Written by: Conor Fuller
After navigating the rabbit warren of trailers behind the main stage at All Points East, I finally entered a small clearing, bustling with artists beginning their transition into performative focus. Suddenly, the crowd parted and there she was; red and white chequered overshirt, wide-rimmed bucket hat and dark sunglasses – understated, in Remi Wolf terms.
After a courteous handshake, we perched at a garden table, something that felt it belonged on a neighbouring patio rather than part of the festival set-up. Wolf had performed the previous night on the festival site to a small crowd of media and staff, an intimate warm-up for her opening day set. “It was good! It was, like, in a little garden setting – I felt like I was 18 years old again, performing for my parents or something,” she reminisced.
Wolf’s acceleration into the hectic lifestyle of a fully-fledged touring musician cannot be understated. Although playing music and performing for many years, she got her big break during the pandemic when her track 'Photo ID' went viral, which was followed by a remix with Dominic Fike. Having signed a record deal in the month before lockdown, and with a ‘virtual’ spotlight on her, she swiftly released several playful EPs, each offering colourful and, often humorous, earworms. All of this, at a time when venues were sitting dark, and stages were gathering dust.
“My first live gig back [post-lockdown] was this rooftop venue in Brooklyn, which felt amazing. It was my first headline show really – I had only done two back in 2019.” In talking about that period and the feeling of emerging from lockdown, it felt that some elements of this new-found fame hadn’t yet sunk in. “Sold out this venue in, like, two fucking seconds and I was like ‘Oo, I have fans.’ I guess people know my songs.”
If Wolf thought things had blown up online during the pandemic, it was only going to get bigger for her once she began performing for real. “I actually got the Lorde call at that [Brooklyn rooftop] show,” she says, even her oversized sunglasses failing to hide her widened eyes, “right before I went on stage. None of it felt real.”
Then came Red Hot Chili Peppers, who just happen to be one of Wolf’s biggest influences. “I was so stoked. I grew up listening to them and I think they’re one of the best bands. You don’t get a lot of those sorts of bands anymore; they’ve known each other for so long and you feel the love, connection and healing.”
You don’t have to be sitting opposite her to know this though – the second song on her debut album is called 'Anthony Kiedis'. Somewhat surprisingly, despite supporting them in Italy, Wolf still hasn’t met him, however. “He knows the song exists and I think he feels the same, but the time just hasn’t been right yet.” she smirks.
Wolf’s music is characteristically complex, and she has spoken previously of her fast-writing process. “It’s sort of a brain dump,” she blurts, “I will go a period without writing anything and collect life moments and questions and mysteries and then, when I get to write, I just spill it all out and I'll, like, write 10 songs in 4 days. I don’t like thinking too much, I prefer feeling and putting it down. The honesty of the present moment is the most magical thing.”
Intrigued about the other end of the writing process, I ask how, once the tap has been turned on, she’s able to tell when something is finished. “Until I feel like the puzzle is complete, I’ll keep going. A lot of my songs on Juno, I’d imagine visually.”
For all the hyperactivity on Juno, one of the standout tracks is album closer 'Street You Live On', a slower, yearning song which expands Wolf’s kaleidoscopic lens further. “It’s a breakup song,” she states, plainly. "Most of the record was done with Solomonophonic, my long-time collaborator, but that [song] was working with Ethan Gruska too. I think the beauty of working with Ethan is that he’s such a wordsmith. We have very different approaches to lyrics and combined, we made something really honest with beautiful imagery and I’m happy people get it.” Over a lumbering beat, softer melodies pass each other as they oscillate, while the vocal treatment creates this synthetic Passion Pit-falsetto. “We wanted it to sound like Alex G meets The Bee Gees...and I think we nailed it.” she smiles.
Earlier this month, Wolf released Live at Electric Lady, an EP recorded live in the iconic New York studio. Usually a stunt reserved for bands later in their career, with a bigger back catalogue, the release sees Wolf eschew convention, something we’re coming to expect from the fast-moving artist. In opting for the format, she manages to showcase one the core elements of her act: performance. “I love jamming, I love musicians and I love being in love with music with them and other people.”
Speaking further about the process, she confesses, paradoxically, a love of being in the studio but a dislike of being in enclosed spaces. “Perhaps that’s why I write so quickly, ‘cos I wanna get out of there!” she laughs.
Nestled comfortably among live versions of some of her biggest hits is a cover of Frank Ocean’s 'Pink + White', from 2016’s Blonde. A stunning version, which goes beyond doing the original song justice, allows Wolf to show what she can do vocally and follows her habit of performing choice covers at gigs. “I didn’t have to do much,” she brushes off, “it’s a fucking incredible song.” When asked if the artist in question was aware of it, as Kiedis is of his homage, she says “not a clue, I don’t even know if I want him to but Frank, if you’re out there, you’re a leg[end].”
It wasn’t long before Wolf was due on stage, performing in the cavernous North Stage tent, but I could have chatted longer. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and I could have quick-fired topics for hours just to hear her take. Needless to say, that energy transposed to the stage roughly an hour later, as she came cartwheeling and cavorting out to screeching appreciation. Let’s see where this bright young talent goes next.