OK, hands up, it’s confession time. Initially, I was ready to dismiss 22-year-old singer Cailin Russo as another Cali-cool girl, riding on the coattails of Lana Del Rey’s mass-marketable melancholia. I assumed that for a weak reason; as despite being just two singles deep, I’d already seen her name plastered pretty much everywhere. She’d appeared in two Justin Bieber music videos previously and done a spot of modelling here and there, invited to sit on the hallowed front row at Marc Jacobs AW17. Another pretty girl making pop, I figured. Then I listened to her music.
Russo’s voice is already distinctive, harnessing enough bluesy spark to pique your interest but rounded by a note of soul. The melodies themselves are defiantly R&B, making her tone palatable for the public and she has a fierce fan-base, though they have little to hype over yet. Within a day of its release, her debut track “September Rose” was viewed over 100,000 times and she’s now lined up a string of shows in her home state.
If I wasn’t already won over by her musical prowess alone, by the end of our phone call, I was smitten. Hyperactive and honest, Russo stopped herself multiple times to articulate and—I imagine on the other side of the Atlantic—gesticulate wildly. She speaks at the speed of lightning, which is fine because I hang onto her every word. She says “like” before she starts almost every sentence, not as an empty word but as an endearing means of emphasis.
In London, at 10pm on a drizzly Saturday night in, an hour on the phone with Cailin Russo is the perfect antidote. Sounding just like her songs (she even sang some of them down the receiver to me), Russo’s full of sweetness and light. Not just another pretty girl making pop, we swapped indie-obsession confessions and Grammy-grabbing aspirations.
(LEFT) Dress COACH, shoes VANS
(RIGHT) Dress ANDREAS KRONTHALER for VIVIENNE WESTWOOD
Dress COACH, shoes VANS
Dress ANDREAS KRONTHALER for VIVIENNE WESTWOOD
Hey Cailin, what have you been up to today?
Actually I just woke up a couple of hours ago, I went out last night to Cinco de Mayo! Are you back in the UK?
Yeah I’m back in London where it’s very grey! I wanted to talk to you about growing up in California actually, with your dad (punk musician Scott Russo), I’m assuming in your house, music was always around you? Do you have a first memory of music?
I think one of my first CDs was Spice Girls, I’m pretty sure, or an Aaron Carter CD. Growing up with my dad, I think my first memories were actually at shows. I remember a lot of green room situations.
Did you like your dad’s music when you were growing up?
I liked it, obviously because it was my dad and because I appreciate music so much… We work together and I wrote one of my first songs with him.
Do feel like you’ve picked up a lot from him?
No, actually! When we did our first song together I wrote everything and he was like, ‘Damn you can actually do something!’ I always kinda had some flavour but never had a chance to do anything about it until he offered.
I’ve been reading about the people you say inspire you, the likes of Lauryn Hill, Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder. Who was it who introduced them to you?
I have a very distinct memory of my mom putting on Stevie Wonder. She had all the CDs and I was going through this phase where I could only take a shower if I was listening to music. I was probably 10 and I loved, loved, loved Stevie Wonder—’Sir Duke’ is my shit—I didn’t want to listen to anything else. When I was in high school I got super into soul music and got really invested in it, and jazz.
You said on Twitter not so long ago that you love indie bands too! Who are your favourites? Indie bands were my adolescence…
I would say Vampire Weekend, Spoon, The Strokes and The Black Keys—they’re my top… I went to this festival in Japan once and saw Franz Ferdinand and they were fucking amazing.
Oh my god that’s such a throwback, the arrival of Franz Ferdinand was a long time ago! Who are your guilty pleasures?
I am a complete, die hard Maroon 5 fan. I love them and I love all of their stuff. Is that gonna be a diss towards them?
Jacket and trousers ANDREAS KRONTHALER for VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, top STYLIST’S OWN, trainers REEBOK
Jacket and trousers ANDREAS KRONTHALER for VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, top STYLIST’S OWN, trainers REEBOK
No! They’re commercial, not cheesy, maybe… Anyway, let’s talk about you. Tell me all about “September Rose”, your first single.
It was actually pitched to me just with the guitar and I was like, ‘Oh my god. I love that, let’s work on that!’ So, they let me do a pass, almost like a freestyle, to see if anything was going to work out with the melodies. In the pass, I said something about love and then I thought we should make this song about a relationship and it just not being the right time, no matter how beautiful it is. It’s an extremely personal song. I was in a relationship for three years and it was amazing but it just wasn’t the right time. I had so much to figure out and he had his shit figured out already.
Do you get scared to put things that are personal out into the world or do you not think about it?
I’m not scared to put personal things out into the world because I think that’s what makes it brave music, because you actually feel something. When you listen to a Lauryn Hill song or a Stevie Wonder song, they’re all very personal and really well written. I think it’s super important to translate your real experiences so people can relate, because you’re not the only person who has gone through that.
It’s always easy to tell when songs aren’t coming from a genuine place, it doesn’t resonate with people.
Make something that is personal to you and let someone else make the generic stuff!
Definitely. The track has done so well so quickly, you must be so proud! Is there anything specific you’ve dreamed about doing with your music?
