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Remi Wolf's Dazed Day Out 01
Photography Hannah Bertolino

Remi Wolf: ‘Music is a beautiful distraction from the realities of life’

On a day out decorating cakes in London, the Juno singer-songwriter opens up about rehab, music-making, and the ups and downs of growing up

Last October, Remi Wolf was sitting at a café in London, eating cake and sipping coffee, when a lyric came into her head: “I think I’ll get a cake tattoo / Remind myself I can’t have it and eat it too.” It was one month after releasing her debut studio album Juno – a funk-pop record layering bright, danceable beats and playful lyrics over honest confessions about the anxieties and nerves of growing up – and the 26-year-old Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter had been debating the meaning of “having your cake and eating it too” with a friend and grappling with the release of two years of physically and emotionally demanding creative work. 

Now, almost one year later on an overcast summer’s day in London, the musician is standing in Vida Bakery in Brick Lane with one leg balanced on the café table to show me the IRL tattoo – a heart-shaped, vintage-style cake topped off with three cherries and the word “AWESOME” – inked onto her skin during the music video for “Cake”, one of four deluxe bonus tracks that were released as a follow-up to Juno in June. “I don’t think there’s a deeper meaning there,” Wolf tells me with a smile, sitting back down in her chair and adjusting her zebra-striped MTV trucker hat. “It’s just what was going on in my brain at the time.”

The original record, Juno, was largely written over the pandemic. “I didn’t really have the typical sit and stew for two years,” she says; instead, the musician dove head-first into her work after a meteoric rise to fame. In February, she signed her first record deal with Island Records and Virgin EMI Records; in April, she released the funky soul-pop banger “Photo ID” which immediately went viral on TikTok; and in June, she dropped her second EP I’m Allergic to Dogs and wrote Juno’s first two tracks. “In the height of COVID lockdown and fear… my career was a career all (of) the sudden,” she wrote on Twitter. At the same time – after recognising that she had a drinking problem – she checked herself into rehab for four months, got sober, and moved back to LA to finish the record. 

“It’s a very transitional album,” Wolf tells me, explaining how all the thoughts, feelings, and inner turmoils that were going on at that time are reflected in the music. “The songs are just pure depictions of my life changing in real time… everything went into (it).” In fact, the record’s opening track “Liquor Store” – which depicts the pop star’s fear of abandonment and dependencies on alcohol through colourful harmonies and groovy guitar licks – was written and recorded with friend and co-producer Jared Solomon (Solomonophonic) mid-way through experiencing a mental health episode linked to her newfound sobriety. 

“The beginning of the day I wrote ‘Liquor Store’ were some of the worst, most necessary hours I had ever lived through,” Wolf wrote in a series of journal entry-style graphics posted on social media, commemorating the song’s first birthday by providing candid context behind its lyrics and resources for those struggling with addiction, themselves. “It was that day that I really started to understand on a deeper level the healing power that music had on me and how much I need it.” In the next two days, Wolf and Jared wrote three more Juno tracks – “Anthony Kiedis”, “wyd”, and “Grumpy Old Man” – injecting the same explosive, pent-up energy used to create “Liquor Store” into each song. 

During our time together, Remi Wolf and I sample a line-up of cakes, before she sits down to decorate her own – a three-dimensional, rainbow-coloured version of her tattoo, complete with icing towers, piled-on rainbow sprinkles, fake cherries, “VIBES” written around the circumference, and “Life is so AWESOMET” scrawled across the top. Meanwhile, her team – which feels more like a group of close, art school friends – are busy capturing the day via TikTok and shooting Instagram content in the 0.5 camera lens. 

@remiwolf

life is awesomet :-)

♬ Cake - Remi Wolf

Aside from their bright, colourful sounds and visuals, the four Juno (Deluxe) tracks – “Cake”, “Fired”, “Michael” and “Sugar” – were released to bookend the initial album, representing Wolf’s emotions before and after its creation. “I just wanted to give people an idea of how I was feeling,” she says. “With ‘Fired’ and ‘Sugar’ – which were written before I started making the bulk of the album – I was really optimistic and feeling myself, and then with ‘Michael’ and ‘Cake’ – which I wrote after the album was released – I think I got a bit darker and was in a more contemplative, regretful state.” 

On “Sugar” – a self-described “whiny bad bitch banger” –  the songwriter recounts the highlights of post-rehab life over upbeat, echoing guitar chords. “Rehabilitation, it’s so sugary sweet / So hard to beat / Getting back up on my feet / Sweet as candy,” she sings in the chorus. On the other hand, “Michael” sees Wolf step into the character of someone in an unrequited, obsessive relationship. “It gets darker and darker,” she explains. “This person’s just shattering from the pressure of it, which is how I feel a lot of the time – especially in dating.” With a laugh, she adds: “It’s very confusing, and people our age are so fucking stupid.”

Elsewhere, on “Cake”, Wolf teams up with fellow Gen Z icon, singer-songwriter-slash-producer PinkPantheress – who Wolf first slid into her DMs to collaborate when PinkPantheress only had around 1,000 TikTok followers. Together, while trapped in London due to COVID regulations, they celebrated Thanksgiving and wrote about feeling like they were too sad to go anywhere. “It was a very cathartic song for me to write and very different for me,” Wolf says, noting how PinkPantheress’ British drum and bass influences heavily shaped the song.

Compiled together, the deluxe tracks sum up the loss Wolf felt after Juno’s release. “When you put out an album, you’re sort of losing a part of yourself to the world in a way. I think you just get so attached to it, and you work on it for so long, and it’s vulnerable,” she explains. “You don’t really know how people are going to react or receive it, so it’s scary and sad.” Continuing, she jokes: “Afterwards, you sit back and go, ‘Fuck, now I have to think about my life.’ Music is a beautiful distraction from the realities of life.” 

“Just like how I am in my real life, I'll be going through all this shit, and the way that I get through it is by talking about it and joking about it and not making things too serious. I try to carry that same energy from my personality into my writing”

While the record reflects this sadness, it also showcases Wolf’s signature ability to make light of difficult emotions. In “Quiet On Set”, she contrasts lyrics recounting her exhaustion and boredom with jokes about five-person orgies in Five Guys – “Holy Christ, I ain’t ever seen more nuts in my life,” she sings – and in “Street You Live On”, she tells the story of a breakup through a child-like, chanting chorus. “It’s kind of like a survival tactic for me,” she confesses. “Just like how I am in my real life, I'll be going through all this shit, and the way that I get through it is by talking about it and joking about it and not making things too serious. I try to carry that same energy from my personality into my writing.” She adds: “It’s something that comes very natural to me.”  

The day after our interview, Wolf plays a show at KOKO in London – a stop on the European leg of her world tour – performing Juno, alongside covers of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and MGMT’s “Electric Feel” to hundreds of screaming, dancing fans. Around the venue, she’s left a few buckets of free temporary cake tattoos – identical to her own – for fans to apply in the bathrooms or bring home with them for later. While it’s surely meant as another laugh, perhaps the gesture invites fans to join in on Wolf’s healing journey by working through their own emotions and (of course) allowing themselves to laugh at the ridiculousness, colour, and confusion that follows. 

Stream Juno (Deluxe) here.