A year ago, at the height of the pandemic, Barcelona-based singer-songwriter Uma released her debut EP, Bel.li, weaving her folk-centred songwriting around delicate Spanish guitars. Her second EP, however – titled The Moth & The Dove and arriving this Friday – is a collection of songs as wholly different as the world we now occupy. Folk influences still abound, but they do so alongside a gleaming array of other cultural references that range from bossa nova chord sequences to ominous synth basses.
Part of this shift in style has been Uma’s frequent collaborations with partner and fellow musician, Lucy Lu (Luke Bower). The pair have contributed to one another’s work over lockdown, bringing fresh ideas to each other’s music while also providing the drive to create something new. As such, the Slow Dance signee knits together a broad church of influences with breathtaking ease on her new EP, using her intimate and balanced vocals as the anchor her experimentation flits around. Standout tracks include the ominous ‘Bring Me The Mountain’ and closing track ‘Even When She Knows’, both of which exhibit this promising young musician’s ability to remain sincere in totally contrasting ways.
We caught up with Uma for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight Q&A series to talk about the process of making her latest EP, working with Lucy Lu, and more.
Something that I heard when I first listened to the new EP was that there’s quite a lot of different influences. There’s a lot of bossa nova and soul and R&B, which I thought was quite different from the debut EP, which was consistently folk in its approach. Is this something you always wanted to do and what triggered this change in style?
I think that for me, the process of making music is just about having fun and learning – constantly learning. The first EP came out at the start of the pandemic and the second one is coming out now, mid-pandemic, and this time has been really amazing for me because I’ve been able to explore some parts of sounds I maybe haven’t before and really wanted to and just playing and having fun with it. So yeah, it wasn’t really even intentional. But it’s one of those things where you record something and it comes out almost a year after you started writing it, and there’s a slight disconnect to that music already because you are already working on new things or exploring themes or sounds. It’s something that I’m quite excited about and the music I’ve started right now is even more different in a way. So there’s this rapid movement towards different sounds, but I think essentially they are all still based in songwriting and very influenced by the folk side.
Where did you find the influence for ‘Bring Me The Mountain’? Because that one I feel is the most divergent of all the tracks on the EP. What were the influences behind that?
I think that with the whole of the second EP, but especially with ‘Bring Me The Mountain’ and ‘Black Bees’ – it’s an EP that’s been shaped by Lucy Lu, who’s been producing this music. We’ve co-produced all of the songs, which has been an amazing experience. I think ‘Bring Me The Mountain’ is where you can see our two different styles the best. It was the first song we wrote together in a very long time and the first song we produced for the EP, so I feel like it’s almost the most coherent and most disjointed one in it. And I think a lot of that sound is down to his style as well.
You and Lucy Lu are partners, right?
Yeah, we are. We’ve been locked down in Spain for like a year now.
Oh really? Okay, well, was there an intention to specifically write a lot of the EP about your relationship? Or was it like the change in style, where it happened quite naturally?
It’s something that happened quite naturally I think. My music is very autobiographical and I write a lot about my life and my relationships and things that are happening to me. And I think we were at a point in our relationship and our friendship and our creative partnership where we needed to process a lot of things. And that naturally happened because it was the start of a pandemic and we didn’t know what else was going to happen this year and how long it was going to last. So we just were writing for the fun of it and a lot of stuff came out naturally of it. So yeah, again, almost unintentionally, and it’s become a theme throughout the EP.
How did you find the process of writing this EP? It’s your second one now, so did you find there was more pressure on it compared to the last one?
Yeah, I think it feels more scary now to put it out, just because I think second EPs are weird. Especially when you grow your fan base, you introduce yourself to a set of people with a sound, but when that sound changes this soon turns into a career or a process. I think it’s very scary because it is very much still folky to me, but I am also very aware that it is in a different world – in a different sound world. But it didn’t really feel like that when we were writing it and when we finished it, I felt really free in the whole process and free to put it out there. But then you start getting into the logistics of the whole industry and it starts making everything scarier.
And how did you find the process of writing the EP under lockdown? Did you find a lack of creativity as I know that’s been a very common issue for artists over the last year?
Yeah, definitely. I mean it’s been a really tough time, I feel like putting these two EPs out kinda looks like I’ve been super busy and super creative, which I have for the most part and again I think that’s down to having somebody else who is willing to push you and work with you and find the joy in that work. But it’s definitely been a struggle. We wrote that EP in summer last year and since then I’ve found it really hard to get back into writing.
Is some of that struggle partly down to the lack of wider collaboration you’ve been able to do? Because you had a residency called Can Obert, so is that something you feel like you’ve missed in the last year or so?