I want to headline a huge festival, I think it would be amazing. I’ve never had the feeling of someone singing my lyrics back to me and I think that will be the most insane experience, but also just having it happen at a festival… And obviously the standard: ‘I wanna win a Grammy!’ Like, no shit! I have so many goals even outside of music, I want to act in a movie, do stuff with fashion and model. I want to have an amazing show and just be the next Beyoncé I guess, in a weird kind of way!
You’ve got your sights set high! Thanks for letting Wonderland premiere your new song, “Hierarchy”. I’ve just been listening to both of the songs back-to-back and “Hierarchy” feels more lively, it has more energy. Do you feel like “September Rose” or “Hierarchy” is more representative of the direction you want to head in?
I’m going for gold here; I want to get into the pop world but I also want to be credible, so this is a middle ground. On the EP there’s just as much super cool soul/vibe-y stuff as there is nice, driving, borderline pop music.
A good combination for sure. So… How bored are you about people talking to you about Justin Bieber after you were in his music video for “All That Matters”?
Honestly, I don’t have a problem with it, he fucking put me on, why would I be mad at that? It’s always the headline: ‘Meet Justin Bieber’s Music Video Girl’. I’m like, ‘Bruh, just wait until he is in my fucking music video!’. That would be so cool.
How did you end up being in the video?
I sold my soul… Just kidding! I knew the casting director, he’s a fan of my dad and friends with my family and so he was just like, ‘Do you wanna come by?’ So, I go and shoot this little video. He was like, ‘Make this desk look sexy. Make this piece of wood look sexy.’ So I did this weird sexy wooden dance and sent it to his team. I don’t know if he ended up sending my video first or as a batch with others, but they picked it!
You must have made the desk look pretty sexy to get picked straight away. Hidden talent! Justin is probably the most famous musician in the world right now, is that something you would like to experience, the full blown global star lifestyle?
I want that level of success. Success is really what’s driving me—not so much the fame aspect. To be an artist, you have an ego and you want people to stroke it, that’s something that no artist can deny. Obviously I make music for the fun of it, but if you actually want to be a ‘pop star’ you are going to want it and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just part of the lifestyle… So to a certain extent, yes, but more so the success. I want to buy my mom and my grandma a big house!
(LEFT) Jacket and skirt CHANEL
(RIGHT) Coat PRINGLE OF SCOTLAND, shoes CELINE, socks WOLFORD
Jacket and skirt CHANEL
Coat PRINGLE OF SCOTLAND, shoes CELINE, socks WOLFORD
It’s refreshing to get an honest answer! I’ve been stalking your social media and I spotted Anchovy your puppy, where did you get him?
I adopted him with my friend! My roommate has a dog called Chicken so it’s Chicken and Anchovy in the house. I think he’s a chihuahua/terrier mix. I was fostering him for two weeks then I was like, ‘I love you, you aren’t going anywhere…’ Dog Mom of the year over here!
I saw on Twitter you’re learning guitar too? How are you getting on?
It’s hard! I think it’s one of those things that will just click eventually. I’ve learnt enough to play my own songs! Not well—I’m not saying at all that I’m shredding my own songs—I’m just taking my time and I’m still really driven. I just want to learn how to play blues guitar because blues guitar, it feels so good and it’s really difficult because of how intricate it is and the fingering of it. If I could play Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason”, that would be ideal. Even early Maroon 5, because they served it up with that fucking soul guitar. It’s so good.
You don’t hold back on social media, you talk about everything, from Trump to TV shows, I’ve even seen you call yourself obnoxious…
I’m so extra! We have these platforms for literally whatever we want, it’s a waste of time to be thinking of quotes so everyone is like, ‘Yeah that’s so cool!’ You know what, if I think pineapples make your blood sweeter, and that’s why vampires are going to suck on you, then that’s what I’m going to say, because why not? Yeah, I’m opinionated and everyone is so scared about saying what they want to say, scared that they’re going to offend someone or look stupid. What do you have to lose? People aren’t going to like you? When I posted about Trump on my Instagram when he won, I lost 3000 followers that day. I was like, ‘Fuck you guys!’ I would rather influence the people who actually want to listen to me.
Preach. I’m guessing the project that’s coming next would be your EP?
Yeah, an EP like a preview and a little taster. It’s a preview for me too because I don’t know what to expect! It’s going to be insane. We’re halfway through but we just kicked off this new wave. I’m just really inspired by the music I’ve been making with my boyfriend who’s a producer, his name is Michael Percy. He was trained in hip hop and is just a bad-ass. He’s really good at making very prolific, beautiful songs. I also started working with this guy called DeLuca, who just worked with Lana Del Rey and worked with Rick Nowels, and their combination is incredible. I think it will be out by summer time, July maybe.
You need to come to the UK and do a show once you’re finished!
Oh yeah, hell yeah! The UK crowd is so fucking nice, people in LA are so fucking boujee and they want to not like you. That’s what my hesitation is, if I’m going to perform in LA, I’m going to make it to the point that you can’t not like me.
Taken from the Summer 17 Issue of Wonderland; out now and available to buy here.