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Student taps into her nightmares for inspiration for her music

Fourth-year neuroscience student Subi Umakanth makes somber music inspired by fictional storylines that take place in her own dreams. In one of her upcoming singles, “Tim,” she said she follows a seven-year-old boy named Tim and takes place in a natural forest environment. Through her emotional lyrics, Umakanth said she hopes to intrigue listeners through the empathy they feel listening to her music. (Ashley Kenney/Daily Bruin)

By Alyssa Wheeler

Nov. 6, 2019 10:32 p.m.

Twisted dreams often inspire Subi Umakanth’s somber music.

These dreams led Umakanth to Los Angeles, where she said she has made an effort to hone her songwriting process by focusing on herself as an individual artist. The fourth-year neuroscience student and indie singer-songwriter first trained in contemporary music at the Institute of Music Technology in her hometown of Chennai, India. Since then, she has embraced her lifelong love of songwriting to tell stories from fictionalized perspectives based on her dreams, she said.

“It’s using characters to explore the universality of the human condition and human emotion,” Umakanth said. “At the end of the day, I want to evoke something totally visceral.”

Despite her happy persona, Umakanth said her emotionally charged lyrics are more somber and morbid. She credits this to the dark, demented dreams that often serve as a jumping-off point when she starts writing a new song. Using the disturbed characters of her subconscious, Umakanth said she starts writing by taking time to put herself into the mind of the dream’s character. The thoughts and feelings of these dream-based characters serve as Umakanth’s lyrical basis.

One such whimsically somber song is her upcoming single, “Tim,” she said. Taking place in a natural forest environment, the track follows the death of a wise seven-year-old boy named Tim, and is told from the perspective of a young woman mourning this loss.

“Wisdom isn’t something that you usually associate with a young person, but that’s the point of ‘Tim,’” Umakanth said. “You can learn a lot from different perspectives.”

[Related: Hayden Everett notes key measures in dynamic process behind debut EP]

Inspiration for “Tim” came to Umakanth when she vividly visualized a boy laying in the grass, she said. The vision’s simple landscape consisted of a river, billowing trees and plush green grass cushioning the young boy. The curious scene prompted Umakanth to ponder how she would feel if this character died, she said. And as she thought, she said she finished the song within 30 minutes, though she usually takes several days or months to write.

In each of her songs, Umakanth’s stories elicit a powerful response from the listener, said fourth-year cognitive science student and Umakanth’s roommate, Hetvi Doshi. Like “Tim,” many of Umakanth’s melancholic lyrics revolve around loss, pain or heartbreak, and Doshi said her haunting vocals add to the song’s overall piercing sound.

“The way (Umakanth) is able to write these songs and create these stories without having been a participant in them requires a very vivid imagination,” Doshi said. Her songs are based on these random dreams that most of us forget when we wake up, but she’s able to translate them into beautiful poetry.”

Umakanth’s poetic and emotionally raw lyricism drew producer Micah Plissner to her, he said. As an artist, Umakanth is authentic, fearless and extremely committed to writing songs about seldom talked-about subjects, Plissner said.

“Whenever you have an artist that’s true to their soul and has the skill and talent like (Umakanth), they should be heard,” Plissner said. “True originality is rare, it’s personal and powerful, and that’s what (Umakanth) has.”

[Related: Musician explores bedroom pop, strikes a chord with independently produced single]

By crafting such pithy and emotional lyrics, Umakanth said she hopes to gain the attention of audiences through the empathy they feel when listening to her songs. Her intent, she said, is to use her music to portray the thread of the human condition, where all people are universally connected through the emotions.

“I definitely want people to listen to what I am saying and think about the lyrics,” Umakanth said. “I want every word and sentence to have meaning and the placement of every word to have purpose. I’m hoping listening to my songs evokes emotions in other people.”

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Alyssa Wheeler
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