Remi Wolf: Quiet on set

Remi Wolf may not consider herself strictly ‘a pop star’, but with one of the biggest, most fun records of the year so far, we certainly do. There’s no room for boring here.

Remi Wolf may not consider herself strictly ‘a pop star’, but with one of the biggest, most fun records of the year so far, we certainly do. There’s no room for boring here.

Words: Ali Shutler.
Photography and set design: Haley Appell.
Stylist: Joanie Del Santo.
Makeup: Francie Tomalonis.
Lighting: Byron Nickelberry.
Set design assistants: Cameron Nawaz and Mike Teeps.

Remi Wolf’s 2019 debut EP, ‘You’re A Dog!’ was a giddy, kaleidoscopic blitz of young love, messy nights out and newfound freedoms, while 2020’s ‘I’m Allergic To Dogs!’ was just as turbulent, all sticky floors and smeared lipstick delivered over a rotating guest list of disco, jazz, funk, rock, indie and pop from across years. In fact, the only thing Remi didn’t dabble in was dullness.

Debut album ‘Juno’ is just as electrifying. It’s named after Remi’s own pet, an adorable French bulldog that sat with her in the studio as “an emotional support dog” while she wrote eleven of the record’s thirteen tracks (the other two are older). Is that title her way of telling fans she’s moving beyond self-destruction and finally embracing the things that are good for her?

“You’re reading way too much into it, dude,” she grins as we put our whiteboard away. “I just wanted to dedicate the album to my dog. ‘You’re A Dog!’ was just an inside joke I had with my friends that would take far too long to explain. For some reason, I decided to continue that joke through the second EP and then I happened to get a dog. It really is not connected.”

She’s just as frank when asked if she considers herself a pop star. “You know what, I have no idea. If we’re talking conventional pop stars like Madonna, Cher, then no. But then, I don’t really know what a pop star is. Kurt Cobain was a pop star, but I’m no Cobain either.”

And while ‘Volkiano’, a folk drum and bass track from ‘Juno’, sees her call herself a freak, it isn’t a label that lingered beyond that song. “Sometimes I feel like a freak but so does everyone. It’s hard to define yourself. I think I’m just a lot of everything.”

True to form, Remi’s debut album is just as wonderfully muddled. Songs about depression, sobriety, family, friends and self-reflection share the same dancefloor as she delivers a soundtrack that doesn’t waste time ripping up the pop rulebook. Instead, it exists in a club all of its own.

“A lot of the songs ended up sounding psychotic, but I love it”

Remi Wolf

There’s a palpable excitement around Remi’s debut. She found herself on a lot of people’s playlists thanks to ‘Photo I.D.’ and its Dominic Fike-featuring remix, but that spotlight soon found people vibing with ‘Disco Man’, ‘Woo!’ and ‘Cheesin”, proving there was more to Remi than her 15 viral minutes of fame. “It’s crazy I have fans even waiting for songs,” she starts. “I’m feeling a lot of things right now. It can be a lot of pressure, and I really hope they like the album,” she continues before changing pace. “So far, I’ve been getting a lot of great responses, and I think it’s good. Hopefully, they like my energy and can feed off of it. I’m just trying to be myself as much as I can.”

At age eight, Remi Wolf started training to be a competitive skier, eventually competing in two youth Olympic games, but aged 15, she wrote her first song. A track called ‘Carousel’, she and her friend Chloe would perform it at open mic nights. Spurred on by the positive response, Remi would write more, perform more, and there was no looking back. “I was hooked.”

Teenage bands followed (including one with current producer Jared Soloman), as did an audition for the 13th season of American Idol while she was enrolled in LA’s USC Thornton School of Music.

“I always felt like I wanted to do my own thing,” says Remi, before admitting that she didn’t really know what that would look like. “I didn’t know if I was going to be in a band, work as a songwriter for other people or whatever.” Still, she kept writing songs and eventually found her voice.

“By the time I was 22, I figured out what I wanted to do with my solo thing.” So she took her songs, formed a band and was soon gigging around Los Angeles. “None of those songs are out, and I don’t think any of them will ever see the light of day,” she says. They still had the Remi Wolf vibe but were “a lot more raw, and indie rock-influenced”, because that was what was going on at her school.

