umru on ‘comfort noise,’ SOPHIE’s Legacy, and the Delicate Balance Between Comfortable and Uncomfortable

umru is booked and busy. The Brooklyn artist is on tour, he’s working as a graphic designer, he’s featuring on or remixing songs for other artists, he’s doing 7-hour DJ sets b2b EVERYONE.

While he’s no longer going to school on weekdays on the weekend 4aming (he graduated), the artist is still churning out work. A tumultuous four years have passed in this universe since his last EP, search result, and he’s ready to make his mark again with a new project.

“I was working on it for most of that time,” he says of his aforementioned busy few years. “‘comfort noise,’ the track, is from already three years ago, at least when I started that. Last summer was when I consciously was like, ‘okay, I have all these songs. I'm gonna finish 'em all up in one kind of style and try and make it work together.’”

umru with laser eyes in space

Graphic by Zoe Axelrod, press photos by Benita Leong and umru

umru built a name for himself throughout internet music scenes by pushing his sound up to 10 (and then some). Caroline Polachek’s breathy and melodic “Ocean of Tears” turns into a high-speed car chase towards an uncertain fate, wheels screeching and pulse racing. A maybe-joking, maybe-serious remix of Drake’s “Forever” verse becomes a fun-house mirror electronic banger, the track and vocals threatening to swallow each other up at the same time.

He’s driven by creating something completely unique, although he does cite what he refers to as “obvious influences” to his music, one of them being the legendary SOPHIE.

“I'm definitely trying to do something that sounds new or different at least,” he says. “But also just not usually thinking about it that hard. I'm usually just making stuff that I like. That does happen to always be heavily inspired by [SOPHIE].”

“I'm definitely trying to make it my own thing and not sound too much like anything else,” he says. But consistency is also a major goal in his music. At one point, he realized that embracing the influences he’s always held dear was a way to keep SOPHIE’s legacy alive.

“I got less worried about sounding too much like SOPHIE.” he explains. “I talked to Cashmere Cat about it, around when she passed away, and it was sort of like, he was kind of realizing too — we have to keep using these sounds.”

“He was talking about specifically using the SOPHIE samples that he has and all the stuff that he's worked on with her,” he says. “He was kind of like, ‘yeah, we have to keep trying to do music that sounds like this, cause there’s not anyone to do it.’"

That commitment found its way into comfort noise by way of the effects he used throughout — like on the eerie, teeth-gnashing Tommy Cash and 645AR collaboration “check1.”

“I like a lot of the laser-like percussion and stuff,” he says. “I might not have done that earlier. I would've been like, ‘this sounds too close to something,’ but I kind of felt I wanted to include stuff like that, even if I knew it wasn't the most original sounding thing.”

While umru’s repertoire includes a lot of production work for other artists, he pulled and created tracks specifically for comfort noise to represent the best of his abilities as a producer and collaborator.

“It was very much piecing together stuff that I'd done as a producer for other people and trying to represent myself through it,” he says.

Collaboration is an important part of comfort noise, as only the title track lists umru as the sole artist. “Heart2,” a harsh twist on a tender pop anthem, features the musician’s partner Petal Supply and viral sensation-turned-hyperpop-ingenue Rebecca Black. The song mirrors another successful umru collaboration: “popular” with Laura Les, a standout track in the artist’s portfolio.

“Rebecca was recorded on it after, so Petal Supply wrote the initial song and recorded it,” he explains. “She basically just did two different sections, so what's now the main section and then the bridge part, were both recorded over the same instrumental, the part with no chord progression.”

“In a way it's really similar to “popular,” where the whole song was written over no chord progression, whatsoever, just kind of a “drop”. I ended up building that second bridge section over the second version of vocals that she had recorded,” he says.

As much as collaboration is built into umru’s career and his most recent project, he does portray a sense of vulnerability in a few songs where his voice and production stand alone. In fact, the only other relatively recent umru song with only the artist’s own vocals is an emotional cover of “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye,” shared by umru the day after SOPHIE’s passing.

“wasn't even planning on sharing this it was just an impulse i had to try recording today” umru said in a tweet with a link to the song.

Speaking about “comfort noise,” the title track of the project, umru says: “I almost didn't include the vocal thing I did over it — it was just a one time idea. Like, ‘what if?’”

“I wasn't writing anything for it. I was just kind of thinking, ‘what if I recorded on it?’ I ended up keeping it. I figured it would be potentially still more effective to actually have some sort of song over the instrumental, even if it's very simple.” he says.

“It definitely was kind of vulnerable,” he explains. “I didn't wanna think about it too much, because as soon as I started thinking about it, I was like, ‘I should just not release this, cause someone else could do it better.’ I'm glad I included it. It's a special little moment.”

As a visual artist as well as a musical one, umru’s musical projects are often arranged around visual themes, which he credits to designer Sam Rolfes. As his music can be both highly melodic and enchanting, while also somewhat industrial and harsh, it was important for the visual themes of comfort noise to reflect that balance.

“Sam [decided] that we need to figure out some sort of narrative or idea,” umru says of the visual process. “I mean, it's very simple. The concept is just comfort. So, playing with things that look comfortable and also uncomfortable. But that idea was there from the beginning.”

“He had that material already and that was the same texture of that material is in all the artwork, but in different lighting.” he says. “It's specifically completely synthetic. It's not really simulating anything in real life, but also it's super natural and human, because of the way he physically draws and sculpts it most of the time. And in the [“check1”] video, all the motion is recorded physically, which is my favorite combination of things. I feel like that ends up being a theme in my music as well.”

comfort noise contains a lot of these elements of duality. Comfortable and uncomfortable. Real and unreal. Human and inhuman. It’s not a binary approach to anything, nor is it gray, somewhere in the middle. It has the ability to be both all at once. That is what makes the project, like much of umru’s music, so fascinating — to paraphrase one of his biggest influences, it can truly be anything it wants.

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