Becoming a professional singer was not Hemlocke Springs’ plan. Born Isimeme Udu in Concord, North Carolina, the budding star had more academic plans for her future: After getting a biology degree from Spelman and thinking about a career in the medical field, her interest in bioinformatics led her to the Master of Science degree from Dartmouth.
“In my first couple months here, I was starting to think med school is not for me,” she says with a laugh. She’s speaking to Rolling Stone from her current apartment near Dartmouth’s campus before she moves back home to North Carolina. “My thing was like ‘I’m gonna do medical research, maybe get some papers in, and then I can do my PhD somewhere.”
But music lingered in the background of Udu’s life. She did choir in middle school and was introduced to GarageBand by a friend in high school. She toyed around with the program, eventually investing in Logic while in college.
“It was kind of a stress mechanism,” she explains. “Whenever I just wanted to get things out, I was just like ‘I’ll just go on Logic.’ But it was never anything concrete. Just a hobby.”
Around the time she started making songs on GarageBand and Logic, Udu became obsessed with Eighties music. She had grown up loving EDM like Cascada and Calvin Harris as well as K-pop groups like BTS and EXO, but a Spotify recommendation of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” sent her into a nostalgia-fueled synth-pop rabbit hole that reshaped her taste and musical inspiration.
As she was beginning her program at Dartmouth, Udu began to wonder if she should let people hear the songs that were becoming more fully formed realities. She would put a song up on SoundCloud only to immediately delete it soon after. Then, one day, she got tired of giving up so quickly.
“I’ve always been reticent about revealing that I sing and do Logic on the side,” she explains. Around the start of this year, she made a resolution to own it and start even telling her friends. “I just wanted to get rid of that feeling of embarrassment.”
In the spring, Udu, under the name Hemlocke Springs, released a demo called “Jacob” that was then followed by “Gimme All Ur Luv,” an indie romance of a song with one of the year’s dreamiest choruses. It was written during a time she was really depressed, taking three of her hardest classes. She was avoiding an assignment for one of those classes and recovering from a bout of Covid when she stayed up late one night to write out the track. It ended up changing her life.
“I was just kind of getting into TikTok,” she says. She saw how independent artist promoted their own songs on there and thought that she might as well try it herself. “I posted it. And I went to sleep. And I woke up and it got more views than I thought it was going to get.”
She thought about deleting the video but something told her not to. “I put the phone down and remember waking up and saw Grimes commented on it.”
Since then, Udu’s whole life has begun to shift. She had an internship she needed to focus on this past summer and of course her final stretch of classes in her masters program. She didn’t want to give up her education just yet. But in the meantime, she put some of her focus on what could be, signing with managers and beginning to think about her next song. In September, she entered the studio with a producer for the first time.
“I’m just used to doing it in the corner of my room,” she says. “Even though it was a bit more elaborate it didn’t feel too big.”
They worked on two songs that ended up getting “harsh feedback” from her friends. One pointed out how much better the demo version of “Girlfriend” sounded instead of the studio take. She listened, got the self-produced take mixed and mastered, then dropped a preview while en route to a Halloween party.
“Girlfriend” has amassed over a million Spotify streams and over 50,000 videos with the song’s avant-garde bridge soundtracking all kinds of content. Many of the videos just simply rave about how damn good the song is.
“People are saying this reminds them of a Prince song, and I’m like ‘Prince?!’ I’m just a small country girl!”
She was particularly moved when she saw a video of someone saying that it’s a great song for “stimming,” or self-stimulatory behavior, that people on the autism spectrum often use as a form of physical release. She also felt seen by people calling it an “awkward Black girl anthem.
“Those in particular really resonated with me a lot,” she says. “I’m just happy people are listening to it.”
Udu hasn’t ruled out a PhD just yet but she is also very thrilled to see where her music career takes her. She wants to release an album soon and maybe even perform.
“Now that I have the opportunity to do it, I’m like ‘Oh shoot, yeah! Let’s go for it!’”