Remi Wolf Is Smiling Through the Hard Shit
Music

Remi Wolf Is Smiling Through the Hard Shit

Story by Elise Soutar / Photography by Ragan Henderson / Styling by César Álvarez / Makeup by Leo Chaparro / Hair by Doug Mengert

When Remi Wolf first released her debut single "Guy" in 2019, it did more than just introduce us to the paint-splattered musical world of her creation: It kicked off the countdown to the moment she inevitably blew up. Her first major push may have come through TikTok, when her 2020 song "Photo ID" went viral, but armed with an undeniable blend of funk, pop, R&B and instantly recognizable visuals, she’s proven she can rise above the social media hype as an artist to watch.

After 2021 saw her fully come into her own as the unruly forebearer of pop’s future with her debut album Juno, Wolf followed it up with a deluxe edition of the LP and a live EP recorded at New York’s iconic Electric Lady studios. Now, to round out the insane year she’s had, she’s shared a Christmas single, including her own takes on "Last Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland." When you can put a fresh spin on beloved holiday classics and make them sound like originals, you’re doing something right.

Dress: Andrew James, Shirt: Alejandra Quesada (at Tótem Tienda), Boots: UGG, Hat: Remi's own, Ring: Cabalga (at Tótem Tienda)

"I love Christmas music, there’s a warm and fuzzy feeling to it for sure," Wolf tells PAPER about her decision to reinterpret the tracks. "I wanted to go back into the studio without having to write any new material, so I thought it would be fun to record those. I hope I get to hear them in a mall when I’m Christmas shopping."

I share that, while working retail in a mall around the time her breakthrough EP I’m Allergic to Dogs came out, her track "Down the Line" was on my store's playlist, providing my one instance of respite during each work day — a rare earworm that only grew on me with each listen, rather than driving me up the wall. "That really speaks to me," Wolf laughs. "That’s great to hear, actually, because when I was working retail, it was mostly Top 40 we had to listen to. My one song was [Zedd’s] 'Clarity.' Every time it would come on, I’d be like, 'Okay, I don’t want to end my shit as much right now.' I get it."

Necklace: Kairu Jewelry, Earrings: Flubbies (at Tótem Tienda), Rings: Flubbies (at Tótem Tienda) and Marion Vidal (at Please Do Not Enter), Bracelet: Marion Vidal (at Please Do Not Enter)

For all of the frenzied energy bottled into Remi Wolf tracks, packing radio-friendly hooks next to a rhythmic vocal flow peppered with absurdist imagery, there’s a structure to what she creates — a self-described "controlled chaos." There’s discipline (which might stem from her time as a competitive skier in high school and music training at the University of Southern California) and even darkness behind her kaleidoscopic dream world, which makes it even more fascinating to revisit as time passes.

Though these themes come out in her lyrics as well, they’re always delivered with exuberance and, usually, a sense of humor. Out of a relationship where she always felt like "the villain" came single "Sexy Villain," where Wolf’s femme fatale slowly reveals herself to be a real serial killer: "He’s a dreamer, big believer/ Long as he don’t check the freezer/ I’m cool with the hiding/ Cool if the cops aren’t invited." Elsewhere, the groove of "Anthony Kiedis" accompanies Wolf voicing her desire for purpose mid-pandemic lockdown. "Volkiano" boasts her ability to cast off whatever relationship woes once held her down before switching to a meticulously structured breakdown in the song’s second half, moodily warding its subject off from ever returning.

Dress: Ciara Chyanne, Top: Mimi Wade (at Tótem Tienda), Shoes: Camper, Hat: Vaquera, Bracelet: Marion Vidal (at Please Do Not Enter), Ring: Flubbies ((at Tótem Tienda)

Perhaps no other song on Juno exemplifies this contrast in subject matter and sound than lead single "Liquor Store," which might stand as the most definitive track Wolf has released thus far — a tribute to commitment issues that builds up to a larger-than-life finale. On the one-year anniversary of the single's release this past July, Wolf shared a message on Instagram detailing her sobriety journey; she revealed that "Liquor Store" was the first song she wrote upon returning to Los Angeles after time in a rehabilitation center to treat alcohol addiction.

"After we finished [writing the song], my hurt had eased a bit," she wrote in the statement. "I emerged out the other end feeling good and accomplished. If I am hurting, I just need to write a song and I’ll feel at least 50% better, which is pretty good." Even if uncertainty lingered beneath those lyrics about tattoo placements and a questionable professional resume prior to making music, the relief that comes at the end of that sing-along chorus is palpable to the listener, letting them feel that same release as they face their own fears. Pain becomes joy when you push through the obstacle you face rather than, as Wolf puts it, running away.

Dress: Andrew James, Shirt: Alejandra Quesada (at Tótem Tienda), Boots: UGG, Hat: Remi's own, Ring: Cabalga (at Tótem Tienda)

"I go through my hard shit and I try to smile through it as much as I can," Wolf says during our conversation about how she translates those difficult emotions into art, "because I don't want to fucking wallow in my misery. I want to get it out and cleanse it so that I can keep living. In that sense, I think my music has been really cathartic for me to make. I've been told that people feel the catharsis, so that's great."

Referring to the creative process as the "light" in her life as the world shut down and she tried to make sense of her circumstances ("I remember making every song. Everything else, I honestly can't even remember because I think I was dissociating"), she notes that the album’s title came from the one other bright spot in the darkness: her dog, Juno. After thinking about it for a moment, she amends that last statement: "I forget everything except for raising my dog, because he was at every single session. I think he kept me out of my head a lot."

