, pursuing a master’s degree in medical informatics and working at the library. After graduating, she figured she’d work in a lab and go for her PhD next.
Even within her own family, the now 24-year-old—whose real name is Isimeme Naomi Udu—admits she wasn’t the most musically inclined. Her brother was a band member turned SoundCloud producer, while Hemlocke believed from an early age that she’d be a doctor. Growing up in North Carolina, she’d listen to her parents’ Christian music at home, then took an interest in EDM in middle school and K-pop in her 20s.
In college, she got “hyperfixated” on GarageBand and began recording DIY pop songs for fun. She considered it nothing more than a hobby, but when the pandemic hit, she had a thought that would change the course of her life: “Well, you have these songs—what do you want to do with them?”
Starting in 2020, she’d upload music to SoundCloud, then delete the songs soon after. Eventually she got comfortable enough to leave them up. The first uploads got positive reactions from a handful of strangers on SoundCloud, but the punchy, playful, ‘80s-flavored bop “gimme all ur luv” was different. The song’s online life started similarly to the others—a few comments, but nothing out of the ordinary. She left it up on SoundCloud, and also decided to share it on TikTok.
Hemlocke remembers seeing a couple of early listeners say that the track reminded them of Grimes, and she thought about deleting it like she had with so many other songs. But she didn’t. Instead, she went to bed and woke up to tens of thousands of views and a comment from Grimes herself. “That’s when everything started building,” Hemlocke explains. “I pinpoint it to that moment.”
Things snowballed quickly. Within months, streams climbed into the millions, social media followers grew exponentially, and today Hemlocke Springs is experiencing things reserved only for a class of few fortunate artists: major label meetings, interactions with famous artists that she once looked up to, and coverage from major press outlets like Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and NME.
Hemlocke admits that she still doesn’t really know what’s going on, or what to expect out of the future at this point—understandable, considering that just last month Steve Lacy reached out through DM and told her that she “made a classic.”
Hemlocke admits that she still doesn’t really know what’s going on, or what to expect out of the future at this point—understandable, considering that just last month Steve Lacy reached out through DM and told her that she “made a classic.” At the time of this interview, her father doesn’t even know that her music career exists.
But so far, the forward momentum has only grown stronger. Her second single “girlfriend” ended up being more popular than her first, and with millions of new fans awaiting her next move, she’s planning on releasing her debut album in 2023.
“I think I’m aiming for a release pretty soon,” she says. “I have it in my mind for April, but please don’t take my word for it. Quote me, but also don’t quote me. It might not happen. But definitely 2023.”
As Hemlocke now knows, things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes that’s for the best.
Where are you right now?
I am in Asheville, North Carolina right now, recording some stuff.
Uh-oh, I think you’re frozen for me.
Oh, no. I froze… [Hemlocke carries laptop into the hallway]. Are we back?
Yeah, we’re back.
Sorry. This is so unprofessional.
All good, all good.
I’m going to take the computer and my hotel key, and we’ll just go down to the lobby. Or maybe outside would be better? Can you still hear me?
I can hear you now, yeah.
Okay. Maybe I can just do it here, if I can find good lighting. This is probably not how most interviews go. We’ll just do it here.
No problem, I’ll get right into it.
Of course. Please ask away.
First off, does your dad know about your music career yet?
[Laughs] I’m dead. No, he does not. I know, I know. It’s the holidays, so maybe I’ll sit him down and I’ll tell him everything. But no, he still does not know.
You only have two songs out, but you were sharing music before that on SoundCloud, right?
Yeah. What would happen is I would go, I would post a song on SoundCloud, and I would immediately delete it. So the first song that I posted and it stayed, it was called “Jacob,” and I really liked that song. It is deleted now, but I really liked that song. And then the second song that stayed up was “gimme all ur luv.” And I was like, “I’m going to post this on TikTok, too.” And then everything happened.
When you first started posting songs, were you getting a reaction that made you want to keep going, or was it crickets?
It was crickets. There were some people who would message and be like, “Oh, I really like the song,” or something like that, but I didn’t have a following or anything. But after COVID, I was just like, “Well, you have these songs—what do you want to do with them?” I was just like, “Well, you could always post them online if you want to. That’s an option.” And so I went and I posted, but I was still deleting them afterwards.
Finally I was just like, “Okay, you need to stop taking down your stuff. I think this is an anxiety thing. You need to fight against this.” Finally, I would post and the song would stay. And I got some people being like, “Oh, I like the song.” But it wasn’t anything like I’m receiving now at all; it would be two or three people or something. But still it was cool—people from different parts of the world were listening. I was like, “Oh my gosh, how’d you even find this?”