Around the same time, though, she reunited with Jared Soloman, and they immediately started writing songs together that felt a lot more like Remi. “We knew it was a thing, and we ran with it.”

“I just go with the flow and follow where my instincts are taking me”

Remi Wolf

After ‘You’re A Dog!’ in 2019, Remi Wolf signed to Island Records, telling the major label not to interfere with her. The ballsy move, she says, “was a big leap on my part, as well as the label’s, to go along with all these ideas… but it’s working.”

Soon after the release of ‘I’m Allergic To Dogs!’, her music really started finding an audience, and things haven’t slowed down since. “I think that COVID was weirdly a perfect backdrop for my music,” starts Remi. “People wanted something to lift their spirits, and that EP was such a dance record. I’d literally made that EP for a live show; I created those songs so that when I played them live, everybody was going to have a fucking fun time. I mean, everyone did end up having fun, just in their houses.

“I have no idea why ‘Photo ID’ caught on so hard, though,” she adds. “That’s just a fluke of the simulation, but I try not to think about it too hard.”

All that streaming success and famous fans like Beck, Camila Cabello and Nile Rodgers hasn’t influenced ‘Juno’. It still sounds distinctly like Remi Wolf, but there’s no ‘Photo ID Again’ or cynical collabs. She’s still herself.

“The success did change things but not at a level where I had enough time to be scared about it,” says Remi. “Now though, with the album done, I’ve had time to process everything that’s gone on in my life over the past two years and holy fuck. Jesus Christ. It’s pretty crazy. I’m definitely feeling the pressure now, knowing there are people who are going to be listening to my songs, but I don’t think I had the time for it to affect my writing process. I was too busy to think about it, really.”

From the brash funk opening of ‘Liquor Store’ (“You got an ice cream cone on your leg motherfucker. I’ve got two fish kissing on my clit motherfucker,” sings Remi, less than a minute into the record), through the playground hip-hop of ‘Quiet On Set’, the soaring dream-pop of ‘Front Tooth’ and the beach punk urgency of ‘Grumpy Old Man’, when Remi says “there’s a lot going on” on ‘Juno’, you better believe her. 

“I’m happy I got sober; It’s been such a blessing in my life”

Remi Wolf

 “Most of it was written during COVID, and that was a very self-reflective time but also a really manic time for me, and everyone really,” she explains. “It’s got this weird balance of mania and self-reflection. It shouldn’t work and a lot of the songs ended up sounding psychotic, but I love it.” 

There was no vision for the album before Remi got into the studio. “Good on you, every artist who has a vision or full-on vibe for their record, but I’m never going to be that person,” she explains. “I just go with the flow and follow where my instincts are taking me.” Every song was written in a day, and once the clock struck midnight, Remi only returned to the tracks to tweak or polish them if they excited her enough. “Every song is a snapshot into what I was feeling when I was writing. It’s basically a little COVID journal for me.”

Inspired by the records and artists she’d turned to for comfort since she was a child – Gwen Stefani, John Mayer, Kacey Musgraves, Amy Winehouse, Nirvana – the writing process for ‘Juno’ was very insular, with “big emo vibes,” she says. “There wasn’t a lot to talk about, except myself and my own experiences. There were times where the music really didn’t sound like me, but I love experimenting. Whether it’s sound, my voice or the lyrics, I love pushing myself to go further and further. I think we ended up with a record that sounds like nothing else. We made something really unique.”

Remi tries to pick out the extremes of the record – suggesting ‘Quiet On Set’, ‘Sally’ and ‘Street You Live On’, before admitting defeat. Every track offers something new, something bold. “It’s a very different sounding record to anything I’ve made before. We’ve made an experimental pop album.”

When lockdown began to ease last June, Remi played a drive-in concert that just happened to be the first gig back in the entire state of Los Angeles. By all accounts, it was a glorious return for her and live music, with the celebrations continuing long into the night. It was one drunken blackout too many, though, and the next day, she asked her family for help. She was soon admitted to rehab and has been sober ever since.

Instead of drinking to cope with industry pressures, Remi’s substance abuse issues were “just a thing I’d been doing for a while,” she reflects. “I decided it was time to get my act together.” She finds it weird that drinking “is so socially acceptable, but once it isn’t serving you anymore, once it becomes a destructive force in your life, that’s when I had to reevaluate what my relationship to alcohol was going to be.”