Necklace: Kairu Jewelry, Earrings: Flubbies (at Tótem Tienda), Rings: Flubbies (at Tótem Tienda) and Marion Vidal (at Please Do Not Enter), Bracelet: Marion Vidal (at Please Do Not Enter)

Now that she’s reached the end of a long stretch of touring and promoting the album, it’s given her the time to reflect on what those words mean to her now: "I think back on it and I mainly think about my emotional state. I've grown a lot in the past year, so it's kind of fun to look back on my lyrics and be like, 'Damn, I was such a little melodramatic little bitch,' or like, 'Oh my God, like I was really insightful there.' I find these little pockets of myself in it. It’s interesting to look back on the process and think about what I want to change and what I want to replicate or what I want to get better at."

She stresses that the entire recording process was a learning process; up to that point, she’d only worked with longtime producer and co-writer Jared Soloman (who she refers to as "literally family to me"), but Juno gave both the opportunity to work with the likes of Kenny Beats and songwriting veteran Mark Landon.

Dress: Ciara Chyanne, Top: Mimi Wade (at Tótem Tienda), Shoes: Camper, Hat: Vaquera, Bracelet: Marion Vidal (at Please Do Not Enter), Ring: Flubbies ((at Tótem Tienda)

"Part of the reason why I do music is because I love the social aspect of it," she says. "Some of the strongest bonds in my life have come out of musical collaborations or relationships." Even with a more extensive list of collaborators, her sensibility remains the album’s throughline; nothing sounds like Remi Wolf filtered through someone else’s lens, it’s just Remi Wolf. If anything, having more help allowed her to get stranger and more specific with her vision than she had ever dreamed she could: "I really wanted to create this world for people kind of to jump into. I felt like Juno, musically, is definitely a world, and I wanted to expand that as much as I possibly could."

That expansion carried over not only into the music videos, bonus tracks and tour, but also to reinterpreting her own songs by recording them live last Christmas at Electric Lady. Unexpectedly, it was in condensing the recording process with a live band that she found new life in the material a year on. "We would just jam on them and figure out arrangements that felt good but really different from the record," Wolf remembers of the process. "That was just to give people a new flavor and also just to keep me entertained. Working with backing tracks is awesome because they pack so much punch, but they don't give you the freedom with a live band that sometimes I really crave. There's something really liberating about that."

Dress: Andrew James, Shirt: Alejandra Quesada (at Tótem Tienda), Boots: UGG, Hat: Remi's own, Ring: Cabalga (at Tótem Tienda)

Of course, the high of working in a historic landmark could only last so long: Wolf and her entire band tested positive for COVID-19 immediately after the session, meaning they couldn’t return to tweak or edit anything. It didn’t sour the experience, though: "That in itself was liberating, because I was like, 'Oh, I literally can't do anything about this,' and that's great. I liked that. All the little imperfections are in there." Her dream for whenever she's ready to return to the studio with new material is to record it in a more live setting. "My childhood musical education was all band- and jam-based," she says. "During COVID, we couldn't do that at all, and a lot of the Juno album was created with just me and Jared recording track after track. I want to get back into that communal space. It's where I've been living, so I want to keep it living, but with new shit."

Wolf readily admits that after playing so many shows over the past calendar year, she’s become "numb to [her] own songs," but feels grateful that the audience reaction she gets to absorb and release back every time she hits the stage has kept it fresh enough that she wants to push on. "I feel like a pretty different person than I was when making that album," she emphasizes. "There's been a lot of growth and experience this past year. The great thing about touring is that I get to meet all these people who have connected to my music and I think that's just a very beautiful thing. I like doing that energy exchange with them. Even if I'm numb to my own shit, they aren't, and I feed off of that.”

Necklace: Kairu Jewelry, Earrings: Flubbies (at Tótem Tienda), Rings: Flubbies (at Tótem Tienda) and Marion Vidal (at Please Do Not Enter), Bracelet: Marion Vidal (at Please Do Not Enter)

Now that she’s spent the last year-plus introducing the world to Remi Wolf, full-blown emerging pop star, she’s more than ready to slide comfortably back into being Remi Wolf, normal person for the time being. Though the visual art she’s shared on Instagram recently has fans rabid for new music, hoping the drawings are a veiled warning that album two is around the corner, she assures they won’t have to wait forever — they might just have to wait until she’s ready.

"I want to work on writing without feeling rushed or feeling like, 'Oh my god, I need to get back on the road in five days,'" she says, surrounded by art on her walls that looks like it comes straight out of her music videos, smiling as she envisions whatever colorful dream world she’ll create next. "There's definitely going to be new music, but also new art. I want to paint and draw and cook. I just want to start reintegrating myself into life pre-tour. I need to rediscover myself a little bit."

Photography: Ragan Henderson
Styling: César Álvarez
Makeup: Leo Chaparro
Hair: Doug Mengert

Nails: Tyler Macias
Lighting: Malcolm Brainerd
PA/lighting assistant: Tegh Rataul
Set design: Ilana Portney

Styling assistant: Jeung Bok
Art assistant: Cecilia Caputo
Art coordinator: Hailee Mclelland
Puppeteer: Maddie Shubeck


Editor-in-chief: Justin Moran
Editorial producer: Alyson Cox

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