So you’ve got a couple of songs out now, and I saw you graduated from your master’s program.
Does your music career feel real yet? Is it a reality, or does it still feel like a trial run?
Honestly, the latter. Definitely a trial run. I don’t think it’s hit me what exactly is going on right now. It’s only been since May, to be honest. I’m still just like, “What is happening?” But it’s all good. I think that the up-in-the-air feeling of it all is scary, but it’s also one of the things that gets you going, I guess.
After Dartmouth, my plan was to see if I can work for a lab, and then get some papers in, and then I can go for my PhD… But that’s changed. It’s weird stepping back and being like, ‘Wow, this is now not the direction that I’m going in.’ That was my five-year plan, but not anymore.
When you were in school, did your classmates know about your music, or was that a completely different world?
I was trying to separate it. When “girlfriend” came out it was around finals week, and I was like, “I need to study.” But I only told my friends at the time; I didn’t tell everybody. But word got out when one of my classmates found out. I popped up on his TikTok, and then he told people. Not to call him out, because it’s all good. Then some articles came out, and word was spreading.
Now I still have to look at my school email because I was getting emails from some of my teachers about it. I’m like, “Oh my God, what is going on?” My last term, I was supposed to work at the library, but I couldn’t because of what was happening on the side with music. My supervisor emailed me and was like, “I knew something was happening, but I didn’t know it was this!”
It’s been nice to see such things, but honestly, it’s still just a blur.
I read that you studied bioinformatics in school, is that right?
Technically, I studied medical informatics. Bioinformatics is where I wanted to go from graduating. So medical informatics is about analyzing patient data. I wanted to go towards the bioinformatics route, which is basically analyzing genes. After Dartmouth, my plan was to see if I can work for a lab, and then get some papers in, and then I can go for my PhD. I’d have an existential crisis once I got there, but I was like, “I want to go for a PhD, and then after that, I will figure stuff out.”
But that’s changed. It’s weird stepping back and being like, “Wow, this is now not the direction that I’m going in.” That was my five-year plan, but not anymore. But it’s all good. All great stuff, obviously.
I get asked this a lot because I studied finance in school but ended up in music: is there anything that you learned in school that you’re applying to your music career?
Honestly, I think just speaking. I wouldn’t consider myself a scientist by any means, so I say this generally. Some scientists don’t know how to talk to people. And that’s not a dig—that’s something that people have noticed, so there are actually classes on how to communicate with others. I was definitely one of the people that just didn’t really know how to communicate, whether it was my work or even communicating through music. I still struggle, but I’ve tried to take some aspects of what I’ve learned in my classes and apply it. Even though I’m not communicating science, I’m communicating music-wise.
I don’t want to say I don’t consider myself a musician, but it’s still just… When people ask me about my music or my process, I’m still like, “It’s not professional by any means.” I’m trying to elaborate on it and speak clearly and not go all over the place like I usually do. I hope I’m doing a good job. Maybe not…
When did you decide, “Okay, I need to have a manager and put together a team and take this seriously?” Was it one thing, or was it just a gradual progression?
It was a gradual progression. I didn’t really know what was going on. One of the reasons why I work with [my manager Dan] is because he was so passionate from the get-go. He had a lot of faith. And honestly, I did not have that at that time. I was just like, “Wow, I need to get on your level.” It was a progression once people started finding me and I realized this could actually be an opportunity. You can let it go by, or you can go and explore it. So I was like, “Well, close your eyes, go for it, and see what happens.”
I saw Grimes commented on your song. Were you familiar with Grimes already?
Oh yeah, yeah. I love Grimes. I love their music a lot. Some of the comments on “gimme all ur luv” were like, “This reminds me of Grimes.” I remember waking up in the middle of the night, and honestly, I thought I was going to delete the video. But I woke up and then I saw that Grimes had commented, and I was just like, “Back that up. What? “What is going on? What?”
I just remember the wave of joy, but also some confusion because I was just like, “How did I show up on their page?” I wasn’t sure how the algorithm works, but that was so cool. I feel like that’s the coolest thing to happen to me still. That’s when everything started building. I pinpoint it to that moment. I was very grateful for that.
That is a big co-sign. That and Steve Lacy—
Yeah, oh my gosh! I saw him follow, but I hadn’t checked my DMs yet. And I looked, and [Steve Lacy] DMed me. And I was just like, “Noooo way!” I freaked out. And then I messaged back, and I wasn’t expecting anything. But he messaged me back, and I’m like, “We’re having a conversation. I don’t care if it’s two messages—we’re having a conversation!” He was so kind too, he was like, “We need you” and stuff like that. I was just like, “You talking about me? Like we need you, what are you talking about? Me?” But it was so cool.
