Remi Wolf is the pop star we deserve: “I never questioned it. I let my freak flag fly”

On her second album ‘Big Ideas’, Remi Wolf dives head-first into a whirlwind of emotions and experiences, crafting a genre-bending masterpiece that showcases just why she’s one of the very best pop stars ‘around’.

Words: Martyn Young.
Photos: Derek Bremner.

“It’s been an absolutely wild ride.” Remi Wolf has been busy, very busy, putting in the pop star hours as she notches up show after show and highlight after highlight, all the while continuing to establish herself as one of the most brilliantly colourful and creative minds in pop. “I’ve been doing this now for five years, which is crazy; that’s a significant portion of my life by this point,” she says almost breathlessly from a lovely leafy park in early summer Berlin, where she’s on tour supporting Olivia Rodrigo and sprinkling the seeds of her really very excellent second album ‘Big Ideas’. 

Remi has crammed an awful lot into those five years, first emerging with her own brand of lo-fi idiosyncratic alt-pop jams in 2019 and her first EP, ‘You’re A Dog!’. What was immediately clear was that Remi was a gloriously exuberant and vibrant character. However, some of that playfulness masked all the hard work and sacrifice behind the quirkiness as Remi sought to navigate through the crowded and demanding pop space of the 2020s. “I feel like even after five years I’m still learning what I like, what I don’t like. I’m still learning how I operate best in every capacity when it comes to making music, touring, communicating with my team, having a social life and taking care of myself,” she reflects. 

Taking care of herself is a major thing for Remi, especially considering some of her past issues with alcohol and pushing herself physically in her past life as an actual Olympic athlete, skiing at the Youth Olympic Games. Can you imagine how hard it might be to do skiing properly AND be a certified pop legend? Hats off to Remi. Anyway, now her self-care routine mainly involves yoga and food and very long walks, trying to enjoy the precious little time off she has. While the life of a pop star might seem like impossible fun and frolics, Remi repeatedly emphasises how hard work it is. “It’s an ever-rotating door of new joys and new problems constantly,” she says. “It’s one big problem-solving puzzle. That is life in general, but I’ve been such a busy person. How I would describe my career so far is ‘pretty busy’!” Busyness is wired into the very fibre of Remi’s being. She can’t be anything else, and all that is realised on the album she’s been cooking up for almost two years now. 

‘Big Ideas’ is an instructive title for an artist full of ambition. It’s a statement: a declaration of a new way of working and a blossoming of all of the different facets of Remi’s diverse talents into a dynamic and frequently thrilling genre-expansive collection. “It all comes down to, especially on this album, really leaning into my strengths but then within my strengths letting myself experiment a lot,” she says enthusiastically of her creative vision. The album feels very intuitive; there’s an innate musicality and expressiveness to Remi’s artistry that gives her music a malleable, ever-evolving quality. “My favourite way to write is essentially just jam,” she laughs as she describes the impulsive way that she and her collaborators work. Very much no thoughts, just vibes. Except there are some actually quite deep thoughts, but expressed in a different way. 

“I just wanted to make a bunch of shit and to express myself so bad”

remi wolf

For this record, Remi took on something of a conductor or vibe-channeller-in-chief role as she set about harnessing a team of people working within just the right environment to capture those perfect lightning-in-a-bottle moments. “I let myself do a lot on this record, and I was catering the rooms and catering the people I was working with, the studios I was in, how they were set up, and the flow of the work. I was catering it to this jam-heavy experience,” she explains. “It was very collaborative in that way. Ever since I was little in bands, my favourite way to write music has been to improvise and really rock with my own intuition. On this record, I leaned heavily into that.” 

Where ‘Big Ideas’ really differs in her work though is conceptually and thematicallty in terms of the lyrics and the stories she wanted to tell. “I focused on the songwriting and the storytelling and the honesty. I wanted to open myself up a little bit more to people,” she reflects. “I think that on my past albums, I tended to write really image-focused and metaphorically, which I love, but I’ve realised that sometimes that can create a disconnect between me and the audience in some way or just a disconnect between what I want them to understand about me.” 

There’s something of a skin-shedding quality to this album as Remi casts aside the bright and breezy quirkiness of the ‘Juno’ era and says, hey, actually, there’s a lot more to me than that, and here I am. There’s always been Remi Wolf the character, the over-the-top fun-loving pop star. This time, though, that character has revealed more of themself than ever before. By stripping things back, Remi was able to push things forward. “With this record, I wanted to lift up another screen of myself, which you can hear in the production a lot in the sense that it’s a lot more natural and more analogue. It’s a studio-focused record. In my writing, lyrically, I opened up; I really focused on my songwriting on this record. I wanted to write a bunch of amazing songs that could stand alone with an acoustic guitar but then make them incredibly interesting with the production.” 