“My favourite artists are the ones who’ve been able to really help me through hard times”

Remi Wolf

Remi Wolf couldn’t have written this album without being sober. “It allowed me the brain space to reflect on my life. It literally allowed me the sobriety to go a little deeper, get uncomfortable and feel the inner turmoil that I guess I’ve been burying for a long time. It definitely added to that manic sound we were talking about earlier because, throughout the past year, I’ve truly been up and down. It’s been such an emotional rollercoaster. I’m happy I got sober. It’s been such a blessing in my life, but also so hard, especially with getting back into the swing of real life again. Anyone else who is sober, I commend you, and I’m there with you because it is a struggle.”

Remi admits she “went back and forth” about going public with her sobriety. “It is such a personal piece of information, but it’s been such a huge part of my past year. I would feel like I was lying to everybody if I didn’t mention it. Also, there are a lot of young people who go through this, and I want to… inspire them,” says Remi, a little unsure. “I want to keep them going or relate to them. Sobriety and addiction can be such isolating journeys because there really aren’t that many people my age talking about, especially in the music industry. If it makes one person feel better by seeing me talk about it, that’s worth it.”

As well as sobriety, a lot of ‘Juno’ “is about relationships, whether that’s with my friends, my partners or my family. I wanted to explore that and how I play a part in all those relationships.

“I also wrote about mental health and depression. I wrote about depression a lot, actually, and people always get shocked when I say that because ‘my music sounds so happy’, but if you listen to the lyrics, it’s basically ‘everything sucks’. That’s just a reflection of me, though. I love feel-good music, but also, I’m a 25-year-old girl going through stuff over here.”

She wants people to find their own meaning in her stories, “but if my music can change your mood, turn your day around or get you out of a bad place, that’s fucking sick. My favourite artists are the ones who’ve been able to really help me through hard times. Those are the artists that stick with you forever, so if I can be that type of artist to somebody, that’d be awesome.”

“I catch myself subtly trying to destroy my life all the time”

Remi Wolf

As for the visuals, ‘Juno’ is the first time Remi has had this much content to pull from and play with. She wants to make a video for every song on the album (“that’s proving very ambitious of me, but I think we’re going to pull it off”), and the MO is simple – “I want it to be loud, crazy, chaotic and colourful. The more absurd, the better.”

Sober, confident, and unafraid to tell people what she’s really thinking, ‘Juno’ is the sound of someone getting comfortable with who they are and the world around them. That said, Remi still doesn’t feel like she’s found her sound. “It’s just always changing. When I think about my next record, I want to make a country album, a jazz album, a pure pop album, and that changes every day. I’m all over the place, and it’ll probably end up being an amalgamation of all those things. But that’s fine; there are so many things to explore that I never want to box myself in.”

“One thing I know I want to do is go to a cabin in the forest, post up there for two months and see what comes out of that,” she adds. “Let’s talk about what comes after my forest excursion.”

And while her genre is an ever-shifting idea, Remi Wolf is sure she will always make upbeat music. “Feel-good music is what gets me excited about writing. I like feeling good when I’m listening to my own songs, so there’ll always be an element of feel good to it. I don’t think I’m going to go off and make a meditative ambient record. There’s always going to be drums, bass and a lot of harmonies, which are always the most feel-good thing you can add to a song.”

Of course, the former Olympic skier and American Idol contestant has big dreams about where ‘Juno’ takes her. “I’m always going to have high ambitions and high hopes for myself. I’ve always been very driven, and I will take this career as far as I can, but really, I’m just along for the ride. It absolutely is scary because there’s so much unknown around it all.”

“I catch myself subtly trying to destroy my life all the time, and I have to have a strong word with myself,” continues Remi, trying to remain in control. “There are so many artists who get lost in the process, and I’m really scared of that, but my two biggest goals are to stay grounded and stay honest. All I can really do is keep working, keep writing and just be as honest as I can. It’s exciting, but it’s really fucking scary.”

Taken from the November 2021 edition of Dork, out now. Remi Wolf’s album ‘Juno’ is out now.

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