Hemlocke Springs Isn't Daydreaming Anymore

Hemlocke Springs Isn't Daydreaming Anymore

By Tobias HessNov 29, 2023

Hemlocke Springs was supposed to go to Stonehenge. Unfortunately, she woke up too late and missed the bus. It’s a bummer. This was one of her only days off in a long and grueling European tour and she was really looking forward to some respite, some moment to revel in the whirlwind. This is the gig, she’s realizing. Being a working musician, and a notable one at that, is different from what she was imagining when she was writing songs, dancing on TikTok and daydreaming in her North Carolina home just a year ago. Stonehenge will have to wait. She has an interview with PAPER to do. Not too shabby.

Few musicians in recent memory have had a year like Springs. After she posted a TikTok that featured her her dancing with awkward enthusiasm to her soon-to-be hit "Girlfriend," Springs’s profile rapidly skyrocketed. Her charming eccentricity and daydreamer persona positioned her as relatable enough for the average listener to buy into, but still strangely iconoclastic enough to be more than just another bedroom TikTok singer. She went on to release a slew of strong singles that evoked a wide range of genres: 2010s indie pop, the cyber-inflected funk of the 1980s, the bouncing rhythms of Timbaland and The Neptunes. All of this culminated in a well-received EP going…going…GONE! and a series of memorable music videos that developed Springs’s aesthetic of lovably twee chaos.

PAPER talked with Springs about her wild year, her impressions of an often craven music industry and staying singular in a world that favors the blasé.

You’re on your first tour right now. I know it can be quite grueling. What’s the experience been like for you?

It's been interesting. I guess I’m starting to find my tour balance because I didn't really know what to expect. This one's been tough. I'm not gonna lie [laughs]. First tours usually are, so this one is wearing me down. I feel old!

I mean that makes sense. Also, this is your first tour and you're doing a much bigger tour than most experience their first time on the road.

Am I really? Wow [laughs]. I mean It's been tough, but it's also been very rewarding to see the audience and meet people who are fans of the music. So who am I to complain, you know?

I just was looking through all of your work, and we’re just past the one year anniversary of the TikTok video that blew "Girlfriend" up. How did it feel looking back at that video? Is that a different person than the person I’m speaking to today?

Honestly, I think I was being really hard on myself for the last couple of months since I got to Europe. Then I looked [at that video] and I'm like, This is you a year ago, fam!You should have a little bit of mercy on yourself! I just look back like, Who knew that this would be life and this would be how things go? It's honestly great. I felt very blessed looking back and seeing that little girl — well, I say “little girl” but she was 23 — but seeing that little girl dance her heart out, not knowing what’s to come.

Did you have an inkling or intuition about what was about to happen, or was this virality completely out of the blue?

It was very out of the blue. I was so confused going through it. People were like, “How does it feel?” And I was like, “I don't know, I'm going through the feelings right now!” It's cool to talk about it in hindsight, but I had no clue. If I would have known that I would be in this position, I would have talked to my mom growing up and said: “Put me in dancing lessons. Put me in piano lessons. I’m going to do something with it, I swear!” But it’s fine, I don’t hold grudges.

A lot of people blow up on TikTok. And that’s a huge accomplishment in and of itself, but to sustain that momentum and develop a fanbase and aesthetic that people can buy into, well, that’s a much harder thing to do. And in my opinion, you're one of the few people who's done that off of TikTok. After "Girlfriend" blew up, how did you think about sustaining that momentum?

I know people can just drop off after these viral moments, so I was like, I need to constantly communicate with the people who are still listening to my music. If fans were asking questions, I tried to be like, “Okay. If you wanna know how to play the bridge to "Girlfriend", I'll walk you through it.” Stuff like that. I did a lot of [TikTok] lives to try to be like, I'm an actual person and I want to connect with you and get to know you. And I think through that I was able to keep people’s attention, because I knew that things would drop off. Viral moments only happen for a moment. Engagement will drop off. Things will drop off, but you can still build. It takes time and effort, but I have all the time in the world and I will put effort into things I really want to do. And this is something I really want to pursue, because I don’t think this opportunity comes a lot.

And you were a grad student at the time, right?

Yeah I was a grad student, which I think added to this feeling of, What is happening? I was like, Ok, I'll take a year off and then I'll go and do my PhD. I wanted to do a PhD in biology. I still kind of do. I’m not going to even front with you [laughs]. So that was the plan, but now it’s not the plan. And then after all that, I had to tell the family, “Hey I’m a musician now!”

What did they say?

They were confused, but I think they're less confused now. I think they’re just more worried about my safety. My mom will be like, “Where are you? When are you leaving? Where are you staying?” At the beginning there was a lot of worry, because they didn't know who to go to. With other things, they could be like, Oh my friend’s daughter is doing a PhD. I can talk to her. But now they’re like, We know nobody in music. We literally don't know how you got to this point, so we can't help you. I don’t have a child, but the thought of not being able to help your child is really scary, I’m sure. So they were definitely worried. They're still a little bit worried, but they're like, Okay, we trust you.

But they get that you’re extremely successful, right?

Yeah, they’re like, You’re definitely pretty doing well for someone who started a year ago. So they have some faith in me. So thanks guys.

And music was just a pure hobby before all of this?

