Isimeme ‘Naomi’ Udu was assigned her ‘hemlocke springs’ moniker by a random name generator, though she regrets ever admitting that. “I found out in North Carolina there’s a trail called Hemlock Springs,” she sighs. “I could have fibbed a little, pretend I had this holy spiritual experience on this trail and just had to be named hemlocke. But no, I have to say I pressed a random name generator twice and was like ‘ooh! Cool name!’. A missed opportunity – or I can just start over from scratch and gaslight everybody!”
The 24-year-old sat down with Clash a week after opening for MUNA at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. “It was really cool,” she beams. “I was able to meet Katie and Naomi from MUNA and they were awesome.” In November she’ll be headlining her own show at Camden’s Dingwalls, just five months on from her first ever performance at the end of June. At the same time as getting to grips with these live shows she’s also put out her debut EP: the shimmering seven track ‘going…going…GONE!’. “Between you and me,” she admits, “[the release] was a little bit anticlimactic!” She was on a press call at the time, she explains, and more interested in getting back to bed. “In hindsight I am proud of it,” she says. “I’m so glad it’s out, and I’m so glad that people are enjoying it.”
Her connection to music grew from listening to Grimes and Kate Bush; a feeling of euphoria watching Avicii’s ‘Levels’ in sixth grade, and her discovery of 80s music at the end of high school. “I thought, ‘oh my gosh, this is the bomb diggity dot com!’,” she recalls cheerfully. Those influences show themselves throughout the EP, particularly on the synth-driven ‘heavun’. Despite a strong backdrop of references, though, the project didn’t end up coming together until the last minute – “ten elevenths of the way”, to be precise – when hemlocke finally realised what she wanted the record to sound like. It meant scrapping the latter half and replacing it with a run of songs that includes the title track, unexpected fan favourite ‘train to nowhere’, and bouncing single ‘enknee1’.
When hemlocke blew up on TikTok she was still finishing her master’s in Medical Informatics at Dartmouth – a collision of two worlds she hadn’t fully anticipated. The release of ‘gimme all ur luv’ had been spontaneous; “I said, ‘I’m in a silly goofy mood, and I don’t want to do this assignment, so I’m just gonna post it, and then I’m gonna take it down’. We’re here, so that didn’t work out!” She remembers things getting pretty overwhelming pretty quickly after a classmate found her page and spread the word, but happily there were only two weeks left of term for her to navigate. “I told myself, ‘calm down girl,” she grins, “you’re gonna get through it. Take things literally one day at a time, because if you start thinking too far ahead it’s not going to be pretty!’”
Words: Caitlin Chatterton
Photo Credit: Angella Choe