You do most of your music on your own, but do you have any desire to collaborate more now that people are reaching out? Any dream collaborations?
Yeah, I do want to collab more, but I really do. I think for right now, I’m working on an album. Actually, in Miami I was trying to work with a producer/singer-songwriter, and he listened to some of my stuff and he was like, “Honestly, I feel like I shouldn’t interrupt your process.” So instead of working with him, I was just doing stuff on my own. And I kind of like it. I like doing stuff on my own, but I also feel like at some point I’ll need to branch out.
So yeah, definitely collaborations. Dream collaborators? I’m only saying this because I don’t think it will ever happen—if one day, if I could collaborate with Kate Bush, that would be so cool. Honestly, dream. That’s top. That’s really, really top. It’s not going to happen—that’s why I put it out. Positive manifestation, actually. Positive manifestation.
It was a progression once people started finding me and I realized this could actually be an opportunity. You can let it go by, or you can go and explore it. So I was like, ‘Well, close your eyes, go for it, and see what happens.’
You’ve shared that you don’t love the mixing and mastering process, and that’s your least favorite part of making music. What’s your favorite part? Is it that very beginning of an idea? Or is it actually getting it out or releasing it?
My favorite part is definitely writing lyrics. I really enjoy that. I struggle talking and speaking clearly, so I feel like when I write… Well, I don’t really write my lyrics, I just type them up in the little notepad section of Logic, the DAW I use. I like doing that, because all the confuddled stuff that’s going on here [motions to head], I can just see it in clear, concise words. They’re not always so clear, but I can see what’s going on up in there. I really enjoy that.
I also enjoy going on the arpeggiator. I have a MIDI, but I don’t use it anymore because I’m stubborn and in my own way. What I do is I just pull up the arpeggiator whenever I try to come up with chords, and I’m literally on my Mac keyboard. I just slam it, and then I see what I come up with. That’s also one of my favorite things to do.
A lot of people are trying to classify your music. I saw you mentioned indie sleaze and some of the other names people have used to describe it. Do you care how people label your music?
No. Honestly, I consider myself a pop artist, so I just go with straight pop. I know when I search myself up on Google… should I admit that loud?
Everyone does it.
Okay. When I searched myself, it came back with alternative slash indie, which makes sense. And then people are like, “What is this?” And I’m just like, “It’s not pop?” I just thought it was pop. It’s not really a preference, though. If somebody asked me, I would say pop. But indie sleaze? What in the world is that? That’s a dope name though, indie sleaze. I’m down with anything, honestly.
I was a little surprised to see you mention that you are big into K-pop and electronic music, because I would’ve thought it was more maybe ‘80s pop. How did you land on making the type of music you make? Was this just what came out?
It’s really just what came out. I have no clue. The progression of music genres that I listened to from my childhood to now—I don’t know. One day I was on the computer, and that’s what happened. But I love K-pop a lot. And electronic music, that’s the first instance of recognizing music as an art form.
In middle school there was this little auditorium with a big projector, and they would play music videos. I was sitting in there one day, and they played Avicii’s “Levels.” I remember the video. There was this person pushing something up a hill, and I was just really into it. I went on a really deep dive with Avicii and deadmau5 and Kaskade and Tiesto and old Calvin Harris and all that stuff. Yeah, that was my first heart. As I’m saying this, Avicii is my screensaver and has been for the past three, four years.
And then K-pop came in college. I don’t even want to say it was a phase, because I still really listen to it, although in college I was going hard. With the progression of my taste and the things that I’ve listened to, I just landed here.
Even before that, what was playing in your house as a kid? Was music a big part of the household?
Not really. My parents are uber Christian, so there was Christian music. I remember there was just one song that I would just always go back to in my childhood by DC Talk—I think it’s called “In The Light.”It was this rock slash rap group. It was different from what my mom or what my dad listened to.
But I really wasn’t that musical growing up. Honestly, the musical one was my brother. My brother was in band. I was in choir, but I feel like he was really into it and still really into production. He does the SoundCloud beats, the Afrobeats, so that was his thing. During my childhood, my thing was, “I’m going to be a doctor.” We see how that turned out.
And then one day in high school, my friend was showing me something that they made on GarageBand, and I was like, “What’s GarageBand?” And they were like, “You have it on your computer, it’s here.” That’s when I started playing around. And then it wasn’t until college when I was really into it. I would hyperfixate on it.
Part of why I like your music so much is because you do have these big hooks and great songwriting, but it still feels DIY and handmade. Is that something you want to hold onto? Do you ever want to work with big, polished production?