These deeper, more emotionally resonant qualities have always been present in Remi’s work, but here they hit differently with more impetus and more stark clarity as she tried to, if not kill off the persona of her early breakthrough but rather refine her public character and give her a new sense of life. “I think there’s a certain feeling towards my music that people hear it and think oh my god it’s so fun blah blah blah and there can be this disconnect between me as an emotional being with feeling. I wanted to show people, yo, I’m out here too, girl. I’m with you,” she says confidently. 

“I’ve always been very self-reflective,” she reveals. “I don’t think it’s a matter of me looking more inward; it’s just me letting it show in a really raw way. On ‘Soup’, I still used metaphors, and I’m still on my whimsy lyrical bullshit in some ways, but there are a lot more lyrics that are straightforward. ‘I don’t want to live without you’ is a very straightforward statement, and I don’t know if I would have said that on previous albums without the intention of being like, ‘Okay, I’m going to reveal something here’, and just have the balls to do it in a way that wasn’t padded under colourful imagery and bouncy sounds.”

While there is more self-reflection and evocative lyricism on the album, crucially, Remi doesn’t sacrifice any of the fun spirit that defines all her work; she’s just developed it in a really clever and sonically invigorating way. The singles ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Toro’ are early examples of the singer having the absolute time of her life as she enjoyed all the freedom to express her artistry. “Every time I’m in the studio, I’m having so much fun. I love it so much,” she cries. “It’s one of the best parts of my life. I truly did have so much fun making this album.” 

“It came about because Boots Riley, the director, really wanted a song for this 7-minute-long sex scene…”

remi wolf

Perhaps the piecemeal creation of the album, written and recorded in between touring gaps, allowed Remi never to get stuck in the slog of months labouring in the studio. Every moment and every sound felt fresh and urgent. An escape from the grind of life on the road. Hard work, of course, but that’s just the way she likes it. “It was quite a task,” she says. “It was an interesting writing process because I’ve been on the road for years now. This album was created in the depths and the throes of my tours in 2022 and 2023. I think I went on 11 or 12 tours in that time. 

“I’d go on tour, write for a week and then leave again. I was literally not home, and when I was home, I was writing this album. It was cool because I was able to come home and shed all this shit that I just experienced. Essentially, do a really intense journal of my life and then go out and experience it again and come back and do it again with a slightly different take because I’d seen five more countries by that point. 

“That was cool because I love to improvise and jam and shit, that time restraint meant that I couldn’t overthink anything. I would get into the studio and write, and I just wanted to make a bunch of shit and wanted to express myself so bad. On tour, you express the same every night. It was almost like a cleanse to get in there.” 

In the studio, Remi worked with a tight-knit group of collaborators who have been with her throughout her career: Jared Solomon, Ethan Gruska and Jack DeMeo. All insanely talented in their own right, but on this album, more than ever, Remi began to lean into more of the Prince role in harnessing and allowing her band to flourish under her direction. She also brought in some more new people to further bolster her sound. 

“The interesting thing was bringing people into my previously existing relationships,” she says. “I brought in Carter Lang on some of the songs. I’d known him for a while but never collaborated with him. It was so organic, we were all at Electric Lady and he was just there and ended up joining the sessions. It was cool to have a really organic way of working with all these different people. It was so fun to see them come into my life. It felt really correct. Luckily all these people have a very similar outlook on music making as I do and they’re very free. It came together really beautifully. I was able to foster those relationships and foster the rest of the writing process with them.” 

A transitional moment in the album’s creative journey was when Remi released the standalone 7-minute epic ‘Prescription’, a huge gospel-tinged anthem that pointed the way to the broader sonic palette used on ‘Big Ideas’. “I wrote that song while I was writing this album. It was one of those days when we were writing and writing,” she explains. “That was definitely a departure from ‘Juno’ with the sound. It came about because Boots Riley, the director, really wanted a song for this 7-minute-long sex scene in this show that he made. He called me and said, ‘Yo, I need a song for a sex scene’, and I said, ‘Oh yeah, I can do that’. 

“In terms of it being a precursor to the record and the process of making the record, it was really good for me to have done that before I finished the rest of the album. We put so much work into it. We did a live band arrangement on it with all the horns and the organs and fucking keyboards and guitars. The fact we worked hard on it and really liked it was validating and empowering in the sense that, okay, I can do live band arrangements, and it’s really fun.” 

That fun quality carried over into the up-tempo funk jams of tracks like lead single ‘Cinderella’, where Remi and the band used the same horn section to sprinkle a little bit of magic as the live band cut loose. Indeed, the live band is one of the things that will define this era for Remi as she looks to bring the expanded nine-piece line-up she debuted at last year’s Coachella out on her album tours and really bring the big band musicality of ‘Big Ideas’ to life. “I want to bring this album to people in a way that I feel it deserves to be represented. Live is going to be very important. There’s going to be a lot of touring and live shit,” she says excitedly. 