Yeah, I mean I couldn't play sports and I just wanted to stay on my computer in my room. [Learning to make music] was bound to happen.

So you’re in grad school and the song blows up. What was the moment where you say, I have to make a choice right now about my career?

It was when "Girlfriend" came out, because I had literally two weeks until my grad journey was over. So I was like, Okay, I could go do another grad thing or I could stick with music, and now I’m here. I think if I was early on in my program, I would have made a different decision. But I think because it was so late in the program, my friends were like, “You’re kind of stupid if you go [the grad] route. You should at least try this.”

You were living in North Carolina when "Girlfriend" came out. I imagine that now you find yourself in New York and Los Angeles, where the music industry is. What was it like to spend time in these new cities and in the industry?

I've been to LA for non-music stuff, but going for music was not the vibe. I think it’s because that’s where music is. In North Carolina, I had the excuse of space, like, I can't meet up with you because I am here and you’re over there. But when I was there, I kept having to meet people. Tobias, I’m not even gonna front: I can stay in my room for months at a time. And I felt like when I was in LA, as soon as I stepped out of the door, it was just: bam, people! So LA is not the vibe for me. New York is more of the vibe for me, but even then, I just like the quietness of the country, which is weird because I do not want to go back to Concord, North Carolina where I'm from. But in terms of what's best for me music-wise, that place is honestly the best.

In LA, it sounds like you saw “The Music Industry” and did these more professional sessions for the first time. You were coming from the outside. What were the main things you noticed when engaging with that beast?

Oh my gosh. It's just so business-ey. It can really take the fun out of music. Once I got there, I understood why people want to get out, because it’s just not fun at all. I still go through bouts like, Do I even want to be here? So definitely the first step was working to get out of LA and away from where “music people” were. I was like, You just need to be alone, because if you're here and if you're in these places, then you're going to be in this very negative headspace. You meet these label people and it’s like, You’re talking. You’re saying words. But I don’t even know what you’re saying. I just want to have fun with this. We’re only here for a short time, let’s not take things too seriously!

You have such a strong aesthetic and your references are so unique. Also, I can tell you really love the music that inspires you. How did you hold on to that and find collaborators that didn't want to dim that within you?

I didn’t necessarily find people as much as they found me. For example, I collaborate with BURNS a lot. He found me after I released my first song, and he was kind of like, “I don't wanna mess with this. I just wanna help you see your vision through.” And I think when it starts like that, it turns out really good. There are some producers that I was able to work with, and I think it worked because I was able to go up to the computer and be like “No, no, no, no. This is not it.” I felt comfortable to be in their space and share what I really wanted.

Do you have a dream collab?

Can I say Blood Orange? I really enjoy him. I say it and I’m like, It’s never going to happen. But I’ll put it out there.

Well, it’s now in PAPER so . . .

I’m dead! [laughs] Thanks!

When "Girlfriend" was blowing up people were saying it was part of this Indie Sleaze revival, and comparing it to Santigold and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Did that feel accurate?

I had no idea what it was! I looked it up. I was like, what is this Indie Sleaze? But then I was like, these are great songs! To be considered in such a genre is cool. I was honestly chill with it. But I’m not going to front, I didn’t know what it was.

I was looking back at some of the early TikToks that were using "Girlfriend" and there was this huge thread of Black women creators using the song to say: “this is for alt Black girls or ‘weird’ Black girls.” It really became an anthem for people. I’m curious how that hit you personally? That’s a lot to take in.

Hell yeah. I was very proud. I get a lot of people saying to me, “Where were you during my childhood?” Especially now that I’m meeting people in person [on tour]. To be able to add such great representation . . . I'm honestly honored. It hit me in the feels.

I feel like a lot of your music is about daydreaming. I mean you said that you can spend all your time in your room, just thinking. So the music often explores that push and pull between fear and desire. And now, you're living out a dream of sorts. So I'm just curious, what is writing like now that you’re living out the daydream?

I still write about what I explored in the past, but maybe it's a bit more amplified. It's almost like you're living a dream, but dreams are sometimes not what you think they are. That's kind of what I've been writing about. I feel like I've been writing more serious stuff, which is cool, but also I feel like I have to get the serious stuff out in order to get to the fun stuff. I'm just allowing myself to process what's going on.

You said you’re processing the reality of living this dream versus what you thought it was going to be like. What's the biggest difference that you're sorting through?

I think I severely underestimated how greedy I am, but also how greedy people around me are, especially people who already have money. I think I always knew that I was greedy to an extent, but the presence of money can change you. I’m like, this is becoming more serious than I wanted it to be! I think it’s on a very miniscule level. For other people, it can be on a very big level. I’m still growing, don’t get me wrong. I’m not balling or anything. But yeah, I’ll leave it there.

No, that's really interesting. A lot of artists don't talk about that. It's so hard to make money in the first place, especially touring, so I think that’s really cool that you can name that. Do you have a dream for this? Do you see what you want this to be?

Totally! Oh, I said that so confidently and I know I’m not that confident [laughs]. I want an album release hopefully next year. I’ve been working on it in conjunction with the EP, which was a choice. Ugh, that was such a choice! There was one particular song that people are like, “Why isn't this on the EP?” They’re going to find out why. I think fans will understand when listening to everything together, and be like, “You made the right call, Hemlocke.”