I’ve definitely thought about making it more polished, but whenever I go that route, I don’t think it works. My friends have listened to some things. I remember my friend listened to what she considered a more polished version of “girlfriend,” and she did not like it. It’s nice to hear that kind of feedback. So I think I want to keep this sound. Polished stuff has never really appealed to me anyway. Okay, that’s a lie, I take that back; I listen to it all the time. But personally, I don’t know if it’s a direction that I would go for myself.
We talk to a lot of new artists who feel pressure to put themselves out there, especially with the rise of TikTok. It seems like you aren’t taking it too seriously and you’re just doing whatever you want. Is that the case, or do you think about content plans and strategy?
It’s a mix of both. Since getting management, things have had to become quote-unquote more strategic. But it’s still me and when I think of something random, I’ll do a TikTok on it and then call it a day. It’s not that serious.
I definitely understand the pressure, though. The point of TikTok, for me, is it’s a way to connect with people. So I do a video, go through comments. During the beginning stages, I tried to respond to every comment, and now I cannot do that. I wish I could do that—that was really fun. But now I go and I see how people are feeling. I try not to think about it too much, and my team isn’t really in my ear about it. At the end of the day, it’s me behind the account so it’s just like, “Do what you want to do, and close the app. Close it, because you will get sucked in.”
As you get bigger, do you think you’ll want to keep that transparency and connection? Or are you going to be like Kate Bush and just disappear one day?
Honestly, I’m probably going to put a lot of things out and then disappear. But I’ll definitely pop up once in a while. I got my start off TikTok, so in some ways it’s now like an obligation. Even though I have an online personality or something like that, it’s not what I’m used to at all. I’m usually alone, and I’m really introverted, so it’s weird documenting stuff on TikTok. At some point, it’s going to be like, “I shut down!” At some point, I might have to log off. But not now.
I’ll definitely use this time to connect with people and show people more if they want to see something more of me, totally. Setting boundaries is something I’ll need to work on once it’s something I feel is too intrusive, but it hasn’t gotten to that point yet.
I saw you were in New York, and it looks like you took at least one label meeting. Have you made any decisions about signing or not signing or next steps in the music industry?
No, not really. Have talks progressed? Yes. But whenever I think about signing, I get so stressed. At the end of the day, I’m going to focus on the album and just go and record music. That’s really it. I think what stresses me out is I really don’t know what’s going on and what is to be expected in the future. Right now, I don’t even want to think about that. I should, because talks are coming up, but I have not.
When people are like, ‘Oh, just keep posting,’ they’re actually onto something. You never know—it really might be the next post that gets you somewhere where you want to be.
Do you have any album in the works, or any 2023 plans that you can share?
I’m trying to think if there’s anything I shouldn’t share. If I overshare, whoops. Well, now you know: I am working on an album. I think I’m aiming for a release pretty soon. I have it in my mind for April, but please don’t take my word for it. Quote me, but also don’t quote me. It might not happen. But definitely 2023.
I’ve been thinking of the album cover art and names. I’ve had a list of songs that I want since September. Sometimes I talk to my manager, and he’s like, “You can record new stuff.” But if I’m being completely honest, I’m really stubborn. So I think that the list that I have right now is the official list. I don’t think it will change. Maybe one or two songs.
Do the songs sound like they come from the same world as your first two? Or are you trying anything different or surprising?
I think it’s surprising. The next single is called “stranger danger!” and I think this one is surprising. Definitely a bit darker. You have to surprise people. I think if I keep up the feel of the two previous singles, it will be too stagnant. I don’t know. There are some songs that remind me of the first two, but I’m just making sure I bounce from place to place.
It’s still so early for you, but do you have any advice for other artists who are trying to do what you’ve already done?
Advice? Oh, god. It’s luck, honestly. I wish I could say otherwise. I wish I could be like, “Oh, I worked really hard to get here,” but I don’t think I could look you in the eye and say that with much conviction. A lot of luck got me here. The first TikTok I made of “gimme all ur luv,” only two or three people saw it. So I guess if I had to say something, it’s that you really never know. When people are like, “Oh, just keep posting,” they’re actually onto something. You never know—it really might be the next post that gets you somewhere where you want to be. So I guess that’s my advice.
That is good advice. I think a lot of artists feel like you did when you wanted to delete things if they don’t work immediately. The fact that you didn’t led to a lot of good things.
Yeah, that is very true. That’s another good piece of advice. Don’t delete your stuff immediately! That’s awful.
Editor’s Note: We followed up a few days ago and Hemlocke confirmed that her father now knows about her music career.