Oh, definitely. I think that side of it I really miss. I really miss gigs. I think when that whole side of work gets taken away it just suddenly makes everything else seem, not pointless, but you’re like, “Well, what am I going to be able to do with this if I am just stuck in one space for one or two years?” When time gets hard to define by events and work, I really enjoy working, so that was really big for me.
Can you tell me a bit more about the Can Obert residence? Because it also involved Nilüfer Yanya, right?
Yeah. I mean, we haven’t done it for three to four years now, so it feels like one of those things that gets brought up and that we’ve worked on in different formats. But we haven’t done a residency for about three or four years now because everything got so busy. But that was really amazing, I think that we made that with a group of friends when I first felt very serious about songwriting. And I think it was just very selfish in a way because I was like, “Well, let’s bring all of these people to my house so that we can all have fun and work.” And the first few times were really chaotic, but every time we came out with something really amazing. So yeah, we’re looking at doing some more, but trying to organise it in COVID is tough.
Is collaborative music-making something that you’ve always naturally been able to do, or is it something that you’ve had to encourage yourself to do?
I think I had to encourage myself because I’ve always loved organising things and putting on events and bringing people together. But mainly because I feel so lucky to witness creative people doing what they love. And that was always the main thing and that enthusiasm is just very infectious. And you can be behind the situations, but there comes a point where you are wasting the opportunity to make some really special work. So I almost forced myself to get over it through these residencies and events.
Yeah, definitely. It must be such a difficult situation to be in as a soloist, because how much influence can you naturally take from those around you? If you’re in a band you would naturally collaborate with other people. So I guess that it helps to have someone like Lucy Lu to guide you through that?
Yeah, I think it’s been an interesting process, because while obviously Luke has collaborated a lot in his work with a lot of different artists, and he feels very comfortable in that, I’m a bit shyer. And especially with the first EP, I knew what sound I wanted for the songs and I had a very clear vision and I wanted to do it a certain way. So it was a very individualistic project in a way. So yeah, this collaboration with Luke has been really interesting because he’s been working on his album, so we’ve both been able to bring stuff to each other’s projects that really might not have been there had there not been a pandemic.
And how have you found the process of writing songs about your relationship alongside your partner?
It’s very therapeutic in a way. Very honest. I think in the process of writing these songs we have found a way of communicating and a way of working. I mean, it’s hard being with someone who works in the same field as you and who shares so much interest, but obviously, we’re different people so we have different ways of working. And I think we really had to work out a way of communicating in this shared space and working together because we both know we can do it and we both respect and admire each other as musicians. But we’ve never really found a way to work together, because we’re both very stubborn as well. So I think writing these songs has opened up a space that we didn’t have before. And obviously, it’s been very challenging to work on songs like ‘Black Bees’ and ‘Bring Me The Mountain’ because they are songs about stuff that is very personal to us, that sometimes you don’t know whether you should put it out there and be talking about it with everybody.
So this is the second release you’ve had on Slow Dance, who have also collaborated with some exciting and up-and-coming artists like black midi, Jockstrap, and Sorry. Does it feel exciting to be part of that roster or are you quite humbled by it as well?
I’m definitely very humbled by it. I lived in London for like two years – and when I decided to move back to Spain, the week after I got back, Darius from Slow Dance got in contact. So it’s been incredible, I admire their work so much, they work with incredible artists and it does feel humbling. And at the same time, I’m really sad that I haven’t been able to enjoy it as much this year because I know that their label really enjoys putting on live music and have got incredible artists who do incredible live music shows. But yeah, I’m excited for when that comes back.
So if you are living in Barcelona, what is the plan when lockdowns start easing and live shows become more prevalent? Would you be willing to split your time between Spain and the UK or would feel like you needed to settle down in one space for the purpose of doing live shows?
Lockdown has made it possible to work from anywhere so I feel very happy working from here and being able to go back and forth. I think that’s going to be the plan, to be able to combine my time but also just knowing that it is possible to work outside of the big city. I’m in the countryside at the moment, so it’s really nice to know that I can work outside of London but still dip into it and enjoy it.
Have you got any plans for live shows in the future, or given the current situation is recorded music something you’re focusing on at the moment?
Yeah, I’m focusing on shows, I’m rehearsing a lot for when shows come back. We’re very lucky here in Spain in that live music has been one of their priorities for the economy. So last summer I was able to play quite a few shows, all socially distanced and masked, it’s a really weird experience. But I think for this year, at least for the first part of this year, I am looking at staying put and just working on writing.
To close, what sort of music are you listening to at the moment?
Oh, I have to check my playlist. I have massive playlists that last for hours with loads and loads of different things. Like, I’m listening to quite a lot of Spanish music, there is a Spanish rapper called Gata Cattana and she died really young but her work was incredible. I’ve been really hooked on a London artist called Sola, she just released her debut EP. And a lot of old-school Brazillian music.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Uma’s The Moth & the Dove is out April 9 via Slow Dance Records.