Imagine you are studying medical informatics, working as a librarian on the side. Next, you want to do a PhD and finally work in analyzing patient data. There are probably quite a few things the future holds for you, but becoming a viral alternative pop musician is certainly nothing you foresaw. Well, sometimes things align in the most unexpected ways. The North Carolina-born artist hemlocke springs (Isimeme Naomi Udu) started recording music during her master’s degree at Dartmouth after getting hooked on Garageband in high school. She writes goofy and tongue-in-cheek lyrics and has an undeniable ear for catchy melodies, making her first single gimme all ur luv go viral on TikTok. Since then, hemlocke released several other singles, and her debut EP going…going…GONE!. Things seem to be going well, but certainly not as planned.

Parallel Universes

Photo by Angella Choe

Many things aligned at random for the singer it seems. She tells me how the name hemlocke springs was created by using a random name generator. “At first, it was purely an artist-name to me”, hemlocke comments, “but now, I think it represents how anything is possible! It is kind of like those scenes in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ where the main character sees different versions of herself and others in parallel universes. To me, hemlocke springs is one of those parallel universes.”

The notion of parallel universes is echoed in the music itself, which has a playful character making it easy to escape dire reality into the colorful world that hemlocke springs creates.

Beyond TikTok

The energetic vibe of the videos and the bright sounds made the artist take over TikTok quickly. This shows how powerful social media can be in creating a bottom-up community for artists. For hemlocke’s music, TikTok clearly provided a fertile ground, but social media can also breed hate and cyberbullying. hemlocke remembers how at first, she was very active and enjoyed seeing posts from others, even those about herself. Until she got negative comments. “I think there are people who read negative comments about them or their music and just move on with their lives, and I commend those types of people… unfortunately, I am not one of them.”

Since stepping into the public, her relationship with social media has changed and hemlocke springs limits her time spent on the apps. “These days, I go online, post what I have to post, and spend my time on other things… like Block Blast”, hemlocke says and explains that it is a game that is somewhat like Tetris.

Rainbows Made of Chocolate

How hemlocke springs is living in this parallel universe at the moment is also reflected in the title going…going…GONE!. “[It] refers to what is currently happening to the idea of where I thought I would be. The path I thought I would be walking is going…going…gone. I am not at a point where I’ve realized I don’t really know anything: the past, the present, and particularly the future”, hemlocke muses about the title.

The cover of the EP shows the artist running at full speed. She is dressed in a light-purple dress and has her gaze fixed on the world that is unfolding in front of her: a colorful drawing of a city, with a keyboard on fire, puppets lying around, purple houses, and trees. The same playful character inhabits the DIY videos to the songs. The second breakthrough song girlfriend has a charmingly 90s-nerdy look and shows the artist with animated drawings around her. hemlocke describes the song as written in a “double d”-moment meaning “depressed and delusional”. The video to POS starts with a short sketch of the artist speaking on an old-school cable phone in her car. Then the mood switches and the artist is in a colorful studio posing in different outfits and in front of different backgrounds. Finally, she demolishes a car. In the world that hemlocke springs creates anything is possible.

“I wanted to capture that I am heading towards a reality that I am not sure what will bring, but I have to run towards it (if not, I will never take the chance),” hemlocke says about the EP cover. What does a world that she wants to run towards look like to her? She ponders: “Honestly, I think my true world is something I can’t envision. The current world I have in my head is myopic: more money, food abundance, housing, no wars, etc.… I feel like the true world I want to live in would not start rooted in how to escape reality but much more flamboyant… like flying unicorns or rainbows made of chocolate. Something more unrealistic!”

Musical Universes 

Photo by Angella Choe

The songs on the EP also explore different universes musically ranging from church music to K-pop and EDM. girlfriend reminds of sparkling 80s synth-pop with the vocals layered to infinity. hemlocke springs embraces the slips and breaks of her voice making the sound raw and interesting. Heavun has a new-wavy synth-tinge with maximal instrumentation, that gets taken down a notch on enknee1. It translates to ‘anyone’ and the song is a dramatic plea asking if there is: “anyone out there to love me, anyone out there to care for”.

One of the catchiest songs is the percussive POS. The letters stand for ‘piece of shit’ and the minimal track is driven by a bassline and a heavy groove accentuated by the metal sound of cow-bell drums. the train to nowhere, which is my personal favorite, explores the realm of electronic alternative indie. hemlocke sings and speaks with a rasp in her voice until the raw energy of the verses transforms into the glittery smooth chorus.

The Sliver of Processing

While all the songs are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, they are dealing with very serious underlying emotions and struggles. Feelings of loneliness, depression, and overwhelming stress are packed into these bright melodies. hemlocke springs comments on the way she deals with emotions, disclaiming that the following sentences are “going to sound SO unhealthy to those who read this. DON’T DO WHAT I’M DOING”, she laughs.

“Dealing with emotions is not something that comes naturally for me. I actively try to avoid the act of processing. I feel like if I truly process everything that has occurred or is occurring, I will break down. And quite frankly I don’t have the time nor energy to do that. So, when I write songs, I think that is my sliver of “processing” peeking through. But even then, I put on a little “quirky” façade and sing a little upbeat, cause that’s just how I interpret things.”

In her always nerdy and humourous manner, hemlocke springs continues to describe her way of dealing with emotional distress as best represented by a meme: “That meme that has the dog saying, “this is fine”, as the classroom burns around him… at the end of the day, there is not much you can do… just let things burn until they burn you, then deal with it then!” The quirky façade of the music makes it easy to listen to the songs, but it is the “sliver” of emotional processing that makes the songs so memorable.

going…going…GONE! is out now via Good Luck Have Fun Records. 

Every few weeks, the NBHAP staff brings an exciting new artist to your attention alongside a 30-track-strong Introducing Playlist on Spotify. Feel invited to follow the playlist and give these talents a spin. Sign up for our Newsletter to receive monthly updates about new music.

This week’s playlist update was curated in collaboration with hemlocke springs. Along with tracks from going…going…GONE! it includes personal inspirations from artists such as Yves Tumor, Mitski, YUKIKA and more. Tune in below.