A further development on ‘Big Ideas’ is the sheer power and versatility of Remi’s voice. In short, she sounds fucking amazing throughout as she uses her voice in different ways to match the fluctuating sonic moods, whether it’s pristine 80s-style Carly Rae Jepsen ‘Emotion’-era perfect pop, or some lo-fi acoustic ballads that could have come from a long-lost indie-pop album on K Records in the 90s, to straight up funk-pop monsters. Whether she’s lithe and funky on ‘Cinderella’ or absolutely shredding on the anthemic ‘Alone In Miami’, Remi and her voice constantly have your attention. 

“I love using my voice as an instrument,” she exclaims. “I love getting different tones and putting on all these vocal characters. I really love playing in that sense, or else I feel like I’d be so fucking bored. I wrote these songs, and every time I wrote a song, there would be a new voice that would come out. I never questioned it. I let my freak flag fly. My voice on ‘Kangaroo’ is nuts. It’s giving British but New York, Strokesy thing. On ‘Alone in Miami’, I’m just going crazy 90s rasp situation,” she laughs. 

“There’s been a drastic shift in women ruling the industry, which is very fucking sick”

remi wolf

Five years might not seem a long time but in the hyperspeed world of pop music in the social age it might as well be a lifetime. It figures then that the pop landscape Remi is returning to might feel a little bit different. 

“One incredibly noticeable thing right now is there’s lots of women,” she says proudly. “Women are leading the industry right now. Especially since I started my career, there’s been a drastic shift in women ruling the industry, which is very fucking sick.” 

Remi is part of what feels like a sea change in pop with a new generation of diverse and inventive artists cultivating their own destinies, from SZA to Chappell Roan to Sabrina Carpenter, and old and current touring partners of Remi in Lorde and Olivia Rodrigo, we’re living in exciting times. 

“Pop music and pop stars are coming back in an extreme way, which is really interesting to see,” says Remi. For the actual artists living through this moment, though, it comes with its own unique challenges as they try to stay grounded and present in their own artistry. “I try not to pay too much attention to what other people are doing because a lot of the time it freaks me out,” admits Remi. “You can get into this deafening comparison hole, and I try not to go there a lot of the time. It can be hard. With all that said, I think there’s some really good music being put out right now. “ 

One area of the pop world that nobody can avoid is the power of TikTok. Fortunately, it’s a medium through which such a visually arresting person as Remi feels at home. “TikTok is the leader of all in terms of the song. It started happening around the time I started coming up, but it’s crazy that TikTok is the new radio. It’s definitely different. It’s a completely different landscape. I feel like the landscape changes every year in some capacity.” 

As things change, though, Remi increasingly tries to focus on the basic principles of self-expression and honesty that define her work. “In my mind, in order to make myself feel good and okay at the end of the day, I need to make sure that I like the music I’m making and that I feel completely authentic in everything at all times,” she says clearly. “Those are my goals. When I’m listening to other people’s music, the stuff that resonates the most is the stuff that feels really deeply authentic and unchanged by the climate of the music industry at the time, and whatever the hell is going on that’s the newest thing to pop your music off on. I love when an artist is tried and true and feels really authentic. Adrianne Lenker and Big Thief have been a beacon of light for me. She’s an amazing writer and she lays it down how she is. I love that.” 

While some aspects of the current pop moment might feel daunting there’s definitely an appreciation that it allows opportunities for a creative artist like Remi, working sometimes directly and sometimes on the margins of the pop mainstream to carve out their own lane in their own distinct image, similarly to how someone like Bjork forged her own wildly creative path in the 90s. 

“There’s so much more space for everybody,” she says. “In a lot of ways, the music industry has gotten a lot more niched-out because there are so many more artists, which is incredible because people can really find their audience that wants to ride with them. I feel lucky that I’ve found a fanbase that fucks with what I’m doing, and I hope that people keep fucking with it. I’m just grateful to be here.” 

So, five years in, has Remi started to think about what her legacy might be? “I have honestly never thought about that,” she laughs with typically blunt honesty. Really though the future for Remi will take care of itself. Already a star, she’s primed for the next level as long as she stays true to herself. 

“My goal at all times is to be as authentic and as honest and be myself as much as possible,” she says passionately. “That’s what I want to do. Whenever I even stray away from that in any capacity, I get a pit in my stomach and have to recalibrate. As an artist, you have to make so many decisions, whether it be in the music or the creative for a post on Instagram or your tour creative, what your setlist is going to be, or what eye makeup you’re going to wear. There are so many fucking decisions that it can be easy to let some of them slide, but I want to feel 100% behind everything that I do. I want to keep getting more and more honest and learning more and more about myself. If that creates some sort of legacy, then God bless.” ■

Taken from the July 2024 issue of Dork. Remi Wolf’s album ‘Big Ideas’ is out 12th July.


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